The Agricultural Crisis: Crisis of Culture
In this novel by Wendell Berry, Berry’s describes in his thesis that modern culture is destroying the agricultural culture. He feels that technology is seen as the easy way to produce food faster and more efficiently. With this modern way of farming comes the idea that hard work is not needed to make a living. The goal is comfort and leisure. Berry feels that this is the reason for the deterioration of the agricultural culture. He believes that hard work and pride in workmanship is more important than material goods and money. This was by no means a perfect society. The people had often been violent wand wasteful in the use of land of each other. Its present ills have already taken root in it. Even with these faults, this society appreciated the hard work of farming compared to the easy way of living today.
One point of Berry’s argument is that he believes that the land is falling more and more into the hands of speculators and professional people from the cities, who inspite of all the scientific agricultural miracles still have more money than farmers. Big technology and large economics has caused more abandonment of land in the country than ever before. Many of the great farmers are clearly becoming different because they lack then manpower and money to maintain properly. The number of part time farmers and ex-farmers increases every year due to the problems with money and resources. Our harvests depend more and more on the labor of elderly people and young children. The farm people are becoming less dependent on their own produce and more from what they are buying. A lot of them are worried more about their money so they overwork themselves more than before. The ideal of hard work has been replaced with the desire to have a good time. This can be seen in the example of Henry County, where the idea of Maurice Telleen’s “The World’s First Broad-Based Hedonism.” What Tellen means is the fact that young people expect to leave as soon as they finish high school, they do not have permanent interest in farming. They generally are not interested in anything that cannot be reached by automobile on a good road. Some of the farmer’s children will be able to afford to stay on the farm. Perhaps even fewer will wish to do so, for it will cost too much, require too much work and worry, and it is hardly a fashionable ambition.
Another argument that Berry proposes is the connection between the “modernization” of agricultural techniques and the disintegration of the culture, as well as the communities of farming and the consequent disintegration of structures of urban life. What we called agriculture progress has involved the forcible displacement of millions of people. An example of modernization can be seen through the idea of “Get big or get out.” It’s a policy that says that you have to become more modern through change and be competitive in order to keep up with the other competitors. If not, than you must get of what you are doing. This can be used through a comparison of communist using military force in order to remove those who refuse to follow their demand for change, and the government using their economic power to force farmers to improve their farming techniques. In a “Free Market” the most successful becomes the richest. To those who could not improve their business or compete with those who are successful, they have to get out of the business in order to save themselves. If they refuse to leave, they may suffer a huge loss to their economic well being. For a social or economic goal, size is the most important thing and it is establishing an inevitable tendency toward the one that will be the biggest of all. Many of those who “got big” to stay in are now being driven out by those who are even bigger. The aim of big businesses is to make as much money as possible but at the cost of others. Hedonism is alive and well in this competitive game for power and success. No one else matters but what you want.
Berry sums up his point through the example of food as a cultural product that cannot be produced by technology alone. Those agriculturists that think the problems of food production can be solved through technology fail to see the importance of the hard work it takes to make the food. This hard work reinforces the cultural times among farmers and their families. “A culture is not a collection of relics or ornaments, but a practical necessity, and its corruption invokes calamity. A healthy culture is a communal order of memory, insight, value, and work, conviviality, reverence, and aspiration.” It reveals the needs of human as well as their limits. A healthy farm culture can be based only upon familiarity and can grow only among a people soundly established upon the land. It supports and protects a person’s knowledge of the earth that no amount possibility in the farm communities of this country. We now have only the sad remnants of those communities of this country. We cannot allow another generation to forget the importance of this culture. If we do, the knowledge that is held will be lost forever.
It is by the measure of culture, rather than economics or technology, that we can begin to understand the cost of people moving to the city and its effects on those who stay behind to farm. From a cultural point of view, the movement from the farm to the city involves a radical simplification of mind and of character. “there seems to be a rule that we can simplify our minds and our culture only at the cost of an oppressive social and mechanical complexity.” We can simplify our society by freeing ourselves from undertaking tasks of great mental and cultural complexity. Farming includes this sort of complexity, both in this character and culture. If you try to simplify either one, you risk destroying them. The best farming requirements a husband, a nurturer, not a technician or businessman. A technician or a business man is created through training. A good farmer, on the other hand, is a cultural product. He is created by a sort of training, seen through the time he imposes or demands, but he is also made by generations of experience. If a culture is to hope for survival, then the relationships within it must, in recognition of their independence, be mainly cooperative rather than competitive. A people cannot live long at each other’s expenses or at the expense of their cultural birthright. The relationships in the universe are thus not competitive but interdependent.
Berry does prove his thesis by showing that modernization has a hand in the destruction in the farming culture. He stated that as the society’s technology improves their way of life we seem to forget the significance of the common knowledge about the land. Also he looks down of the competition within the culture who are competing with one another. He despises the fact that some small farmer cannot compete with the bigger farms because small farms lack money, resources and manpower to keep up. All of this replaces the distraction of the farming culture today.
Word Count: 1230
The Agricultural Crisis: Crisis of Culture