Bacevich's thesis is a stronger version of the old claim that we spend too much time staring at screens, that life was meant for so much more. This has been a special concern for religious leaders; this year, an interfaith group including the National Council of Churches, the US Catholic Conference of Bishops, and the Islamic Society of North America held a "media fast" during Holy Week. They asked people to step away from smartphones, TVs, laptops, desktops, and e-readers for a week in order to "enter into the 'brave old world' of unmediated connection," as one minister put it.
The argument also has distant shades of agrarian Christian writer Wendell Berry, whose famous short 1987 essay "Why I Am Not Going to Buy a Computer" also lamented that that technology could become an idol distracting us from what truly matters in life. "I do not see that computers are bringing us one step nearer to anything that does matter to me: peace, economic justice, ecological health, political honesty, family and community stability, good work," Berry wrote.
Only when someone has used a computer to write a work superior to that produced by Dante will Berry "speak of computers with a more respectful tone of voice, though I still will not buy one." (One of his 9 theses about new technology was that "it should be repairable by a person of ordinary intelligence, provided that he or she has the necessary tools," which suggests he would not be a fan of smartphones, either.)
I go by a field where once
I cultivated a few poor crops.
It is now covered with young trees,
for the forest that belongs here
has come back and reclaimed its own.
And I think of all the effort
I have wasted and all the time,
and of how much joy I took
in that failed work and how much
it taught me. For in so failing
I learned something of my place,
something of myself, and now
I welcome back the trees.
As part of a Community Mapping Project, residents ages 5 to 75 have been making maps of meaningful places within their community for almost a year. They've charted everything, including the scary spider that lives in a woodshed, the old townpump at the far end of a front lawn, the best place to consume Starbusts purchased from the Cabot General Store.
Wendell Berry, a farmer, writer and philosopher, put it succinctly when he said, "If you don't know where you are, then you don't know who you are."
The world could change this month.
Our federal leaders, as usual, seem poised to give the fossil fuel industry what it wants. TransCanada has proposed building an oil pipeline from Alberta’s tar sands down to Texas. According to scientists and environmentalists, refining the dirty oil from this source causes carbon emissions far higher than conventional oil, and committing to burning the oil from this massive source sets us on a dangerous path.
James Hansen, a leading climatologist, said any chance of stabilizing our climate requires that “coal emissions must be phased out by 2030 and unconventional fossil fuels, such as tar sands, must be left in the ground. ... If the tar sands are thrown into the mix it is essentially game over.”
At this point the risk remains — both for our planetary community suffering under increased stress from carbon emissions and for the many directly affected by the pipeline’s construction (including, in an all too common pattern, First Nations communities).
But the political equation could soon change.
Visionaries including Wendell Berry, Naomi Klein, Bill McKibben and Wes Jackson have joined with indigenous leaders, scientists and others to call on President Barack Obama to refuse a permit for the line, which he has the sole authority to do. In an online invitation, they have also called on people from across the country to join them in Washington, D.C., for what could be a historical moment.
"In all my 20 years of working on water quality problems, I have never seen a drinking water well catch on fire and burn continuously for days on end," says Donna Lisenby of Appalachian Voices, who with Kentuckians for the Commonwealth has arranged for the delivery of bottled water from Nestle and Keeper Springs Natural Spring Water, a company founded by environmental advocate Bobby Kennedy Jr. that gives 100 percent of its profits to clean-water causes.
According to the lawsuit, the trouble for the Howards began back in late January when they started hearing explosions beneath their home. About the same time, their well water turned gray and took on an offensive odor. Around May 1, the well exploded into flames, destroying the well house. It's burned continuously ever since.
In a Courier-Journal column on Aug.1, H. Dan O'Hair and Michael T. Childress, both of the University of Kentucky, come out strongly in favor of innovation. “Innovation,” they say in their title, “is key to Kentucky's economic future.” They support this proposition by citing experts, statistics, and studies, but they never say what innovations, or what kinds of innovations, they advocate. They do not venture even so far as the ordinary hope that the innovations in Kentucky's future might be good rather than bad.
This is a startling omission. People who know even a little history are aware that over the millennia humans (and other creatures) have experienced many innovations, not all of which have been good. One might think, then, that these gentlemen, calling so eagerly for more innovation, would exhibit some concern for the health of Kentucky's landscapes, ecosystems, and watersheds, on which Kentucky's people depend for their physical and economic health. But their article reveals not the faintest sign of any such concern.
Read more HERE.
Quite unexpectedly, and without warning (no one told us who the after dinner speaker would be), Wendell Berry stood up and read us a story called “Sold” about the selling of a widow’s farm because no one could take care of it any more. It was a moving, and sometimes humorous, and often poignant recitation in a good ole Southern voice. Afterwards, Wendell took questions. I asked what was the connection between his art and his farming, his writing and his life on the land. He and I have one thing in common— both been named Kentucky poet of the month. He said that farming like poetry, is an art. And he does the best he can to connect the two, all the time. So he tells stories about farms and farming, writes poems about God’s good creation, and about how the meek shall inherit it—- in the Kingdom.
When I asked poet Robert Hass where he thought “ecopoetics” got started, he cited Gary Snyder’s Earth House Hold and Wendell Berry’s The Long-Legged House (both published in 1969) as the first notable titles in this area. I don’t know who coined the phrase “household Earth,” but I’m sure Stewart Brand, and his Whole Earth Catalog, had something to do with it—and/or Buckminster Fuller, and/or Gary Snyder, and/or that famous photograph of the Earth from space (1968/ ’72), with astronaut Edgar Mitchell’s comment: “It takes more than a moment to fully realize this is Earth . . . home.”
Oehlschlaeger mines a wealth of material on economics, politics and religion, condensing Berry's interconnections while “hoping that readers will understand that too clean a separation of ideas is difficult when treating as holistic a writer as Berry.” Organizing work by genre and topic, he begins with Berry's nonfiction. Born in the time of pre-mechanized farming, Berry learns values handed down by family. When he was a boy, his grandfather would halt the team of mules and ask him which mule had the best head, best shoulder or rump. Which was the lead mule and were they hitched up right. Knowledge of the mules begins Berry's contemplation of technological obsession and how it devalues and subverts understanding of nature, creatures and us. Berry mourns the destruction of farming's integrity and, like Thoreau, believes that industrialized labor becomes increasingly meaningless.