Damage & Too Much and Too Little

Damage by Wendell Berry

I.

I have a steep wooded hillside that I wanted to be able to pasture occasionally, but it had no water supply.

About halfway to the top of the slop there is a narrow bench, on which I thought I could make a small pond. I hired a man with a bulldozer to dig one. He cleared away trees and then formed the pond, cutting into the hill on the upper side, piling the loosened dirt into a curving earthwork on the lower.

The pond appeared to be a success. Before the bulldozer quit work, water had already begun to seep in. Soon there was enough to support a few head of stock. To heal the exposed ground, i fertilized it and sowed it with grass and clover.

We had an extremely wet fall and winter, with the usual freezing and thawing. The ground grew heavy with water, and soft. The earthwork slumped; a large slice of the woods floor on the upper side slipped down into the pond.

The trouble was a familiar one: too much power, too little knowledge. The fault was mine. Continue reading Damage & Too Much and Too Little

Creatures are not Machines

Wendell Berry, in an essay within his book Life is a Miracle (53ff), writes about the persistent problem of some analogizing humans with machines. You don’t have to look far for examples or remarks about the human mind being like a computer chip, or people being talked about as complex machines. Just watch a recent Droid commercial and you get the point. Berry points out that this is a serious problem, not because analogies are somehow bad to make, but that analogies have certain limits which need to be respected. In this case, the analogy seems to get carries away to the point of actually becoming an identification with, rather than an explanatory metaphor. Continue reading Creatures are not Machines

A friend sent this article by Wendell Berry the other day and said it was worth the read, he is right. The article looks at how our insatiable desire for more not only has adverse effects on our lives and economy but also on our environment. This limitlessness that’s rooted in an Englightenment mentality of progress is not only unchristian but ultimately destructive. He says,

The problem with us is not only prodigal extravagance but also an assumed limitlessness. We have obscured the issue by refusing to see that limitlessness is a godly trait. We have insistently, and with relief, defined ourselves as animals or as “higher animals.?? But to define ourselves as animals, given our specifically human powers and desires, is to define ourselves as limitless animals—which of course is a contradiction in terms. Any definition is a limit, which is why the God of Exodus refuses to define Himself: “I am that I am.??

And his point is that we do need limits, that this is the way things really work. He writes:

It is the artists, not the scientists, who have dealt unremittingly with the problem of limits. A painting, however large, must finally be bounded by a frame or a wall. A composer or playwright must reckon, at a minimum, with the capacity of an audience to sit still and pay attention. A story, once begun, must end somewhere within the limits of the writer’s and the reader’s memory. And of course the arts characteristically impose limits that are artificial: the five acts of a play, or the fourteen lines of a sonnet. Within these limits artists achieve elaborations of pattern, of sustaining relationships of parts with one another and with the whole, that may be astonishingly complex. And probably most of us can name a painting, a piece of music, a poem or play or story that still grows in meaning and remains fresh after many years of familiarity.

Read the rest of the article, he uses Militon and Christopher Marlowe’s Tragical History of Doctor Faustus to help make his point. it’s very thought provoking and well argued.

Faustian economics: Hell hath no limits—By Wendell Berry (Harper’s Magazine).