Friday, November 19, 2010

William Wordsworth said it first,

'The world is too much with us;
late and soon, getting and spending,
we lay waste our powers:
Little we see in Nature that is ours.'

I take my book to bed with me.

'Life is a Miracle, an essay against modern superstition' by Wendell Berry and I come to the sixth chapter.
This is a library book, but someone has been here before me, underlying very faintly Berry's comments on Science and Art in which he observes that these disciplines are neither fundamental nor immutable, but are instead the  'cultural tools' of our society.

'Science cannot replace art or religion for the same reason that you cannot loosen a nut with a saw or cut a board in two with a wrench.'

Wendell Berry is writing about the lack of conversation between the disciplines in higher education, and he goes on to point out the necessity for these tools to be used in collaboration in order to 'build and maintain our dwelling here on earth.'

The further I read the more my head nods in agreement.
When we ask if Science and Art  are at odds with each other and think constructively about this question we see that science means knowing and art means doing and that 'the one is meaningless without the other.'

I go on to the next chapter where Wendell Berry observes that at one time these disciplines were thought of as ways of being useful to ourselves and to each other, to help us to be self-sustaining and useful members of a community, and to see that this way of living survived the 'passing of the generations.

But then along came Professionalism, rather than Vocations and professional education became mere job training or career preparation, abandoning the ideals of service and good work, citizenship and membership in a community.  To quote Wendell Berry, 'the context of professionalism is not a place or a community but a career, and this explains the phenomenon of 'social mobility'..........'the religion of professionalism is progress......professionalism forsakes both past and present in favor of the future' and 'is always offering up the past and the present as sacrifices to the future, in which all our problems will be solved and our tears wiped away - and which, being the future, never arrives.'
'The present is ever diminished by this buying and selling of shares in the future that
 rightfully are owned by the unborn'

This is the answer, but what is the question?

Wendell Berry is a writer of immense imagination, but what drives him is his passion for the land and for a way of life that protects the earth and inspires a reverence among people that is mirrored in
their stewardship, their awareness, their fidelity, their commitment and their place in 'community'.

He questions the collaboration of a 'pillage and run' science with the same type of industrial corporations which has imposed a virtual total economy where everything has its price and materialism reigns supreme.
He laments the corporate freedom to pollute and exterminate and what he feels is the dominant tendency of our age, -' the breaking of faith and the making of divisions among things that once were joined.'

'Suppose', says Berry,' that we could change the standards....  Suppose that the ultimate standard of our work were to be, not professionalism and profitability, but the health and durability of human and natural communities.  Suppose we learned to ask of any proposed innovation the question that so far only the Amish have been wise enough to ask.  What will this do to our community?

Do you agree that not all the contributions of science in the last one hundred years have  been of benefit to society and that many of them have caused  regretful changes to our morality?

'Suppose we attempted the authentic multiculturalism of adapting our ways of life to the nature of the places where we live.  Suppose, in short, that we should take seriously the proposition that our arts and sciences have the power to help us adapt and survive.  What then?'

I cannot possibly impart here all of what I deem to be the wisdom contained in these few pages, but I will take the book to bed with me again tonight and re-read them in hopes that the ideals they espouse will be recognized  and the future for our children and their children will not be as bleak and lacking in the richness of  reverence (that word again) and appreciation for the sublime gifts of nature and the strengths of community; the neighbourliness; the building of trust; a return to simplicity and an understanding of the benefits of minimalism and kindly awareness.

"The best portion of a good man's life is his little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and of love"
William Wordsworth

1 comment:

Barb said...

I like that you both started and ended your post with Wordsworth, Hildred. I have a favorite quote (a reminder to myself!) on my blog: "To be without some of the things you want is an indispensable part of happiness." -Bertrand Russell, philosopher, mathematician, author, Nobel laureate (1872-1970) To lose the present in a relentless rush to acquire more in the future seems a sad waste to me. PS I'm making your orange muffins for Thanksgiving this year.