I was just reading the afterward in the third edition of The Unsettling of America. As always, Wendell Berry never ceases to alarm as he enlightens. He was talking about smaller assumptions that support the larger philosophical assumption that the world is a machine. Here are the smaller assumptions:
1. If the world and all its creatures are machines, then the world and all its creatures are entirely comprehensible, manipulable, and controllable by humans.
2. The humans who have this power are experts.
3. Experts are made by education.
4. Education only happens in school.
5. Experts are smarter than other people.
6. Thinking is best done by experts in offices and laboratories.
7. People who do work cannot be trusted to think about it.
8. People who work would prefer not to work.
9. Human workers are inefficient machines, encumbered by extraneous needs and desires, and they should be replaced by more efficient machines or by chemicals.
10. In general, the human machine is better at consumption than production.
11. A farm is or ought to be a factory in which plant and animal machines serve the economic machine in the most efficient way.
12. Efficiency has nothing to do with human or biological needs and desires.
13. Farm bankruptcy increases agricultural efficiency.
14. All farmers actually dislike farming and are secretly glad when they go bankrupt, because that gets them out of the sticks and into the bright lights where they have a chance to become experts.
15. Conventional agricultural science (like all conventional science) is disinterested and objective and serves no interest other than the advancement of human knowledge.
What caught my attention today was number 10: “In general, the human machine is better at consumption than production.” I found myself confused by this statement. It brought on the question: Am I better at consumption than production?
I found myself looking around my home. What artifacts in my home have been made with my own hands? A higher standard would be: What artifacts in my home are made with my own hands and come from materials in my local environment?
As I searched my house, I found some drawings, but the art paper and drawing utensils came from some unknown place. I found a few toys I have made for the girls but all the materials came from somewhere else. 99.9% of the artifacts in my household come from somewhere else, produced in a nameless factory.
When I looked into the daily consumables of my household, I did a bit better. I found some food my family has produced on the property. Nevertheless, most of my food comes from local farms and ranches. My dried stores, even though certified organic, come from faceless sources.
I have to say, after my household inspection, I am indeed a better consumer than a producer. I find it interesting that something so mundane and obvious has escaped my notice for so long.
It makes me wonder what type of world I would live in if most of my household artifacts came from people I knew. What would it be like to make most of the artifacts in my household with my own hands from materials from my local environment? I wondered if I would be more connected to my possessions, or less. I could see both as possible, because if I can make something, there is always more where that came from.
Another question that comes to mind is, who are the producers?
What we are working for, I think, is an authentic settlement and inhabitation of our country. We would like to see all human work lovingly adapted to the nature of the places where it is done and to the real needs of the people by whom and for whom it is done. We do not believe that any violence to places, to people, or to other creatures is “inevitable”. We believe that the industrial ideology is wrong because it obscures and disrupts this necessary work of local adaptation or home making.
Afterward 3th Edition, The Unsettling of America by Wendell Berry