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Amanda Petrusich, "Going Home with Wendell Berry"
"You must either decide this is worth working at, or just leave it undone. Marriage is not perfect agreement. But you’ve accepted this other person into your mind. I work alone, but always with her presence in my mind. And she is somebody I want to impress. I’m going to write this with the hope that it’ll help her to love me. I feel the stakes are pretty high. I’m in a conversation with her that hasn’t ended yet."
NewYorker  AmandaPetrusich  WendellBerry  Kentucky  farming  economy  marriage  WriterInterview 
6 days ago by briansholis
Embracing confusion may be a path forward - Times Union
"Form serves us best when it works as an obstruction to baffle us and deflect our intended course. It may be that when we no longer know what to do we have come to our real work and when we no longer know which way to go we have begun our real journey. The impeded stream is the one that sings."
25 days ago by djtrischler
Going Home with Wendell Berry
“We really have to turn against the selfishness of the individualism that sees everybody as a competitor of everybody else. When we see how destructive that is, and we turn against it, then we have our life’s work.”
WendellBerry  from instapaper
4 weeks ago by djtrischler
Going Home with Wendell Berry | The New Yorker
[via: ]

[Too much to quote, so here’s what Anne quoted:]

“Lancie Clippinger said to me, and he was very serious, that a man oughtn’t to milk but about twenty-five cows, because if he keeps to that number, he’ll see them every day. If he milks more than that, he’ll do the work but never see the cows! The number will vary from person to person, I think, but Lancie’s experience had told him something important.”
via:anne  wendellberry  rural  slow  small  empathy  kindness  georgesaunders  relationships  neighbors  amish  care  caring  maintenance  human-animalrelations  human-animalrelationships  culture  farming  agriculture  local  locality  place  trees  history  multispecies  morethanhuman  language  restorativejustice  justice  climatejustice  socialjustice  johnlukacs  environment  sustainability  kentucky  land  immigration  labor  work  gender  ownership  collectivism  conversation  lancieclippinger  god  faith  religion  christianity  submission  amandapetrusich  individualism  stewardship  limits  constraints  memory  robertburns  kafka  capitalism  corporations  life  living  provincialism  seamusheaney  patrickkavanagh  animals  cows  freedom  limitlessness  choice  happiness  davidkline  thomasmerton  service  maurytilleen  crops  us  donaldtrump  adlaistevenson  ezrataftbenson  politics  conservation  robertfrost  pleasure  writing  andycatlett  howwewrite  education  nature  adhd  wonder  schools  schooling  experience  experientiallearning  place-based  hereandnow  presence 
5 weeks ago by robertogreco
[Essay] | Faustian Economics, by Wendell Berry | Harper's Magazine
"The general reaction to the apparent end of the era of cheap fossil fuel, as to other readily foreseeable curtailments, has been to delay any sort of reckoning. The strategies of delay, so far, have been a sort of willed oblivion, or visions of large profits to the manufacturers of such “biofuels” as ethanol from corn or switchgrass, or the familiar unscientific faith that “science will find an answer.” The dominant response, in short, is a dogged belief that what we call the American Way of Life will prove somehow indestructible. We will keep on consuming, spending, wasting, and driving, as before, at any cost to anything and everybody but ourselves.

This belief was always indefensible — the real names of global warming are Waste and Greed — and by now it is manifestly foolish. But foolishness on this scale looks disturbingly like a sort of national insanity. We seem to have come to a collective delusion of grandeur, insisting that all of us are “free” to be as conspicuously greedy and wasteful as the most corrupt of kings and queens. (Perhaps by devoting more and more of our already abused cropland to fuel production we will at last cure ourselves of obesity and become fashionably skeletal, hungry but — thank God! — still driving.)"

"The normalization of the doctrine of limitlessness has produced a sort of moral minimalism: the desire to be efficient at any cost, to be unencumbered by complexity. The minimization of neighborliness, respect, reverence, responsibility, accountability, and self-subordination — this is the culture of which our present leaders and heroes are the spoiled children.

Our national faith so far has been: “There’s always more.” Our true religion is a sort of autistic industrialism. People of intelligence and ability seem now to be genuinely embarrassed by any solution to any problem that does not involve high technology, a great expenditure of energy, or a big machine. Thus an X marked on a paper ballot no longer fulfills our idea of voting. One problem with this state of affairs is that the work now most needing to be done — that of neighborliness and caretaking — cannot be done by remote control with the greatest power on the largest scale. A second problem is that the economic fantasy of limitlessness in a limited world calls fearfully into question the value of our monetary wealth, which does not reliably stand for the real wealth of land, resources, and workmanship but instead wastes and depletes it.

That human limitlessness is a fantasy means, obviously, that its life expectancy is limited. There is now a growing perception, and not just among a few experts, that we are entering a time of inescapable limits. We are not likely to be granted another world to plunder in compensation for our pillage of this one. Nor are we likely to believe much longer in our ability to outsmart, by means of science and technology, our economic stupidity. The hope that we can cure the ills of industrialism by the homeopathy of more technology seems at last to be losing status. We are, in short, coming under pressure to understand ourselves as limited creatures in a limited world.

This constraint, however, is not the condemnation it may seem. On the contrary, it returns us to our real condition and to our human heritage, from which our self-definition as limitless animals has for too long cut us off. Every cultural and religious tradition that I know about, while fully acknowledging our animal nature, defines us specifically as humans — that is, as animals (if the word still applies) capable of living not only within natural limits but also within cultural limits, self-imposed. As earthly creatures, we live, because we must, within natural limits, which we may describe by such names as “earth” or “ecosystem” or “watershed” or “place.” But as humans, we may elect to respond to this necessary placement by the self-restraints implied in neighborliness, stewardship, thrift, temperance, generosity, care, kindness, friendship, loyalty, and love.

In our limitless selfishness, we have tried to define “freedom,” for example, as an escape from all restraint. But, as my friend Bert Hornback has explained in his book The Wisdom in Words, “free” is etymologically related to “friend.” These words come from the same Indo-European root, which carries the sense of “dear” or “beloved.” We set our friends free by our love for them, with the implied restraints of faithfulness or loyalty. And this suggests that our “identity” is located not in the impulse of selfhood but in deliberately maintained connections."

"And so our cultural tradition is in large part the record of our continuing effort to understand ourselves as beings specifically human: to say that, as humans, we must do certain things and we must not do certain things. We must have limits or we will cease to exist as humans; perhaps we will cease to exist, period. At times, for example, some of us humans have thought that human beings, properly so called, did not make war against civilian populations, or hold prisoners without a fair trial, or use torture for any reason.

Some of us would-be humans have thought too that we should not be free at anybody else’s expense. And yet in the phrase “free market,” the word “free” has come to mean unlimited economic power for some, with the necessary consequence of economic powerlessness for others. Several years ago, after I had spoken at a meeting, two earnest and obviously troubled young veterinarians approached me with a question: How could they practice veterinary medicine without serious economic damage to the farmers who were their clients? Underlying their question was the fact that for a long time veterinary help for a sheep or a pig has been likely to cost more than the animal is worth. I had to answer that, in my opinion, so long as their practice relied heavily on selling patented drugs, they had no choice, since the market for medicinal drugs was entirely controlled by the drug companies, whereas most farmers had no control at all over the market for agricultural products. My questioners were asking in effect if a predatory economy can have a beneficent result. The answer too often is No. And that is because there is an absolute discontinuity between the economy of the seller of medicines and the economy of the buyer, as there is in the health industry as a whole. The drug industry is interested in the survival of patients, we have to suppose, because surviving patients will continue to consume drugs.

Now let us consider a contrary example. Recently, at another meeting, I talked for some time with an elderly, and some would say an old-fashioned, farmer from Nebraska. Unable to farm any longer himself, he had rented his land to a younger farmer on the basis of what he called “crop share” instead of a price paid or owed in advance. Thus, as the old farmer said of his renter, “If he has a good year, I have a good year. If he has a bad year, I have a bad one.” This is what I would call community economics. It is a sharing of fate. It assures an economic continuity and a common interest between the two partners to the trade. This is as far as possible from the economy in which the young veterinarians were caught, in which the powerful are limitlessly “free” to trade, to the disadvantage, and ultimately the ruin, of the powerless.

It is this economy of community destruction that, wittingly or unwittingly, most scientists and technicians have served for the past two hundred years. These scientists and technicians have justified themselves by the proposition that they are the vanguard of progress, enlarging human knowledge and power, and thus they have romanticized both themselves and the predatory enterprises that they have served."

"If the idea of appropriate limitation seems unacceptable to us, that may be because, like Marlowe’s Faustus and Milton’s Satan, we confuse limits with confinement. But that, as I think Marlowe and Milton and others were trying to tell us, is a great and potentially a fatal mistake. Satan’s fault, as Milton understood it and perhaps with some sympathy, was precisely that he could not tolerate his proper limitation; he could not subordinate himself to anything whatever. Faustus’s error was his unwillingness to remain “Faustus, and a man.” In our age of the world it is not rare to find writers, critics, and teachers of literature, as well as scientists and technicians, who regard Satan’s and Faustus’s defiance as salutary and heroic.

On the contrary, our human and earthly limits, properly understood, are not confinements but rather inducements to formal elaboration and elegance, to fullness of relationship and meaning. Perhaps our most serious cultural loss in recent centuries is the knowledge that some things, though limited, are inexhaustible. For example, an ecosystem, even that of a working forest or farm, so long as it remains ecologically intact, is inexhaustible. A small place, as I know from my own experience, can provide opportunities of work and learning, and a fund of beauty, solace, and pleasure — in addition to its difficulties — that cannot be exhausted in a lifetime or in generations.

To recover from our disease of limitlessness, we will have to give up the idea that we have a right to be godlike animals, that we are potentially omniscient and omnipotent, ready to discover “the secret of the universe.” We will have to start over, with a different and much older premise: the naturalness and, for creatures of limited intelligence, the necessity, of limits. We must learn again to ask how we can make the most of what we are, what we have, what we have been given. If we always have a theoretically better substitute available from somebody or someplace else, we will never make the most of anything. It is hard to make the most of one life. If we each had two lives, we would not make much of either. Or … [more]
wendellberry  2008  economics  science  technology  art  limits  limitlessness  arts  ecosystems  limitations  local  humanism  humanity  humility  community  communities  knowledge  power  expansion  growth  interdependence  greed  neighborliness  stewardship  thrift  temperance  christianity  generosity  care  kindness  friendship  loyalty  love  self-restraint  restraint  watershed  land  caring  caretaking  morality  accountability  responsibility  respect  reverence  corruption  capitalism  technosolutionism  fossilfuels  waste 
may 2019 by robertogreco
On Hayden Carruth: A Friendship in Poetry | Academy of American Poets
"everything worthy is fragile and under threat, is prey to time and invisible to power, and yet affection keeps the accounting in the black. Worthy things, invested with affection, pass into “the now / which is eternal.” I don’t know how this can be… And yet I believe that it is so"

[via: ]
wendellberry  fragility  haydencarruth  2008  power  time  worthiness  affection  now  slow  small 
december 2018 by robertogreco
Thread by @ecomentario: "p.31…… p.49… […]"
[on Twitter: ]

[many of the captures come from: "From A Pedagogy for Liberation to Liberation from Pedagogy" by Gustavo Esteva, Madhu S. Prakash, and Dana L. Stuchul, which is no longer available online as a standalone PDF (thus the UTexas broken link), but is inside the following document, also linked to in the thread.]

[“Rethinking Freire: Globalization and the Environmental Crisis" edited by C.A.Bowers and Frédérique Apffel-Marglin,+Frdrique+Apffel-Marglin,+Frederique+Apffel-Marglin,+Chet+A.+Bowers+Re-Thinking+Freire+Globalization+and+the+Environmental+Crisis+Sociocultural,+Political,+and+Historical+Studies+in+Educatio+2004.pdf ]
isabelrodíguez  paulofreire  ivanillich  wendellberry  subcomandantemarcos  gandhi  2018  gustavoesteva  madhuprakash  danastuchul  deschooling  colonialism  future  environment  sustainability  cabowers  frédériqueapffel-marglin  education  campesinos  bolivia  perú  pedagogyoftheoppressed  globalization  marinaarratia  power  authority  hierarchy  horizontality  socialjustice  justice  economics  society  community  cooperation  collaboration  politics  progress  growth  rural  urban  altruism  oppression  participation  marginality  marginalization  karlmarx  socialism  autonomy  local  slow  small  capitalism  consumerism  life  living  well-being  consumption  production  productivity  gustavoterán  indigeneity  work  labor  knowledge  experience  culture  joannamacy  spirituality  buddhism  entanglement  interdependence  interbeing  interexistence  philosophy  being  individualism  chiefseattle  lutherstandingbear  johngrim  ethics  morethanhuman  multispecies  humans  human  posthumnism  transhumanism  competition  marxism  liberation  simplicity  poverty  civilization  greed  p 
june 2018 by robertogreco
Sexuality and the Land
The independence that contraception, sterilization and abortion give us from our fertility is achieved by a simultaneous dependence upon pharmaceutical companies, surgeons, abortionists. The independence pornography gives our sexual arousal from actual encounters with another is achieved by an increased dependence on the pornography industry, on its stars, producers — and slaves. The freedom the ever-growing system of gender theory gives us from binary sexual identities is bought at the price of a dependence on academics to define and validate the pansexual from the omnisexual, the nonsexual from the asexual, the biromantic or the two-spirited from the polyamorous and bisexual. The freedom of divorce is a dependence on the legal system, and the independence surgery gives us from our bodies is simultaneously a dependence on surgeons — and the cash we owe them. Every liberating innovation in the erotic sphere has trailed the chain of an increased dependence on impersonal structures of power behind it. The will to power has made us powerless.
WendellBerry  sex  sexuality  contraception  culture  consumerism  birthcontrol  abortion  gender  pornography  samsexmarriage 
may 2018 by phillip.e.johnston
Wendell Berry: Budget cuts to University Press of Kentucky 'barbaric'
"Like a good many others these days, I would welcome an earnest public discussion about education. What is it now? What should it be? What is the right ratio of its cost to its worth? Perhaps the discussion could begin with the proposition that to be properly human our species should include a significant number of politicians and others who are competently literate, which means in part having a familiar and usable knowledge of literature and history.

Though I have doubts and questions about our state’s system of education, I am its product, its sometime employee, and in many ways its beneficiary. As such, and as a tax-paying citizen, I want to say that the part of this system that has most steadily served the great cause of literacy in my lifetime has been the University Press of Kentucky, which is now marked for destruction by one of Gov. Matt Bevin’s proposed budget cuts that is both petty and barbaric. If it should happen, this destruction would amount to an act of censorship, for the knowledge made available by the Press belongs to the people of Kentucky, to readers now and to come. It is a part of our commonwealth, which the governor and the government are entrusted to protect, not destroy.

In defending the Press, I have in mind the geographic, economic and historical uniqueness of Kentucky. Perhaps no other state is so regionally divided as ours. Perhaps there is no other where the interests of agriculture, industry and urban development have competed so hurtfully. No other state’s experience of the Civil War closely resembled ours, and no others suffered its influences in the way we have. And so our need for books about our land and our people, our history and natural history, our political and economic life, is not going to be adequately served by the great commercial publishing companies, or by the university presses of other states. That need can only be served, and it has been admirably served, by The University Press of Kentucky.

Because we have sustained that press for 75 years with a very modest investment of public money, we have The Kentucky Encyclopedia and Lowell Harrison’s and James Klotter’s New History of Kentucky, books that have the distinction of being indispensable to Kentucky students young and old; and we have in print books by James Still, Harlan Hubbard, Jim Wayne Miller, Bobbie Ann Mason, and Crystal Wilkinson that will be needed by coming generations of literate Kentuckians. Any concerned citizens who want to understand this state as it was and now is, and how it became what it now is, will find themselves immediately and continuously indebted to the University Press of Kentucky.

We have this priceless asset, not only at a small monetary cost, but also by the efforts freely given over many years by our state’s dedicated teachers and scholars. Foremost among these, as literate Kentuckians would expect, was Thomas D. Clark. As one of his hundreds of students and friends, I knew Dr. Clark fairly well. He was, by any measure, an eminent historian and teacher. He was also one of this state’s preeminent public servants. According to his entry in The Kentucky Encyclopedia, he “started [the University of Kentucky] library’s Special Collection;” he “was the primary mover behind the founding of a state archives;” and he “was in the vanguard of the movement that established the University of Kentucky Press in 1943 and the University Press of Kentucky in 1968.”

In the lists of the Press’ officers and the members of its board and committees, I find names of men and women I knew and respected, and names of others I knew only by reputation and respected. Among them, I am most touched by the name of Thomas B. Stroup. Of all the teachers I had at the University of Kentucky, he was the one who was most demanding, who therefore taught me most, and is therefore the one to whom I am most grateful. Though he was not specialized in his love of literature, he taught especially the work of John Milton and other poets of the seventeenth century. One time I heard him say to a quarrelsome student: “Of course I think this is important! Why else would I have devoted my life to it?” He said “devoted.”

To destroy the University Press of Kentucky, as our governor now proposes to do, may be required to uphold our state’s reputation for ignorance, but it is not required by poverty. The sum to be withheld is a small fraction of what we pay into the salaries of university administrators. But of all that is to be considered, what is most heart-sickening to me is to see the devoted work of such people as Dr. Clark and Dr. Stroup officially appraised as worthless."
wendellberry  universitypressofkentucky  education  kentucky  economics  money  priorities  publishing  2018  literacy  mattbevin  books 
march 2018 by robertogreco
Wendell Berry in California – Boom California
“We ought to love our own states and our own home places better than any others. That is our duty. But to love our own places is to recognize—or it ought to be—that other people love their places better than they love ours. This, too, is our duty. If we love our places, if we recognize that other people love their places, then maybe it is also our duty to refrain from bombing or in any way harming any place. Our own or anybody else’s. So I am speaking here as a Kentuckian, as I should.”

—Wendell Berry, The Land Institute, Salina, Kansas, 25 September 2010

"In a national literature marked prominently by restlessness, roads, and waterways, Berry has written eloquently about placed people, about those who have returned home or never left. Some American escapes have been romantic adventures, some desperate necessities, and some have been both.[3] If the American past has encouraged and even demanded a national literature filled with stories of escape, at times making a romance out of a necessity, Berry has tried through his writing to open up possibilities for an American future that includes not just escapes but returns.[4] Escapes may be riveting, but, whether the perception is accurate or not, an escape implies something deficient about the place and people that caused it. Escapes are not just adventures but fractures."

"The fact remains that Berry spent a meaningful part of his life in California, and we might not have Wendell Berry, Kentuckian, without Wendell Berry, Californian. This suggestion requires some extrapolation and we need to pry a little. It is true that he has lived most of his life in Kentucky and written almost all of his published work there. He has been reluctant to write extensively about other places.[7] In the context of his lifelong endeavor to know and belong to his place, this reluctance to write about other places is consistent. He has refused literary tourism and travel writing. He has also refused the notion that travel is essential for broadening horizons: “I myself have traveled several thousand miles to arrive at Lane’s Landing, five miles from where I was born, and the knowledge that I gained by my travels was mainly that I was born into the same world as everybody else.”[8]

But there are exceptions to this. He wrote parts of his first novel, Nathan Coulter, while on fellowship at Stanford from 1958-1960. He wrote an extended essay, The Hidden Wound, over the winter of 1968-1969 while a visiting professor at Stanford, and he wrote his short novel Remembering during winter 1987 while writer-in-residence at Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania.[9]

It seems fitting that of the other places he has lived, California is the place where he has spent the most time. He lived in the place that has sung the sirens’ song for so many migrants’ hearts for over two centuries, and is the place that represents American wanderlust more than any other. It is an exaggeration, but still illuminating to compare Berry’s return to Kentucky after tasting California’s sweet shores to Odysseus’ choice to return to Penelope and to Ithaca, made more poignant by the choice’s being resolved on Calypso’s island with a goddess, an island, and immortality on offer."

"Berry describes the incidents that motivated him to write The Hidden Wound in the book’s “Afterword,” written for the 1989 edition. While at Stanford, Berry witnessed several outdoor meetings called by black students for the purpose of establishing a Black Studies program on campus. In Berry’s recollection, the meetings were what historian Elisabeth Lasch-Quinn has called a “harangue-flagellation” ritual in which the black students condemned the white students and faculty for their racism and the whites in attendance nodded in agreement mixed with occasional applause.[30] In another situation on campus, Berry found himself in the middle of a civil rights protest. When a student in the protest heard Berry ask his companion a question in his Kentucky drawl what was going on, his accent prompted the response, “You damned well better find out!”[31]

Berry thought there was no way for him to speak meaningfully in that context, and so The Hidden Wound is what he would have said had the moment allowed it. He wrote it during the winter break in the Bender Room at Stanford University’s Green Library. The essay was motivated by the feeling that the civil rights milieu at the time was at a stalemate and would stay there if the focus on power eclipsed other possible ends. Though Berry agreed that racism was a moral evil and political problem, he thought the most visible sentiments guiding these events were dangerous. Just as in his writing about agriculture, nature, and land—and in his, “A Statement Against the War in Vietnam,” delivered at the University of Kentucky the winter before—he fought abstractions and the separations that oversimplify: of means and ends, of thought and emotion, intentions and actions.[32]

He wrote that the “speakers and hearers seemed to be in perfect agreement that the whites were absolutely guilty of racism, and that the blacks where absolutely innocent of it. They were thus absolutely divided by their agreement.”[33] In his interview with hooks he said more simply: “I thought guilt and anger were the wrong motives for a conversation about race.” People can be more “dependably motivated by a sense of what would be desirable than by a sense of what has been deplorable.”[34] By arguing that power is a necessary part of the discussion, but no more necessary than love, Berry refused the false dichotomy between structure and personal responsibility. During the demonstrations, in contrast, “one felt the possibility of an agreement of sorts, but nowhere the possibility of the mutual recognition of a common humanity, or the possibility of forgiveness and reconciliation, or the possibility of love.”[35]

Berry’s essay was an attempt to acknowledge but transcend the double-binds that choke so many discussions of race, both then and now, by eschewing abstractions and turning to actual people and actual places. His thought was grounded in the assumption that “it is good for people to know each other.” [36] Berry’s essay includes an extended reflection of his love for a black man, Nick Watkins, and a black woman, Aunt Georgie, both of whom he knew in his childhood. He acknowledged that his relationship to them, including an understanding of their perception of and care for him, was always limited by segregation but also by difference in age, as well as the amount of time that had passed since they’d known each other. He had no way of knowing what they thought as he wrote the essay and was responsible in acknowledgement of his limitations, but he also knew that he loved them and that their example in his life was a “moral resource.”[37]

For hooks, this is one of the most important insights of the essay, the acknowledgement that “inter-racial living, even in flawed structures of racial hierarchy, produces a concrete reality base of knowing and potential community that will simply be there.” These relationships can then serve to challenge the more common reality in which “all that white folks and black folks know of one another is what they find in the media, which is usually a set of stereotypical representations of both races.”[38] What both Berry in the essay and hooks in her appreciation of it emphasize throughout is that places need holistic care: the inhabitants need to be open to each other and to strangers, and need to be sensitive to the limitations of the cultures and the flora and fauna that sustain it.

Berry’s reflections on his experiences in California are notable for what they are not and might very well have been—an exercise in distancing himself from his home for its racism or a rejection of the metropolis and retreat into jingoistic provincialism. Many in this situation choose, and then despise the rejected option. Berry chose Kentucky, but he chose a Kentucky that he both loved and sought to improve. He looked for his own native resources and tried to use them to their full potential.

If Berry’s return from California is more significant than his time in California, his call to make ourselves and our places worthy of returns and open to them is one abstraction that should not be limited by place. Berry has helped us imagine these returns as possibilities, and as possibilities that are meaningful and good. Not all of us can or even should return to our places of birth. But all of us—Californians, Kentuckians, Americans—should build places that make returns welcome, joyful possibilities."
wendellberry  california  place  location  matthewstewart  tanyaamyx  wallacestenger  writing  place-based  odyssey  kentucky  travel  race  racism  bellhooks  slavery  place-basededucation  place-basedlearning  place-basedpedagogy 
september 2017 by robertogreco
The Real Work by Wendell Berry | The Writer's Almanac with Garrison Keillor
It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come to our real work,
poem  wendellberry 
july 2017 by brixton
Nick Offerman of ‘Parks and Rec’ talks about documentary ‘Look and See’ -
"Best known as red meat lover Ron Swanson on “Parks and Recreation,” comic actor Nick Offerman visits TODAY to talk about a serious topic: “Look & See,” a new documentary about environmental activist Wendell Berry. He also wryly recounts being booed after throwing out a first pitch at Wrigley Field: “I did bounce it,” he admits."
wendellberry  nickofferman  heroes  2017  agriculture  farming  care  caring  affection  relationships  community  love  classideas 
june 2017 by robertogreco
What is not machine-like
“REJOICE IN HUMANNESS! Machines can’t make mistakes. If you compete with a machine on its terms YOU LOSE! So don’t reduce your writing to be like type. YOU ARE NOT A TYPEWRITER! Admit mistakes, correct them, & go right on.
—Jacqueline Svaren, Written Letters

Andy Warhol said, “I want to be a machine,” but we’ve been there and done that, and besides, he was delight-full of crap, like all great artists, because when I stood in front of those big silk-screened flowers last week they sure didn’t feel like they were made by machines. You could sense the human behind them…

[blackoutpoem: "hire a heart with an eye
No tech can know its algorithm"]
“These are not yet automata.”
—Studs Terkel, Working

I remember a few years ago how triumphant I felt when the Twitter spam account @horse_ebooks turned out to be a human pretending to be a machine. Some were disappointed, but the feed seemed too weird and beautiful to me to be completely random. I was happy to see a human behind it.

[blackout poem: “Machines help you act machine like”]
“The next great division of the world will be between people who wish to live as creatures and people who wish to live as machines.”
—Wendell Berry

I like my machines just fine, but I’m not interested in turning into one. I’d like to remain a person. I truly believe one of the most subversive things you can do today is spend as much of your time as possible nurturing what is not machine-like in you."
austinkleon  2017  machines  cyborgs  humans  humanism  studsterkel  jacquelinesvaren  wendellberry  humanness  automata  imperfection  technology  automation 
june 2017 by robertogreco
crap futures — The automated island
"(For some background to this discussion of automation in our very eccentric and local context, revisit one of our first posts - ‘The pleasures of prediction’ [ ].)

There’s a spot we often go swimming in Madeira called Ponta Gorda, ‘Fat Point’. It’s like a public swimming pool - in fact it does have a decent saltwater pool - but most people who go there dive straight into the open sea, which gives you the thrill of swimming in very deep water - 2,000 metres close to shore descending to 4,000 metres further out. So the sea is a public swimming pool, and you pay your euro for amenities like the changing rooms and cafe. It’s a good place for lunch or a cold beer when the sun is shining. Umbrellas and sunbeds cost extra, but we prefer to bake on the hot concrete after a cool swim.

Into this idyllic scene comes automation. There’s a person who works in the entrance booth and takes your euro, and adjacent to the booth is a row of turnstiles. Presumably until a couple of years ago you paid your money and went straight in. Since we’ve been going to Ponta Gorda, however, a newer system has been in place: an automated scanning system.

The system is supposed to work like this: first you buy a barcoded ticket or charge your card with the person in the booth; then you scan your ticket, unlocking the turnstile, and you walk through. (The scanner uses that red laser thing to read the barcode.)

What actually happens is this: we arrive at the booth, say hello to the friendly woman who works there - because we all know each other by now - pay for a ticket or charge our card (if we’ve remembered to bring it, which is rare), try to scan the barcode under the laser in the bright midday sun, fail miserably, smile at the woman in the booth to signal our failure, wait as she grabs her keys and comes out of the booth, watch as she tries in vain to scan it several times, exchange sympathetic smiles when she too fails, together blame the sun, stand by while she unlocks the gate at the side, and walk through.

We’re not sure why the automatic gate always fails. Things often don’t work on this island. They remain broken for months or years, and people get used to working around them. The parking garages and supermarket checkouts are the same: there is always someone to help you scan your ticket or purchases because the scanner never works properly. These are de-facto semi-automated systems that require the same human worker they required before the machine was installed. So why have a scanner at all? Who said this was a good idea? What was wrong with the old way?

Well, it’s progress, innit? Unfortunately what may work under ideal conditions in, say, London or Oslo may not necessarily work under less than ideal conditions, and without maintenance support, in Madeira. It’s like those tractors in the Soviet Union under collectivisation that broke down or simply ran out of petrol and were left to rot in the fields. Not to mention the fact that automation is often about efficiency, and efficiency - in terms of saving either time or labour - is not something this sleepy island particularly wants or needs.

People in Madeira are adaptable, they get along fine with less than optimal technology. But significant resources are wasted in the pursuit of Mainland ideas of progress. Then there are the side-effects of automation that are not particular to islanders: deskilling, alienation from labour. Few people actually lose their jobs because the technology can rarely be trusted - but everywhere you see people sitting idle in their work, passive, mere appendages of the machines they are paid to assist. Is this the techno-utopia we were waiting for? Sometimes on the periphery, as Laura Watts said to us recently, small perturbations are felt more distinctly than in the centre.

In his frankly curmudgeonly but still insightful essay ‘Why I am Not Going to Buy a Computer’ (1987), Wendell Berry lays out his ‘standards for technological innovation’. There are nine points, and in the third point Berry states that the new device or system ‘should do work that is clearly and demonstrably better’ than the old one. This seems obvious and not too much to ask of a technology, but how well does the automated entrance at Ponta Gorda fulfill that claim?

Berry also has a point, the last in his list, about not replacing or disrupting ‘anything good that already exists’. This includes relationships between people. In other words, solve actual problems - rather than finding just any old place to put a piece of technology you want to sell. Even if the scanners at Ponta Gorda did work, how would eliminating the one human being who is employed to welcome visitors and answer questions improve the system? In Berry’s words, ‘what would be superseded would be not only something, but somebody’. The person who works there is a ‘good that already exists’, a human relationship that should be preserved, especially when her removal from a job would be bought at so little gain.

In the next post we’ll go deeper into a taxonomy of automation. Now we’re going for a swim."
crapfutures  automation  labor  madeira  wendellberry  technology  problemsolving 
june 2017 by robertogreco

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