Monday, July 16, 2007

Wendell Berry on Community

"If we speak of a healthy community, we cannot be speaking of community that is merely human. We are talking about a neighborhood of humans in a place, plus the place itself: its soil, its water, its air, and all the families and tribes of the nonhuman creatures that belong to it. If the place is well preserved, if its entire membership, natural and human, is present in it, and if the human economy is in practical harmony with the nature of the place, then the community is healthy. A diseased community will be suffering natural losses that become, in turn, human losses. A healthy community is sustainable; it is, within reasonable limits, self-sufficient and, within reasonable limits, self-determined - that is, free from tyranny.

Community, then, is an indispensable term in any discussion of the connection between people and land. A healthy community is a form that includes all the local things that are connected by the larger, ultimately mysterious form of the Creation. In speaking of community, then, we are speaking of a complex connection not only among human beings or between humans and their homeland but also between the human economy and nature, between forest or prairie or field or orchard, and between troublesome creatures and pleasant ones. All neighbors are included.

From the standpoint of such a community, any form of land abuse—a clearcut, a strip mine, an overplowed or overgrazed field—is as alien and as threatening as it would be from the standpoint of an ecosystem. From such a standpoint, it would be plain that land abuse reduces the possibilities of local life, just as do chain stores, absentee owners and consolidated schools.

One obvious advantage of such an idea of community is that it provides a common ground and a common goal between conservationists and small-scale land users. The long-standing division between conservationists and farmers, ranchers and other private small-business people is distressing because it is to a considerable extent false. It is readily apparent that the economic forces that threaten the health of ecosystems and the survival of species are equally threatening to economic democracy and the survival of human neighborhoods.

I believe that the most necessary question now—for conservationists, for small-scale farmers, ranchers, and businesspeople, for politicians interested in the survival of democracy, and for consumers—is this: What must be the economy of a healthy community based in agriculture or forestry? It cannot be the present colonial economy in which only "raw materials" are exported and all necessities and pleasures are imported. To be healthy, land-based communities will need to add value to local products, they will need to supply local demand, and they will need to be reasonably self-sufficient in food, energy, pleasure, and other basic requirements."

- from "Conservation and Local Economy"

Tonight's music is "Lost to the Lonesome" by the Brooklyn band Pela.

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