Thoughts in the Presence of Fear by Wendell Berry
From: "Janet M Eaton" <email@example.com>
Date: Thu, 11 Oct 2001 12:45:55 -0300
Subject: [A MUST READ]Thoughts in the Presence of Fear by Wendell Berry
A worthy synthesis of the state of our western world , with the
problems well articulated and the future addressed with wisdom
and visionary insight . fyi-janet
Not all of you may know Wendell Berry, a farmer-poet-novelist from
Kentucky,a long-term voice for recognizing the value of decentralized
local economies, and the dangers of obliterating the wisdom that attends
to local sites and populations. This is a formidable piece, and challenge
to current conventions and prejudices about globalism and progress.
It is the kind of thinking that reveals the opportunity that 9/11 has
offered us. Suzanne Duarte
Thoughts in the Presence of Fear
by Wendell Berry
I. The time will soon come when we will not be able to remember the
horrors of September 11 without remembering also the unquestioning
technological and economic optimism that ended on that day.
II. This optimism rested on the proposition that we were living in a "new
world order" and a "new economy" that would "grow" on and on,
bringing a prosperity of which every new increment would be
III. The dominant politicians, corporate officers, and investors who
believed this proposition did not acknowledge that the prosperity was
limited to a tiny percent of the world's people, and to an ever smaller
number of people even in the United States; that it was founded upon
the oppressive labor of poor people all over the world; and that its
ecological costs increasingly threatened all life, including the lives of the
IV. The "developed" nations had given to the "free market" the status of
a god, and were sacrificing to it their farmers, farmlands, and
communities, their forests, wetlands, and prairies, their ecosystems and
watersheds. They had accepted universal pollution and global warming
as normal costs of doing business.
V. There was, as a consequence, a growing worldwide effort on behalf of
economic decentralization, economic justice, and ecological
responsibility. We must recognize that the events of September 11 make
this effort more necessary than ever. We citizens of the industrial
countries must continue the labor of self-criticism and self-correction.
We must recognize our mistakes.
VI. The paramount doctrine of the economic and technological euphoria
of recent decades has been that everything depends on innovation. It
was understood as desirable, and even necessary, that we should go on
and on from one technological innovation to the next, which would
cause the economy to "grow" and make everything better and better.
This of course implied at every point a hatred of the past, of all
innovations, whatever their value might have been, were discounted as
of no value at all.
VII. We did not anticipate anything like what has now happened. We did
not foresee that all our sequence of innovations might be at once
overridden by a greater one: the invention of a new kind of war that
would turn our previous innovations against us, discovering and
exploiting the debits and the dangers that we had ignored. We never
considered the possibility that we might be trapped in the webwork of
communication and transport that was supposed to make us free.
VIII. Nor did we foresee that the weaponry and the war science that we
marketed and taught to the world would become available, not just to
recognized national governments, which possess so uncannily the
power to legitimate large-scale violence, but also to "rogue nations",
dissident or fanatical groups and individuals-whose violence, though
never worse than that of nations, is judged by the nations to be
IX. We had accepted uncritically the belief that technology is only good;
that it cannot serve evil as well as good; that it cannot serve our enemies
as well as ourselves; that it cannot be used to destroy what is good,
including our homelands and our lives.
X. We had accepted too the corollary belief that an economy (either as a
money economy or as a life-support system) that is global in extent,
technologically complex, and centralized is invulnerable to terrorism,
sabotage, or war, and that it is protectable by "national defense"
XI. We now have a clear, inescapable choice that we must make. We can
continue to promote a global economic system of unlimited "free trade"
among corporations, held together by long and highly vulnerable lines of
communication and supply, but now recognizing that such a system will
have to be protected by a hugely expensive police force that will be
worldwide, whether maintained by one nation or several or all, and that
such a police force will be effective precisely to the extent that it
oversways the freedom and privacy of the citizens of every nation.
XII. Or we can promote a decentralized world economy which would
have the aim of assuring to every nation and region a local self-
sufficiency in life-supporting goods. This would not eliminate
international trade, but it would tend toward a trade in surpluses after
local needs had been met.
XIII. One of the gravest dangers to us now, second only to further
terrorist attacks against our people, is that we will attempt to go on as
before with the corporate program of global "free trade", whatever the
cost in freedom and civil rights, without self-questioning or self-criticism
or public debate.
XIV. This is why the substitution of rhetoric for thought, always a
temptation in a national crisis, must be resisted by officials and citizens
alike. It is hard for ordinary citizens to know what is actually happening
in Washington in a time of such great trouble; for we all know, serious
and difficult thought may be taking place there. But the talk that we are
hearing from politicians, bureaucrats, and commentators has so far
tended to reduce the complex problems now facing us to issues of unity,
security, normality, and retaliation.
XV. National self-righteousness, like personal self-righteousness, is a
mistake. It is misleading. It is a sign of weakness. Any war that we may
make now against terrorism will come as a new installment in a history of
war in which we have fully participated. We are not innocent of making
war against civilian populations. The modern doctrine of such warfare
was set forth and enacted by General William Tecumseh Sherman, who
held that a civilian population could be declared guilty and rightly
subjected to military punishment. We have never repudiated that doctrine.
XVI. It is a mistake also - as events since September 11 have shown - to
suppose that a government can promote and participate in a global
economy and at the same time act exclusively in its own interest by
abrogating its international treaties and standing apart from international
cooperation on moral issues.
XVII. And surely, in our country, under our Constitution, it is a
fundamental error to suppose that any crisis or emergency can justify
any form of political oppression. Since September 11, far too many public
voices have presumed to "speak for us" in saying that Americans will
gladly accept a reduction of freedom in exchange for greater "security".
Some would, maybe. But some others would accept a reduction in
security (and in global trade) far more willingly than they would accept
any abridgement of our Constitutional rights.
XVIII. In a time such as this, when we have been seriously and most
cruelly hurt by those who hate us, and when we must consider ourselves
to be gravely threatened by those same people, it is hard to speak of the
ways of peace and to remember that Christ enjoined us to love our
enemies, but this is no less necessary for being difficult.
XIX. Even now we dare not forget that since the attack of Pearl Harbor -
to which the present attack has been often and not usefully compared -
we humans have suffered an almost uninterrupted sequence of wars,
none of which has brought peace or made us more peaceable.
XX. The aim and result of war necessarily is not peace but victory, and
any victory won by violence necessarily justifies the violence that won it
and leads to further violence. If we are serious about innovation, must
we not conclude that we need something new to replace our perpetual
"war to end war"?
XXI. What leads to peace is not violence but peaceableness, which is
not passivity, but an alert, informed, practiced, and active state of being.
We should recognize that while we have extravagantly subsidized the
means of war, we have almost totally neglected the ways of
peaceableness. We have, for example, several national military
academies, but not one peace academy.
We have ignored the teachings and the examples of Christ, Gandhi,
Martin Luther King, and other peaceable leaders. And here we have an
inescapable duty to notice also that war is profitable, whereas the means
of peaceableness, being cheap or free, make no money.
XXII. The key to peaceableness is continuous practice. It is wrong to
suppose that we can exploit and impoverish the poorer countries, while
arming them and instructing them in the newest means of war, and then
reasonably expect them to be peaceable.
XXIII. We must not again allow public emotion or the public media to
caricature our enemies. If our enemies are now to be some nations of
Islam, then we should undertake to know those enemies. Our schools
should begin to teach the histories, cultures, arts, and language of the
Islamic nations. And our leaders should have the humility and the
wisdom to ask the reasons some of those people have for hating us.
XXIV. Starting with the economies of food and farming, we should
promote at home, and encourage abroad, the ideal of local self-
sufficiency. We should recognize that this is the surest, the safest, and
the cheapest way for the world to live. We should not countenance the
loss or destruction of any local capacity to produce necessary goods
XXV. We should reconsider and renew and extend our efforts to protect
the natural foundations of the human economy: soil, water, and air. We
should protect every intact ecosystem and watershed that we have left,
and begin restoration of those that have been damaged.
XXVI. The complexity of our present trouble suggests as never before
that we need to change our present concept of education. Education is
not properly an industry, and its proper use is not to serve industries,
neither by job-training nor by industry-subsidized research. It's proper
use is to enable citizens to live lives that are economically, politically,
socially, and culturally responsible. This cannot be done by gathering or
"accessing" what we now call "information" - which is to say facts
without context and therefore without priority. A proper education
enables young people to put their lives in order, which means knowing
what things are more important than other things; it means putting first
XXVII. The first thing we must begin to teach our children (and learn
ourselves) is that we cannot spend and consume endlessly. We have got
to learn to save and conserve. We do need a "new economy", but one
that is founded on thrift and care, on saving and conserving, not on
excess and waste. An economy based on waste is inherently and
hopelessly violent, and war is its inevitable by-product. We need a