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Wendell Berry’s Lifelong Dissent  | The Nation
“At a time when political conflict runs deep and erects high walls, the Kentucky essayist, novelist, and poet Wendell Berry maintains an arresting mix of admirers. Barack Obama awarded him the National Humanities Medal in 2011. The following year, the socialist-feminist writer and editor Sarah Leonard published a friendly interview with him in Dissent. Yet he also gets respectful attention in the pages of The American Conservative and First Things, a right-leaning, traditionalist Christian journal.

More recently, The New Yorker ran an introduction to Berry’s thought distilled from a series of conversations, stretching over several years, with the critic Amanda Petrusich. In these conversations, Berry patiently explains why he doesn’t call himself a socialist or a conservative and recounts the mostly unchanged creed underlying his nearly six decades of writing and activism. Over the years, he has called himself an agrarian, a pacifist, and a Christian—albeit of an eccentric kind. He has written against all forms of violence and destruction—of land, communities, and human beings—and argued that the modern American way of life is a skein of violence. He is an anti-capitalist moralist and a writer of praise for what he admires: the quiet, mostly uncelebrated labor and affection that keep the world whole and might still redeem it. He is also an acerbic critic of what he dislikes, particularly modern individualism, and his emphasis on family and marriage and his ambivalence toward abortion mark him as an outsider to the left.

Berry’s writing is hard to imagine separated from his life as a farmer in a determinedly traditional style, who works the land where his family has lived for many generations using draft horses and hand labor instead of tractors and mechanical harvesters. But the life, like the ideas, crisscrosses worlds without belonging neatly to any of them. Born in 1934 in Henry County, Kentucky, Berry was but the son of a prominent local lawyer and farmer. He spent much of his childhood in the company of people from an older generation who worked the soil: his grandfather, a landowner, and the laborers who worked the family land. His early adulthood was relatively cosmopolitan. After graduating from the University of Kentucky with literary ambitions, he went to Stanford to study under the novelist Wallace Stegner at a time when Ken Kesey, Robert Stone, and Larry McMurtry were also students there. Berry went to Italy and France on a Guggenheim fellowship, then lived in New York, teaching at NYU’s Bronx campus. As he entered his 30s, he returned to Kentucky, setting up a farm in 1965 at Lane’s Landing on the Kentucky River. Although he was a member of the University of Kentucky’s faculty for nearly 20 years over two stints, ending in 1993, his identity has been indelibly that of a writer-farmer dug into his place, someone who has become nationally famous for being local, and developed the image of a timeless sage while joining, sometimes fiercely, in fights against the Vietnam War and the coal industry’s domination of his region.

Now the essays and polemics in which Berry has made his arguments clearest over the last five decades are gathered in two volumes from the Library of America, totaling 1,700 tightly set pages. Seeing his arc in one place highlights both his complexity and his consistency: The voice and preoccupations really do not change, even as the world around him does. But he is also the product of a specific historical moment, the triple disenchantment of liberal white Americans in the 1960s over the country’s racism, militarism, and ecological devastation. In the 50 years since, Berry has sifted and resifted his memory and attachment to the land, looking for resources to support an alternative America—”to affirm,” as he wrote in 1981, “my own life as a thing decent in possibility.” He has concluded that this self-affirmation is not possible in isolation or even on the scale of one’s lifetime, and he has therefore made his writing a vehicle for a reckoning with history and an ethics of social and ecological interdependence.”



“Throughout his work, Berry likes to iron out paradoxes in favor of building a unified vision, but he is himself a bundle of paradoxes, some more generative than others. A defender of community and tradition, he has been an idiosyncratic outsider his whole life, a sharp critic of both the mainstream of power and wealth and the self-styled traditionalists of the religious and cultural right. A stylist with an air of timelessness, he is in essential ways a product of the late 1960s and early ’70s, with their blend of political radicalism and ecological holism. An advocate of the commonplace against aesthetic and academic conceits, he has led his life as a richly memorialized and deeply literary adventure. Like Thoreau, Berry invites dismissive misreading as a sentimentalist, an egotist, or a scold. Like Thoreau, he is interested in the integrity of language, the quality of experience—what are the ways that one can know a place, encounter a terrain?—and above all, the question of how much scrutiny an American life can take.

”All of Berry’s essays serve as documents of the bewildering destruction in which our everyday lives involve us and as a testament to those qualities in people and traditions that resist the destruction. As the economic order becomes more harrying and abstract, a politics of place is emerging in response, much of it a genuine effort to understand the ecological and historical legacies of regions in the ways that Berry has recommended. This politics is present from Durham, North Carolina, where you can study the legacy of tobacco and slavery on the Piedmont soils and stand where locals took down a Confederate statue in a guerrilla action in 2017, to New York City, where activists have built up community land trusts for affordable housing and scientists have reconstructed the deep environmental history of the country’s most densely developed region. But few of the activists and scholars involved in this politics would think of themselves as turning away from the international or the global. They are more likely to see climate change, migration, and technology as stitching together the local and global in ways that must be part of the rebuilding and enriching of community.

The global hypercapitalism that Berry denounces has involved life—human and otherwise—in a world-historical gamble concerning the effects of indefinite growth, innovation, and competition. Most of us are not the gamblers; we are the stakes. He reminds us that this gamble repeats an old pattern of mistakes and crimes: hubris and conquest, the idea that the world is here for human convenience, and the willingness of the powerful to take as much as they can. For most of his life, Berry has written as a kind of elegist, detailing the tragic path that we have taken and recalling other paths now mostly fading. In various ways, young agrarians, socialists, and other radicals now sound his themes, denouncing extractive capitalism and calling for new and renewed ways of honoring work—our own and what the writer Alyssa Battistoni calls the “work of nature.” They also insist on the need to engage political power to shape a future, not just with local work but on national and global scales. They dare to demand what he has tended to relinquish. If these strands of resistance and reconstruction persist, even prevail, Wendell Berry’s lifelong dissent—stubborn, sometimes maddening, not quite like anything else of its era—will deserve a place in our memory.”
wendellberry  2019  jedediahbritton-purdy  dissent  climate  climatechange  agriculture  farming  kentucky  amandapetrusich  activism  writing  christianity  violence  land  communities  community  anticapitalism  individualism  left  humanism  morality  life  living  howwelive  environment  environmentalism  interconnectedness  us  ecology  economics  labor  ronaldreagan  inequality  growth  globalization  finance  financialization  politics  storytelling  mining  stripmining  pacifism  collectivism  collectiveaction  organizing  resistance  mobility  culture  popefrancis  wholeness  morethanhuman  multispecies  amish  localism  skepticism  radicalism  radicals  jedediahpurdy  innovation  competition  hypercapitalism 
6 days ago by robertogreco
Going Home with Wendell Berry | The New Yorker
[via: https://twitter.com/annegalloway/status/1150867868696772608 ]

[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 
9 weeks ago by robertogreco
The Convivial Society, No. 4: Community
"More recently, however, I've come to think that community is a yuppie word. Let me explain. I'm borrowing the formulation from Bob Dylan, who, when asked if he was happy on the occasion of his 50th birthday, after a long pause responded, "these are yuppie words, happiness and unhappiness. It's not happiness or unhappiness, it's either blessed or unblessed." I suppose one either takes his meaning or not. It occurred to me that Dylan's sentiment worked well with how the word community tends to get thrown around, especially by someone with a new technology to sell. It's just another commodity or accoutrement of the self. 

There's another problem, too. I once heard someone observe that only sociologists talk about community. No one who is actually in a community calls it a community. They call it what it is: a synagogue, a family, a neighborhood, a school, a sorority, etc. Or you don't call it anything at all for the same reason that a fish wouldn't talk about water, the reality is too pervasive to notice and name. If it names anything at all, it names an absence, a felt need, and object of desire. Unfortunately, it might also be the sort of thing, like happiness, that will almost certainly not be found when one sets out deliberately to search for it. What we find, if we find anything at all, will probably not be exactly like what we hoped to discover. A pursuit of community in this manner is burdened with a self-consciousness that may undermine the possibility of achieving the desired state of affairs. On this score, social media does not exactly help. 

To express wariness of community talk, whatever its sources, is not, however, to dismiss the importance, indeed, the necessity of the thing we desire when we talk about community. That thing, let us call it Community with a capital in order to distinguish it, is vital and people suffer and die for the lack of it. At its best, Community sustains us and supplies the context for our flourishing in the fullness of our humanity. Apart from it we are less than what we could be. Community, in its most satisfying forms involves the whole person, including the body. It nurtures us as individuals precisely by directing our attention and our care outward toward those to whom we are bound. And bound is the right word. In a Community, we are bound by ties of obligation and responsibility. To be in a community is to have the self spun out into the world rather than in upon itself.

The question that remains is whether or not that thing we seek can be found online. Or, whether it is useful to think of Facebook, or any other social media platform, as a community. Consider, for example, that the root from which we derive our word community reminds us that a community is bound together by what the hold in common, by their common wealth. But what exactly do we hold in common with every other user of a social media platform? For that matter, what exactly do we hold in common with those who are our Friends or Followers? What is our common wealth?

I have no interest in the denying the obvious fact that genuine and valuable human interactions occur online and through Facebook everyday. I'm certain that some have found a measure of companionship, joy, and solace as a result of these interactions. But do these interactions amount to a community? Or, to put it another way, what definition of community is being assumed when Facebook is called a community?

It seems clear to me that connection does not imply the existence of community much less Community. It also seems clear that while we may speak of Facebook as a platform that can theoretically help support certain kinds of communities, it is meaningless to call the network as a whole a community. Moreover, if the only fellowship we knew was a fellowship mediated through a social network such as Facebook, then our experience would be impoverished. But I don't imagine that there are many people who explicitly and consciously choose to use Facebook as a substitute for fully embodied experiences of community.

There are also important questions to consider about how we are formed by our use of social media, given the design and architecture of the respective platforms, and what this does to our capacity to experience community on the platform or find Community beyond it. Chiefly, I'm thinking about how social media tends to turn our gaze inward. The platforms foreground for its users the experience of being a self that is always in the midst of performing for an audience, and at a consequential remove from the immediacy of a face-to-face encounter. Moreover, it seems to me that the experience of community ordinarily presumes a degree of self-forgetfulness. Self-forgetfulness is not something social media tends to encourage.

Belonging is a critical aspect of the most satisfying kind of community. But belonging is an interesting word. When we speak of belonging to a community, we ordinarily mean to say that we associate with the community, that we count ourselves among its members. We might also mean that we are at home in the community, that we belong in the sense that we are accepted. But the word also implies that we belong to the community in the sense that the community has a claim on us. I think this last sense of belonging is critical; the most satisfying and fulfilling experiences of community presuppose this kind of claim upon our lives and we will, ultimately, be better for it, but it is also the case that we tend to mightily resist such a claim because we value our autonomy too much. As is often the case, we haven't quite counted the cost of what we say we want. "
communities  community  lmsacasas  2018  facebook  socialmedia  online  web  internet  conviviality  ivanillich  self  happiness  unhappiness  boundedness  belonging  experience  self-forgetfulness  purpose  autonomy  michaelsacasas  amish 
may 2018 by robertogreco
Meet The Eight Amish Guys Jailed For Refusing To Attach Orange Safety Triangles To Their Buggies | The Smoking Gun [For the beards!]
"Here are the booking photos (click to enlarge) of the eight members of an Amish sect who were ordered jailed by a Kentucky judge after they refused to pay fines for failing to affix orange safety triangles to their horse-drawn buggies.

The men, who were booked Monday night into the Graves County jail, refused to pay the fines on grounds that their religion bars them from wearing or displaying bright colors. Jailed for misdemeanor contempt of court, the inmates were provided dark-colored jumpsuits in place of the standard issue orange coveralls.

The defendants were hit with a range of time in the county lockup (between three and 10 days) by District Court Judge Deborah Hawkins Crook.

While members of the Swartzentruber Amish sect will affix reflective tape to the rear of their buggies, they eschew use of the bright safety triangle, which they consider too modern."
amish  beards  cv  forthebeards  mugshots 
september 2011 by robertogreco
The Technium: Neo-Amish Drop Outs
"The legendary computer scientist Donald Knuth doesn't do email, or blogs...although he used to. He still has a web page where he articulates his reasons for being off email. He once told me, "Rather than trying to stay on top of things, I am trying to get to the bottom of things." Thus his dropping out of instant communication." ... "Lots of people complain about being overloaded with email, blogs, twitter, and so on. But very few who complain reach the ultimate logical solution: turn it all off. I am interested in heavily mediated folks who drop out. Not partially, only once in a while, on sabbatical, but drop off the internet completely. Are they happy now? Don Knuth seems happy and productive. How do others manage? Do they become a recluse, like the Unabomber? Do they form communities with the like minded? Or, are internet drops so rare that they are simple statistical outliers? I know about the traditional Amish; they don't count because they have never been wired."
neo-amish  technology  luddism  email  overload  infooverload  kevinkelly  attention  distraction  internet  information  communication  concentration  luddites  amish  donaldknuth 
february 2009 by robertogreco
Kevin Kelly -- The Technium - Amish Hackers
"The Amish are steadily, slowing adopting technology. They are slow geeks. As one Amish man told Howard Rheingold, "We don't want to stop progress, we just want to slow it down," But their manner of slow adoption is instructive.

* 1) They are selective. They know how to say "no" and are not afraid to refuse new things. They ban more than they adopt.

* 2) They evaluate new things by experience instead of by theory. They let the early adopters get their jollies by pioneering new stuff under watchful eyes.

* 3) They have criteria by which to select choices: technologies must enhance family and community and distance themselves from the outside world.

* 4) The choices are not individual, but communal. The community shapes and enforces technological direction."
amish  us  technology  sustainability  farming  culture  digital  diy  agriculture  hacking  religion  design  hackers  society  lateadopters  earlyadopters  kevinkelly 
february 2009 by robertogreco
American lawbreaking: How laws die. - By Tim Wu - Slate Magazine
"This series explores the black spots in American law: areas in which our laws are routinely and regularly broken and where the law enforcement response is … nothing. These are the areas where, for one reason or another, we've decided to tolerate lawbre
law  society  us  history  enforcement  crime  police  politics  legal  immigration  culture  behavior  authority  perception  copyright  drugs  government  research  art  amish  journalism  opinion  philosophy  policy  religion  public  change 
october 2007 by robertogreco
Amish decline security at U.S. school massacre site - CNN.com
"The new school will have doors that can be locked, as the previous building did, but will have no additional security measures"
schools  schooldesign  design  security  safety  society  religion  amish 
january 2007 by robertogreco

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