What Are People For
Wendell Berry is a staunch advocate of non-industrial agriculture as a means towards the maintenance of a sustainable environment. The author calls to reconsider the implications of American modernity. In his collection of essays “What Are People For?”, Berry (2010) uses very rich terms in defense of environmental consideration amid increasing innovations that seek to industrialize agriculture. The author provides a strong cost-benefit analysis that is characteristic of solid thinking economics which has a lot of relevance to the readers in the 21st century. Although there are a few debatable ideas in the book, Berry displays remarkable intelligence and infectious passion for the protection of the natural world. The book is based on the perception that modernization has an undesirable price due to the adverse impacts on agriculture and the local economies.
The collection of essays combines cultural critiques and literary essays that clearly indicate the extent to which Berry is concerned with the standards of contemporary American life. The book is focused on discussions regarding the goals of centralized industrial power that Berry perceives to be unhealthy to the country’s small communities and farming that is the backbone of a healthy society. Berry (2010) expresses displeasure with the loss of “local knowledge” whose maintenance is only achievable by the long-term residents of a given locality. The author advocates for the restoration of the local knowledge which he believes to be valuable and indispensable. The knowledge originates from a shared culture, and it can hardly be taught in a school curriculum that facilitates community life and shapes people’s character. Despite Berry’s assertion that the local knowledge cannot be taught in schools curriculum, I believe that such knowledge should be brought to the fore and respected in a university. Berry devoted a lot of discussions to the issues that can hardly be quantified. He always takes on issues that do not have champions except those of his kind who have mastered fine rhetoric in the defense of values.
Local knowledge cannot be defined without reference to a specific place and people. The meaning of the concept can be understood only through intuition. The idea is relevant to all people irrespective of their socioeconomic class as it is believed that all humans have some information stored in form of memories, behaviors, and stories. Berry’s ability to express his views on the implications of modernity on agriculture is a clear justification of his competence in navigating his environment. The author advocates for proactive behavior among members of the human community. He calls for people to accumulate local soil and local culture that will enable conscious consideration of every action that impacts the natural world.
Berry associates what he calls marginalization of local knowledge with the perception that the knowledge is defiant to standards of what governments and capitalist economies regard as objective knowledge. He states that globalization and nationalization have completely eroded the principles of local knowledge. He also asserts that organizations of modernity have replaced local knowledge with professionals’ hegemony following the avoidance of the local communities by modern organizations. The author points out that professional hegemony is anchored on local failure that makes localities to be merely perceived as a market for consumer goods and sources of natural and human raw material (Berry 2010, p.163). Berry is right in his assertion that cities have turned to hurt the surrounding countryside as they siphon nutrients and intelligent citizens from the rural communities in what seems a vampiric relationship with the communities.
Berry appears to over glorify small-scale farming that he presents as the most preferable means towards achieving a balance with nature. The author is right saying that humans should obey the laws of nature by living harmoniously with nature as stewards of the gifts of nature. The ideas, as presented in the book, are not new since many writers have made similar calls earlier. However, Berry paints a picture of a rationalized rape and plunder of the natural world that should not be allowed to thrive (Berry 2010, p. 108). Despite having a genuine call for harmonious coexistence between human and the natural world amidst modernization, it is important to understand that before the industrial revolution, Homo sapiens were involved in activities that led to the extinction of many animal species. Berry should have understood that plundering nature is a default setting of humanity hence stewardship is new. Humans existed before the discovery of agriculture that is only ten thousand years old; hence, agriculture should not be regarded as a natural activity of humans. Humans are right in their pursuit of better ways of improving their lives. Even those who regard farming as their activity of choice always yawn for a better way of earning a living as advocacies for sustainable farming continue to take root.
Berry also addresses the idea of the local community and economic decay in fine detail. He states that the implications of modernization has exposed the local soil hence the soil ends up departing as it rains(Berry 2010, p. 157). In a similar manner, the author believes that local knowledge and local memory also move from the local community to the cities and, in some cases, people forget the valuable aspects of the local community as they are influenced by the homogenized sales talks and education. Berry expresses displeasure with the tendency of ignoring the loss that is suffered by the local community stating that little is done about it and that it is disregarded as a cheaper price of progress.
The issues addressed by Berry serve as a pointer to the fact that the current society is witnessing the death of American local communities. The trends that are observed in the current times were evident way back in the 1960s and they have remained unabated to date. It is right for the author to associate rural to urban migration with the transfer of intelligence and manpower from rural areas to cities. The undesirable trend seems to suggest that nothing good can come out of the local soil. Very little is done to safeguard the local community from adverse effects of industrialization while the local soil is crucial for agriculture that helps attain food security for a healthy population (Berry, 2010). However, Berry is arguably wrong as he appears to argue that all interventions into the local communities by external influences are destructive. He has a deep understanding of the dangers of modernization on the local community but fails to level with his readers on that aspect. While it is true that local cultures can be vibrant hence worth protecting, it is also vital to understand that some of the cultures can be ignorant of what happens beyond the immediate horizon and not worth protection at the expense of modernity that seeks to unite the human race.
The price of progress is highly disastrous and there is a genuine concern about the implications of progress to the American’s local economy. However, the idea should be subjected to a critical exploration for a better understanding of the implications of modernity. To some extent, Berry’s advocacy for the local knowledge shows disregard to the milestones that have been made in fostering unity. In case Berry’s assertions surrounding the idea of local knowledge are blindly embraced, it would suggest that such perceptions as the African Americans being considered inferior to Whites in America should have not been challenged by the federal government. However, he is right in his call for the preservation of the local soil through the avoidance of mechanized agriculture that can adversely impact the quality of the local soil.
In conclusion, Berry’s book provides good insights into the implications of modernity for agriculture, the local people, and the local economy. In his other book, Berry (2015) makes a good point suggesting that modernity has raped local cultures as he calls for the local knowledge to be given room to thrive. However, the author’s obsession with the idea that the local knowledge seems to blind him to the point that he hardly notices the positive gains that modernization has prompted. For example, modernity has facilitated the elimination of backward cultures that were mainly based on local knowledge. Besides, modernity has enhanced cultural inclusivity as it supports advocacies for equality of the human race. Humans should not strongly oppose modernity but realize the fact that the current paradigms are hinged by centralized power structures that are mainly based on objective knowledge serving as the end of capitalist economies of scale.