Audio of Wendell Berry at AASLH, September 2015
Dreher on Wendell Berry, The Seer, and Donald Trump

Wendell Berry Cited on The Use of Symbols

“The problem with wars is that they don’t end,” Kentucky writer Wendell Berry told the American Association of State and Local History conference in Louisville in September (2015). “We’ve still got the Civil War.”

Berry and state historian James Klotter of Georgetown College addressed the gathering as part of a discussion about the relevance of history. The Charleston shootings and the ensuing debates over Confederate flags and statues became a focal point of their conversation.

“I understand about the Confederate flag and the problem it raises,” says Berry. “I don’t think that flag is a symbol so much as it is a finger… I think after the south was defeated in the Civil War, all it had left was spite and it understands how to use symbols in a spiteful way.”

Perspective is another crucial element, adds Klotter. He contends without a knowledge of history, people operate in a vacuum without a sense of where they’ve been or how they got where they are today. And from that grounding, Klotter says history gives individuals a new sense of both identity and objectivity.

“You see things in a different light,” Klotter says. “You’re more understanding of diversity, you’re more understanding of conflict, [and] more understanding of things that teach empathy.”

Berry says that anyone is capable of falling into indifference. He cautions that reducing either side – liberal or conservative, Union or Confederate, black or white – to its stereotypes involves a great risk.

“It’s easy to deal in symbols, it’s easy to deal in generalities, but what we lose then is the sense of the humanity that’s involved,” says Berry.



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