We are a commune of inquiring, skeptical, politically centrist, capitalist, anglophile, traditionalist New England Yankee humans, humanoids, and animals with many interests beyond and above politics. Each of us has had a high-school education (or GED), but all had ADD so didn't pay attention very well, especially the dogs. Each one of us does "try my best to be just like I am," and none of us enjoys working for others, including for Maggie, from whom we receive neither a nickel nor a dime. Freedom from nags, cranks, government, do-gooders, control-freaks and idiots is all that we ask for.
He has been an enjoyable author, also a crank and sentimentalist. I like those types:
“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.”
Wendell Berry was an example of a "localist". A localist believes that most economic activity should occur on a local or regional level and that only products with inherently large economies of scale (airliners, semiconductors) would operate on a global level. There is something to be said in favor of this.
I think he is partially right. But although the mechanisms are hard to trace directly, and co-incidence is not cause, is not economic justice greater than in 1960? (If you want to choose computers=1970 my argument is unimpaired.) Is there not less war? Have we not cleaned up rivers and smog? Are things really worse in terms of political corruption from that time? Mayor Daley? The Mafia and Jimmy Hoffa, etc still powerful? The Kennedy's ascendant? Please. Work from facts, not feelings.
Methinks he has the nostalgia for the old days that too many of us have: the girls were prettier then, people knew the value of a dollar, the schools taught real subjects, cars ran better, and the vegetables were superior. Even the dogs were better then, doncha know. Except all of those things are demonstrably not only not true, but opposites.
"Family and community stability," okay, he has a very good point. That is worse, and that may be worth all the rest. But how have computers been the engine of that decline, and frankly, what has Wendell Berry done about it these many years. He has been a good conscience on the environment and on some indefinables about slowing down and appreciating more long-term - though never eternal - values. But his Christianity is merely "Jesus really, really wants us to care about the environment. Because Jesus taught good things and that would be good."
He's just shallow. He was against Vietnam and for the environment, but in a nice grandfatherly way. Wendell me no Berry's thanks.
Assistant Village Idiot
Wendell has nostalgia for the "old days" and I understand that. What one must keep in mind is that some things are better today and other things are worse. What I've noticed with social trends is a sort of bifurcation compared to my childhood in the 1970's, For example, adults in the early 70's pretty much looked the same. Today there is a much broader range of appearances. A lot of adults today are obese compared to 1970's, But many people work out in fitness gyms today, which didn't even exist in 1970, and consequent are much healthier and look far better than their counterparts in 1970.
I'll tell you one major improvement. Travel is a lot easier today. I have visited 30 countries and know people who have been to over 70 countries. This was nearly unheard of in 1970. Also, despite affirmative action and "anti-racism", I think we still have much greater freedom of association than we did in 1970 as well. So many things are much better today than in the past.
I do agree to a certain extent with Wendell about technology. Technology is a tool, nothing less and nothing more. I use it for the things I want to do and don't use when I have no use for it. For example, I was late to getting on the internet and poo-pooed it until I discovered it was actually useful. I put off getting a cell phone in the 90's because I found them irritating and superfluous and I did not get a smartphone until Nov. of 15, long after every else had them. In contrast, there are DIY approaches to anti-aging life extension I have found on biotech forums that I have utilized and am definitely looking at various approaches to partial cellular reprogramming to reverse aging.
To some ways I'm a late adopter and in others I'm an early adopter. It all depends on what you're into and what you're trying to do.
Most of what he decries it what makes his life possible and while computers may have not brought about economic justice -- Covid policies pretty much ruined that for this generation, just as WW I did one hundred years ago -- he does seem to really put much sincere effort into doing all the things that he blames the computer for NOT doing. Frugality, minimalism and/or localism and low personal carbon footprint never solved any broad social problems, certainly not as much as did running water and electricity.
Thank you, The Barrister! I enjoyed the article, and would have missed it except for your note (being very much an EX-New Yorker subscriber). I am a fan of Wendell Berry's writing, his sentences and his ability to express nuanced thoughts, even when I think "well, there's two sides to that issue...". Thank you!