What Are People For?



When I am weary, or when the world feels jagged I turn to Wendell Berry. I am so glad that Wendell Berry wrote books. I am so thankful for a farmer in Kentucky who writes words both provoking and healing, moving to a New York Times columnist or a Cleveland housewife.



This week I listened to this podcast with Wendell Berry on Indiana Public Media, and read a book of essays, What Are People For?


Where is our comfort but in the free, uninvolved, finally mysterious beauty and grace of this world that we did not make, that has no price? Where is our sanity but there? Where is our pleasure but in working and resting kindly in the presence of this world?

It is a book about living consciously.
"My wish simply is to live my life as fully as I can. In both our work and our leisure, I think, we should be so employed. And in our time this means that we must save ourselves from the products that we are asked to buy in order, ultimately, to replace ourselves."

I was ashamed, as I read, of my previous post in which I boasted about the large haul of clothing I had bought for such a small price, and also this week as we watched in horror the news of the Bangladesh factory collapse , with a death toll now over 500.

I am a participator in this industry that manufactures cheap, disposable fashion by robbing the poor and putting their lives at risk.
The religion and the environmentalism of the highly industrialized countries are at bottom a sham, because they make it their business to fight against something they do not really wish to destroy. We all live by robbing nature, but our standard of living demands that the robbery shall continue. 
We must achieve the character and acquire the skills to live much poorer than we do. We must waste less. We must do more for ourselves and for each other. It is either that or continue merely to think and talk about changes that we are inviting catastrophe to make. 
The great obstacle is simply this: the conviction that we cannot change because we are dependent on what is wrong. But that is the addict's excuse, and we know that it will not do.
I have, like many others, attempted to research and find ways to buy clothing that is made fairly, even if it costs a little more. There are two fair-trade clothing stores nearby, and I have shopped at both with the intention of finding one or two quality staple clothing items that I will pay more for, buying fewer items, knowing full well it is fair both to the store and the people who made the clothing. In the end I simply could not afford the prices.

The only other option seems to be to buy used clothing, which we do. But there are occasions, like the upcoming wedding, when I want and need to buy new clothes. Buying as cheaply as possible seems to be the responsible approach, but maybe it's not. I am not really satisfied with any of my options. We can hope that events such as the factory in Bangladesh will help to drive change. (Salon: How shoppers can help prevent Bangladesh-type disasters).


One f my favorite essays included in this collection is a famously provoking title, Why I Am Not Going to Buy A Computer. It was originally published in The New England Review and Bread Loaf Quarterly, and was reprinted by Harpers with letters in response, and Berry's response to those letters. This was fascinating. You can read it here.

This subject then led to an essay titled Feminism, The Body, and the Machine, which I found equally fascinating on several levels, and hope to write about soon. You can read it in entirety here.

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