Berry’s “Conserving Forest Communities?

Considering that we come from very different backgrounds and see the world from very different viewpoints, I’m reassured that Wendell Berry and I agree on so many major points as it gives me hope that some day soon society as whole will draw the same conclusions and will address these problems before it is too late.

One of the most important agreements is found in Berry’s essay entitled “Conserving Forest Communities? where he argues that

… by this time, the era of cut-and-run economics ought to be finished. Such an economy cannot be rationally defended or even apologized for. The proofs of its immense folly, heartlessness, and destructiveness are everywhere. Its failure as a way of dealing with the natural world and human society can no longer be sanely denied. That this economic system persists and grows larger and stronger in spite of its evident failure has nothing to do with rationality or, for that matter, with evidence. It persists because, embodied now in multinational corporations, it has discovered a terrifying truth: If you can control a people’s economy, you don’t need to worry about its politics; its politics have become irrelevant.

If you control people’s choices as to whether or not they will work, and where they will work, and what they will do, and how well they will do it, and what they will eat and wear, and lie genetic makeup of their crops and animals, and what they do for amusement, then why should you worry about freedom of speech? In a totalitarian economy, any “political liberties” that the people might retain would simply cease to matter. If, as is often the case already, nobody can be elected who is not wealthy, and if nobody can be wealthy without dependence on the corporate economy, then what is your vote worth? The citizen thus becomes an economic subject.

Of course, here in the Northwest there is a tendency to identify the term “cut-and-run? economics with logging companies like Weyerhaeuser, but living here in Tacoma it’s easy to extend that definition to companies like ASARCO which spewed arsenic and lead throughout most of the southern Puget Sound region, shuffled its assets and, not too surprisingly, was forced to declare bankruptcy. In fact, much of the West has to deal with run-off from mines that have been deserted, with taxpayers left to pickup the costs of cleanup.

Unfortunately, I think Berry was also right when he noted in an earlier essay that

The Dialogue of Democrats and Republicans or of liberals and conservatives is likewise useless to us. Neither party is interested in farmers or in farming or in the good care of the land or in the quality of the food. Nor are they interested in taking the best care of our forests. The leaders of these parties are equally subservient to the supranational corporations.

The danger in offering such truths is that readers may quit trying to make a difference, reasoning that they should spend their time enjoying the nature they love rather than spending time fighting an all-powerful opponent.

I do know that the first step to economic reform and to saving the environment is seeing clearly the threats to it and the sources of those threats.

2 thoughts on “Berry’s “Conserving Forest Communities?”

  1. We do have powerful weapons: we can choose not to purchase from such companies. One can say, we’ll never buy anything then, but there are alternatives that are green, and humane.

    I believe that the Green Party is actually fairly organized in Washington. Maybe that’s an alternative for you Loren.

  2. Loren,
    I’ve translated a German poem about New Orleans in 1865 that I think speaks to some of the concerns Berry raises about politics and our relation to nature. It’s the current post on my blog. I’d be thrilled to get your impression of it.

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