The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture

The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture

by Wendell Berry
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When Wendell Berry first published The Unsettling of America in 1977, it was in his mind both a criticism of the ¿agribusiness¿ boom of that time '¿big farming¿', and a call for a rethinking, a reevaluation of where we as a people were headed¿not just agriculturally, but culturally, too. Berry felt the need to articulate not only why the boom of ¿agribusiness¿ was wrong-headed but also what this boom represented: the people of this country are isolating themselves in every way possible they are isolating themselves from their communities, from local farms, from the land, from common and moral sense, and from each other. Despite his views, though, the book was written with as much anger and worry in Berry¿s mind as hope. Now, in an edition published nearly 20 years after the original, Berry has added both a preface and an afterword that address his since-altered view of both the culture and of his book¿s relationship to it. In Berry¿s mind, The Unsettling of America is not anymore a criticism of culture and agriculture, but rather a review, a commentary, from the perspective of someone who recognizes the decline of this country¿agriculturally and culturally¿knows why this has happened, and knows it is irreversible. Berry recognizes that in modern times there are people still around who would do this country good they see the value of community and labor, of a symbiotic relationship with the land. But, he also recognizes that these people will always be overpowered by those who see the ¿easy, quickly profitable¿ way to do things. He calls this dichotomy the ¿exploiter vs. nurturer.¿ ¿Exploiters¿ make up the majority of our society. They seek ease and efficiency, money, profit, and only look at things¿including land¿in terms of what it can do for them and how quickly it can do these things for them. The ¿nurturer¿ on the other hand, is concerned with ¿health,¿ not just of farms and land, but of community, family, and self. To be ¿nurturer¿ requires persistence, humility, discipline, and patience¿qualities that most people nowadays lack, or have learned how to circumnavigate. Knowing that the ¿exploiters¿ outnumber the ¿nurturers¿ in this country is troublesome for Berry, who asserts that people make up the society that they live in the condition of society, in any regard, is the direct result of the thoughts, actions, and attitudes of the people that comprise it. Although the foundation of his ¿individual responsibility¿ belief is not new 'it is rooted in the principals of Jeffersonian Democracy', it provides a meaningful and sound backdrop for discussing the reasons why our society is losing its sense of community, its sense of responsibility to the land, its balance¿people, through inaction, denial, self-interest, or indifference, have allowed it to happen, and make no efforts to remedy it. Even harmful government policies or programs could be altered or abolished, Berry notes, if people on an individual level saw the need for such action and then came together to accomplish it¿if there were more ¿nurturers¿ around. The more ¿exploiters¿ in a society, the more the society will become exploitive the more it will isolate itself from community and culture in search of quick and profitable gratification and gain. And our society is rife with ¿exploiters.¿ While it seems at first that The Unsettling of America is a book about the decline, disintegration, and isolation of agriculture and its relationship to culture, it is actually a book about decline, disintegration, and isolation of many things. It is about the breakdown of agriculture and its estrangement from culture, the disbandment of communities, human disconnection from labor, food production, resource harvesting and utilization, and even the breakdown of ourselves¿the casual 'and harmful' way we now view our health and even our sex lives. Berry writes with such clarity and sense of purpose that one almost expects him to propose his solutions to these proble