Friday, June 26, 2009

Thoughts on Reading Wendell Berry

Ken Myers of Mars Hill Audio often speaks of Wendell Berry. I have begun to read some of the interviews referenced in the Wikipedia article on him. I was surprised the variety of topics addressed by just one man. Of course the interviewer is asking questions he or she perceives is of interest to the reader of that publication. That drives the subject matter and the tone. His assessment of Wal-mart's negative influence on American local economics may be one of the better known ideas I have heard touted often. However, I find more resonance in his thoughts on work. He describes how in days gone by small farmers produced their own food and that production helped people survive in hard times. Economic problems did not cascade into the family meals if the family produced their own food.

I actually saw this in operation as my grandparents and great-grandparents raised their own food, cut their own wood and worked to produce what they also consumed. To a lesser degree this was practiced in my own home growing up. And in a different sort of way in our homeschool family. We desired to give our daughters a Christian education but we could not afford it. So my wife has and is still producing this service, Christian education, that our family is still consuming. This sort of economic activity is not taxed in sales tax or income tax. It is not measured in the health of our economy.

Subsistence farming, producing what one consumes, lacks the prestige of a modern industrial farm. However, in the developing world if one desires to assist the poor organizations such as the Educational Concerns for Hunger Organization (ECHO) see subsistence farming as a means to overcome poverty. It is strange that we would see that as something to do overseas but not here in our own country. I think some of my ideas on this subject may agree with Wendell Berry's.

1 comment:

David Wayne said...

Terry, I know that you have loads of free time these days to read anything and everything that anyone suggests to you ;-) but your post parallels something I am reading right now - it's called "Shop Class as Soul Craft." It's an apologetic for manual labor. It's by a guy who had a PhD from the University of Chicago who quit his work at a think tank to open a motorcycle repair shop. While it's not exactly the same thing as what you and Berry are saying, it does parallel it as he contends for the value of the manual trades over against "knowledge workers."