What Are People For? Essay
What Are People For?
Wendell Berry’s persuasive argument that many modern conceptions of progress and happiness are rooted in ignorance and self-deception finds substantial validation in even a cursory glance of modern media and political discourse. Looked at more closely, the misconceptions ably identified by Wendell Berry in the Western (and particularly American) vision of life and life responsibilities, cast an illuminating light on contemporary government, American foreign policy, and many urgent social crises.
Most obvious is the relationship between Berry’s observation that “The higher aims of “technological progress” are money and ease” and the recent almost epidemic instances of corporate corruption (and corruption in government) whereby CEO’s have garnered massive bonuses and pay-increases whilst robbing their shareholders and workers of profits and pensions. The corresponding downfall of powerful political figures in the United States Congress, as well as their lobbyist counterparts for racketeering, bribery, and other financial crimes indicates how widespread is the oligarchical strain of political morals in contemporary society.
Wasteful projects such as the “”Big Dig” in Massachusetts (estimated at $2. 5 billion in 1985, over $14. 6 billion had spent in federal and state tax dollars by 2006), as well as the highly-publicized Tyco and Enron financial scandals affirm Berry’s contention that far from securing a worthy future, the immediate greed and gratification of “big money” has motivated corporate and political leaders to sacrifice the future and well-being of myriad other individuals and the nation as a whole in favor of selfish, personal gain.
This type of greed, based on the fallacious assumption of preserving one’s future extends throughout the social hierarchy of America, with most, if not all industries and pursuits subordinated to it; as Berry remarks “Surely the aim cannot be the integrity or happiness of our What Are People For? Page -2- families, which we have made subordinate to the education system, the television industry, and the consumer economy.
” The reality is that most families are useful to the controlling interests of the American economy as charted demographics which allow individual economic resources to be targeted at “tapped” by the said controlling interests. Corporate America, the media, and the governments themselves function as subsidiaries of the overall obsession with wealth and the increase of personal fortunes. The quest for personal enrichment, the acquiescence to greed, predicated on the unknowable future is self-rationalizing behavior.
Ironically, it is also self-destructive behavior and also portends the possible destruction of the global environment. Were humanity truly concerned for the future, Berry argues, we would embrace the good things we know about the present such as water, oxygen, trees, oceans, mountains, and wildlife, and see to it that these good things endure “If we take care of the world of the present, the future will have received full justice from us. A good future is implicit in the soils, forests, grasslands, marshes, deserts, mountains, rivers, lakes, and oceans that we have now.
” One implied irony in Berry’s observations is that technology, the science which is supposed to bring our society to a great modern crest, has actually pushed us further into primitive superstition and savagery. Our modern totems are money and power; and we rape the environment rather than protecting it. We use our knowledge to destroy rather than preserve, and, at its pinnacle, technology, so Berry insinuates, has as one of its outcomes, the utter destruction of human thought.
“If one’ motives are money, ease, and haste to arrive in a technologically determined future, then the answer is foregone, and there is, the fact, no question, and no thought. ” What Are People For? Page -3- The most philosophically dense and relatively unsupported point which Berry attempts to make is the connection between a rejection of dehumizing technology and religious faith. “IF one’s motive is the love of family, community, country, and God, then one will have to think, and one may have to decide that thee proposed innovation is undesirable.
” With this conclusion, Berry seems to depart from the more linear and persuasive argument he previously offered. After all, if, as he insists, “We cannot think about the future, of course, for the future does no exist: the existence of the future is an article of faith. ” then surely the substantiation of God or any moral or political belief predicated on the existence of God is similarly “an article of faith. ” Taking Berry’s comments another way: that religious “faith” comprises a panacea to an abiding though sorely misplaced faith in technology, the argument seems more tenable if no less anecdotal and emotionally based.
However, it is the emotion of Berry’s remarks which lends them a convincing and urgent air, which is suitable for the topics at hand. Unfortunately, outside of a faith in God, a dedication to one’s family, and a respect and love for the earth and its environment, Berry offers very few insights into how the prevailing destructive beliefs and practices he describes may be combated or changed. His arguments about selfishness and the hollow pursuit of material wealth as opposed to communal or national prosperity seem well reasons and are substantiate by contemporary facts.
His arguments against technology seem a bit less well-reasoned and incomplete, based on emotional rather than evidential criteria. Though Berry’s imploring tone seems to fall short of providing even the slightest recommendation of pragmatic applications to reverse or undo the environmental and cultural damage that has come from America’s mortgaged future, his overall diagnoses of the problems facing our “Plutocracy” are persuasive and articulated with aplomb.
University/College: University of California
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 18 May 2017
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