In late April, the Kentucky poet-scholar-farmer drew a crowd of thousands; threadbare attendees mingled with policy makers, lobbyists and think-tankers. In the chamber that usually hosts the National Symphony Orchestra, Berry wove stories of his family together with themes of his life’s work—commitment to place, affection for the earth, an economy based on relationship and a suspicion of unfettered capitalism. Berry titled his lecture, “It All Turns on Affection,” a line drawn from E.M. Forster’s Howards End. He described the climatic confrontation between Forster’s heroine Margaret and her businessman husband, where she resisted his “hardness of mind and heart that is ‘realistic’ only because it is expedient and because it subtracts from reality the life of imagination and affection, of living souls.”
Berry translated Margaret’s commitment to affection over expediency to the economy. Economic decisions are not about just being "realistic" and "practical"— they should be decisions based on values deeper than dollar signs. “We should, as our culture has warned us over and over again, give our affection to things that are true, just, and beautiful,” Berry said. “When we give affection to things that are destructive, we are wrong.” He questions economists who would do “permanent ecological and cultural damage to ‘strengthen the economy.’” Berry thinks neither political party is equipped to address the “losses and damages of our present economy”—the problems are bigger than Washington.
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