" Universal Community of Friends - Thoughts in the Presence of Fear by Wendell Berry

Thoughts in the Presence of Fear

by Wendell Berry



I. The time will soon come when we will not
be able to remember
the horrors of September 11 without
remembering also the
unquestioning technological and economic
optimism that ended on
that day.

II. This optimism rested on the proposition
that we were living
in a "new world order" and a "new economy"
that would "grow" on
and on, bringing a prosperity of which every
new increment would
be "unprecedented."

III. The dominant politicians, corporate
officers, and investors
who believed this proposition did not
acknowledge that the
prosperity was limited to a tiny percent of
the world's people,
and to an ever smaller number of people even
in the United
States; that it was founded upon the
oppressive labor of poor
people all over the world; and that its
ecological costs
increasingly threatened all life, including
the lives of the
supposedly prosperous.

IV. The "developed" nations had given to the
"free market" the
status of a god, and were sacrificing to it
their farmers,
farmlands, and communities, their forests,
wetlands, and
prairies, their ecosystems and watersheds.
They had accepted
universal pollution and global warming as
normal costs of doing
business.

V. There was, as a consequence, a growing
worldwide effort on
behalf of economic decentralization,
economic justice, and
ecological responsibility. We must recognize
that the events of
September 11 make this effort more necessary
than ever. We
citizens of the industrial countries must
continue the labor of
self-criticism and self-correction. We must
recognize our
mistakes.

VI. The paramount doctrine of the economic
and technological
euphoria of recent decades has been that
everything depends on
innovation. It was understood as desirable,
and even necessary,
that we should go on and on from one
technological innovation to
the next, which would cause the economy to
"grow" and make
everything better and better. This of course
implied at every
point a hatred of the past, of all [past]
innovations [which] ,
whatever their value might have been, were
discounted as of no
value at all.

VII. We did not anticipate anything like
what has now happened.
We did not foresee that all our sequence of
innovations might be
at once overridden by a greater one: the
invention of a new kind
of war that would turn our previous
innovations against us,
discovering and exploiting the debits and
the dangers that we had
ignored. We never considered the possibility
that we might be
trapped in the webwork of communication and
transport that was
supposed to make us free.

VIII. Nor did we foresee that the weaponry
and the war science
that we marketed and taught to the world
would become available,
not just to recognized national governments,
which possess so
uncannily the power to legitimate
large-scale violence, but also
to "rogue nations," dissident or fanatical
groups and individuals
whose violence, though never worse than that
of nations, is
judged by the nations to be illegitimate.

IX. We had accepted uncritically the belief
that technology is
only good; that it cannot serve evil as well
as good; that it
cannot serve our enemies as well as
ourselves; that it cannot be
used to destroy what is good, including our
homelands and our
lives.

X. We had accepted too the corollary belief
that an economy
(either as a money economy or as a
life-support system) that is
global in extent, technologically complex,
and centralized is
invulnerable to terrorism, sabotage, or war,
and that it is
protectable by "national defense."

XI. We now have a clear, inescapable choice
that we must make. We
can continue to promote a global economic
system of unlimited
"free trade" among corporations, held
together by long and highly
vulnerable lines of communication and
supply, but now recognizing
that such a system will have to be protected
by a hugely
expensive police force that will be
worldwide, whether maintained
by one nation or several or all, and that
such a police force
will be effective precisely to the extent
that it oversways the
freedom and privacy of the citizens of every
nation.

XII. Or we can promote a decentralized world
economy which would
have the aim of assuring to every nation and
region a local
self-sufficiency in life-supporting goods.
This would not
eliminate international trade, but it would
tend toward a trade
in surpluses after local needs had been met.

XIII. One of the gravest dangers to us now,
second only to
further terrorist attacks against our
people, is that we will
attempt to go on as before with the
corporate program of global
"free trade," whatever the cost in freedom
and civil rights,
without self-questioning or self-criticism
or public debate.

XIV. This is why the substitution of
rhetoric for thought, always
a temptation in a national crisis, must be
resisted by officials
and citizens alike. It is hard for ordinary
citizens to know what
is actually happening in Washington in a
time of such great
trouble; for all we know, serious and
difficult thought may be
taking place there. But the talk that we are
hearing from
politicians, bureaucrats, and commentators
has so far tended to
reduce the complex problems now facing us to
issues of unity,
security, normality, and retaliation.

XV. National self-righteousness, like
personal
self-righteousness, is a mistake. It is
misleading. It is a sign
of weakness. Any war that we may make now
against terrorism will
come as a new installment in a history of
war in which we have
fully participated. We are not innocent of
making war against
civilian populations. The modern doctrine of
such warfare was set
forth and enacted by General William
Tecumseh Sherman, who held
that a civilian population could be declared
guilty and rightly
subjected to military punishment. We have
never repudiated that
doctrine.

XVI. It is a mistake also -- as events since
September 11 have
shown -- to suppose that a government can
promote and participate
in a global economy and at the same time act
exclusively in its
own interest by abrogating its international
treaties and
standing apart from international
cooperation on moral issues.

XVII. And surely, in our country, under our
Constitution, it is a
fundamental error to suppose that any crisis
or emergency can
justify any form of political oppression.
Since September 11, far
too many public voices have presumed to
"speak for us" in saying
that Americans will gladly accept a
reduction of freedom in
exchange for greater "security." Some would,
maybe. But some
others would accept a reduction in security
(and in global trade)
far more willingly than they would accept
any abridgement of our
Constitutional rights.

XVIII. In a time such as this, when we have
been seriously and
most cruelly hurt by those who hate us, and
when we must consider
ourselves to be gravely threatened by those
same people, it is
hard to speak of the ways of peace and to
remember that Christ
enjoined us to love our enemies, but this is
no less necessary
for being difficult.

XIX. Even now we dare not forget that since
the attack on Pearl
Harbor -- to which the present attack has
been often and not
usefully compared -- we humans have suffered
an almost
uninterrupted sequence of wars, none of
which has brought peace
or made us more peaceable.

XX. The aim and result of war necessarily is
not peace but
victory, and any victory won by violence
necessarily justifies
the violence that won it and leads to
further violence. If we are
serious about innovation, must we not
conclude that we need
something new to replace our perpetual "war
to end war"?

XXI. What leads to peace is not violence but
peaceableness, which
is not passivity, but an alert, informed,
practiced, and active
state of being. We should recognize that
while we have
extravagantly subsidized the means of war,
we have almost totally
neglected the ways of peaceableness. We
have, for example,
several national military academies, but not
one peace academy.
We have ignored the teachings and the
examples of Christ, Gandhi,
Martin Luther King, and other peaceable
leaders. And here we have
an inescapable duty to notice also that war
is profitable,
whereas the means of peaceableness, being
cheap or free, make no
money.

XXII. The key to peaceableness is continuous
practice. It is
wrong to suppose that we can exploit and
impoverish the poorer
countries, while arming them and instructing
them in the newest
means of war, and then reasonably expect
them to be peaceable.

XXIII. We must not again allow public
emotion or the public media
to caricature our enemies. If our enemies
are now to be some
nations of Islam, then we should undertake
to know those enemies.
Our schools should begin to teach the
histories, cultures, arts,
and language of the Islamic nations. And our
leaders should have
the humility and the wisdom to ask the
reasons some of those
people have for hating us.

XXIV. Starting with the economies of food
and farming, we should
promote at home, and encourage abroad, the
ideal of local
self-sufficiency. We should recognize that
this is the surest,
the safest, and the cheapest way for the
world to live. We should
not countenance the loss or destruction of
any local capacity to
produce necessary goods.

XXV. We should reconsider and renew and
extend our efforts to
protect the natural foundations of the human
economy: soil,
water, and air. We should protect every
intact ecosystem and
watershed that we have left, and begin
restoration of those that
have been damaged.

XXVI. The complexity of our present trouble
suggests as never
before that we need to change our present
concept of education.
Education is not properly an industry, and
its proper use is not
to serve industries, neither by job-training
nor by
industry-subsidized research. It's proper
use is to enable
citizens to live lives that are
economically, politically,
socially, and culturally responsible. This
cannot be done by
gathering or "accessing" what we now call
"information" -- which
is to say facts without context and
therefore without priority. A
proper education enables young people to put
their lives in
order, which means knowing what things are
more important than
other things; it means putting first things
first.

XXVII. The first thing we must begin to
teach our children (and
learn ourselves) is that we cannot spend and
consume endlessly.
We have got to learn to save and conserve.
We do need a "new
economy," but one that is founded on thrift
and care, on saving
and conserving, not on excess and waste. An
economy based on
waste is inherently and hopelessly violent,
and war is its
inevitable by-product. We need a peaceable economy.

This essay originally appeared on OrionOnline.org, the website of The Orion Society and Orion magazine. The Orion Society has published this essay, along with two other Orion articles by Mr. Berry, in the book In the Presence of Fear: Three Essays for a Changed World.

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