wendell berry Quotes

Wendell Berry Quotes

Birth Date: 1934-08-05 (Sunday, August 5th, 1934)

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Quotes

    • The rule, acknowledged or not, seems to be that if we have great power we must use it. We would use a steam shovel to pick up a dime. We have experts who can prove there is no other way to do it.
    • A community is the mental and spiritual condition of knowing that the place is shared, and that the people who share the place define and limit the possibilities of each other's lives. It is the knowledge that people have of each other, their concern for each other, their trust in each other, the freedom with which they come and go among themselves.
    • Far from making peace, wars invariably serve as classrooms and laboratories where men and techniques and states of mind are prepared for the next war.
    • If I solve my dispute with my neighbor by killing him, I have certainly solved the immediate dispute. If my neighbor was a scoundrel, then the world is no doubt better for his absence. But in killing my neighbor, though he may have been a terrible man who did not deserve to live, I have made myself a killer-and the life of my next neighbor is in greater peril than the life of the last. In making myself a killer I have destroyed the possibility of neighborhood.
    • We haven't accepted - we can't really believe - that the most characteristic product of our age of scientific miracles is junk, but that is so. And we still think and behave as though we face an unspoiled continent, with thousands of acres of living space for every man. We still sing 'America the Beautiful' as though we had not created in it, by strenuous effort, at great expense, and with dauntless self-praise, an unprecedented ugliness.
    • We have lived by the assumption that what was good for us would be good for the world. We have been wrong. We must change our lives, so that it will be possible to live by the contrary assumption that what is good for the world will be good for us. . . We must recover the sense of the majesty of the creation and the ability to be worshipful in its presence. For it is only on the condition of humility and reverence before the world that our species will be able to remain in it.
    • Individualism is going around these days in uniform, handing out the party line on individualism.
    • Our model citizen is a sophisticate who before puberty understands how to produce a baby, but who at the age of thirty will not know how to produce a potato.
    • We need better government, no doubt about it. But we also need better minds, better friendships, better marriages, better communities.
    • An art that heals and protects its subject is a geography of scars.
    • But a man with a machine and inadequate culture--such as I was when I made my pond--is a pestilence. He shakes more than he can hold.
    • Novelty is a new kind of loneliness.
    • The teachers are everywhere. What is wanted is a learner.
    • We are living even now among punishments and ruins.
    • A teacher's major contribution may pop out anonymously in the life of some ex-student's grandchild. A teacher, finally, has nothing to go on but faith, a student nothing to offer in return but testimony.
    • We are living in the most destructive and, hence, the most stupid period of the history of our species.
    • Much protest is naive; it expects quick, visible improvement and despairs and gives up when such improvement does not come. Protesters who hold out for longer have perhaps understood that success is not the proper goal. If protest depended on success, there would be little protest of any durability or significance. History simply affords too little evidence that anyone's individual protest is of any use. Protest that endures, I think, is moved by a hope far more modest than that of public success: namely, the hope of preserving qualities in one's own heart and spirit that would be destroyed by acquiescence.
    • What we do need to worry about is the possibility that we will be reduced, in the face of the enormities of our time, to silence or to mere protest.'
    • Poetry can be written only because it has been written.
    • Professional standards, the standards of ambition and selfishness, are always sliding downward toward expense, ostentation, and mediocrity. They tend always to narrow the ground of judgment. But amateur standards, the standards of love, are always straining upward toward the humble and the best. They enlarge the ground of judgment. The context of love is the world.
    • The ecological teaching of the Bible is simply inescapable: God made the world because He wanted it made. He thinks the world is good, and He loves it. It is His world; He has never relinquished title to it. And He has never revoked the conditions, bearing on His gift to us of the use of it, that oblige us to take excellent care of it.
    • Rats and roaches live by competition under the laws of supply and demand; it is the privilege of human beings to live under the laws of justice and mercy.
    • Eating is an agricultural act.
    • The most alarming sign of the state of our society now is that our leaders have the courage to sacrifice the lives of young people in war, but have not the courage to tell us that we must be less greedy and less wasteful.
    • Never forget: We are alive within mysteries.
    • Reductionism (ultimately, the empirical explanability of everything and a cornerstone of science), has uses that are appropriate, and it also can be used inappropriately. It is appropriately used as a way (one way) of understanding what is empirically known or empirically knowable. When it becomes merely an intellectual 'position' confronting what is not empirically known or knowable, then it becomes very quickly absurd, and also grossly desensitizing and false.
    • We know enough of our own history by now to be aware that people exploit what they have merely concluded to be of value, but they defend what they love. To defend what we love we need a particularizing language, for we love what we particularly know.
    • We are alive within mystery, by miracle. 'Life,' wrote Erwin Chargaff, 'is the continual intervention of the inexplicable.' We have more than we can know. We know more than we can say. The constructions of language (which is to say the constructions of thought) are formed within experience, not the other way around. Finally we live beyond words, as also we live beyond computation and beyond theory. There is no reason whatever to assume that the languages of science are less limited than other languages.
    • To imply by the word 'terrorism' that this sort of terror is the work exclusively of 'terrorists' is misleading. The 'legitimate' warfare of technologically advanced nations likewise is premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against innocents.The distinction between the intention to perpetrate violence against innocents, as in 'terrorism,' and the willingness to do so, as in 'war,' is not a source of comfort.
    • Much of the obscurity of our effort so far against terrorism originates in the now official idea that the enemy is evil and that we are (therefore) good, which is the precise mirror image of the official idea of the terrorists.
    • One cannot reduce terror by holding over the world the threat of what it most fears.
    • We cannot hope to be secure when our government has declared, by its readiness 'to act alone,' its willingness to be everybody's enemy.
    • After World War II, we hoped the world might be united for the sake of peacemaking. Now the world is being 'globalized' for the sake of trade and the so-called free market-for the sake, that is, of plundering the world for cheap labor, cheap energy, and cheap materials. How nations, let alone regions and communities, are to shape and protect themselves within this 'global economy' is far from clear.
    • Our Constitution, by its separation of powers and its system of checks and balances, acts as a restraint upon efficiency by denying exclusive power to any branch of government. The logic of governmental efficiency, unchecked, runs straight on, not only to dictatorship, but also to torture, assassination, and other abominations.
    • On eroding, ecologically degraded, increasingly toxic landscapes, worked by failing or subsidy-dependent farmers and by the cheap labor of migrants, we have erected the tottering tower of 'agribusiness,' which prospers and 'feeds the world' (incompletely and temporarily) by undermining its own foundations.
    • If we are serious about peace, then we must work for it as ardently, seriously, continuously, carefully, and bravely as we have ever prepared for war.
    • If you know even as little history as I do, it is hard not to doubt the efficacy of modern war as a solution to any problem except that of retribution-the 'justice' of exchanging one damage for another.
    • National defense through war always involves some degree of national defeat. This paradox has been with us from the very beginning of our republic. Militarization in defense of freedom reduces the freedom of the defenders. There is a fundamental inconsistency between war and freedom.
    • In a modern war, fought with modern weapons and on the modern scale, neither side can limit to 'the enemy' the damage that it does. These wars damage the world. We know enough by now to know that you cannot damage a part of the world without damaging all of it. Modern war has not only made it impossible to kill 'combatants' without killing 'noncombatants,' it has made it impossible to damage your enemy without damaging yourself.
    • Our century of war, militarism, and political terror has produced great-and successful-advocates of true peace, among whom Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., are the paramount examples. The considerable success that they achieved testifies to the presence, in the midst of violence, of an authentic and powerful desire for peace and, more important, of the proven will to make the necessary sacrifices.
    • We cling in our public life to a brutal hypocrisy. In our century of almost universal violence of humans against fellow humans, and against our natural and cultural commonwealth, hypocrisy has been inescapable because our opposition to violence has been selective or merely fashionable. Some of us who approve of our monstrous military budget and our peacekeeping wars nonetheless deplore 'domestic violence' and think that our society can be pacified by 'gun control.' Some of us are against capital punishment but for abortion. Some of us are against abortion but for capital punishment.
    • Violence breeds violence. Acts of violence committed in 'justice' or in affirmation of 'rights' or in defense of 'peace' do not end violence. They prepare and justify its continuation.
    • What could be more absurd, to begin with, than our attitude of high moral outrage against other nations for manufacturing the selfsame weapons that we manufacture? The difference, as our leaders say, is that we will use these weapons virtuously, whereas our enemies will use them maliciously-a proposition that too readily conforms to a proposition of much less dignity: we will use them in our interest, whereas our enemies will use them in theirs.
    • I think we must be careful about too easily accepting, or being too easily grateful for, sacrifices made by others, especially if we have made none ourselves.
    • Let us have the candor to acknowledge that what we call 'the economy' or 'the free market' is less and less distinguishable from warfare. For about half of the last century, we worried about world conquest by international communism. Now with less worry (so far) we are witnessing world conquest by international capitalism. Though its political means are milder (so far) than those of communism, this newly internationalized capitalism may prove even more destructive of human cultures and communities, of freedom, and of nature. Its tendency is just as much toward total dominance and control.
    • We are disposed, somewhat by culture and somewhat by nature, to solve our problems by violence, and even to enjoy doing so. And yet by now all of us must at least have suspected that our right to live, to be free, and to be at peace is not guaranteed by any act of violence. It can be guaranteed only by our willingness that all other persons should live, be free, and be at peace-and by our willingness to use or give our own lives to make that possible.
    • It is useless to try to adjudicate a long-standing animosity by asking who started it or who is the most wrong. The only sufficient answer is to give up the animosity and try forgiveness, to try to love our enemies and to talk to them and (if we pray) to pray for them. If we can't do any of that, then we must begin again by trying to imagine our enemies' children who, like our children, are in mortal danger because of enmity that they did not cause.
    • We Americans are not usually thought to be a submissive people, but of course we are. Why else would we allow our country to be destroyed? Why else would we be rewarding its destroyers? Why else would we all- by proxies we have given to greedy corporations and corrupt politicians- be participating in its destruction? Most of us are still too sane to piss in our own cistern, but we allow others to do so and we reward them for it. We reward them so well, in fact, that those who piss in our cistern are wealthier than the rest of us.
    • We need to confront honestly the issue of scale. Bigness has a charm and a drama that are seductive, especially to politicians and financiers; but bigness promotes greed, indifference, and damage, and often bigness is not necessary. You may need a large corporation to run an airline or to manufacture cars, but you don't need a large corporation to raise a chicken or a hog. You don't need a large corporation to process local food or local timber and market it locally.
    • In the effort to tell a whole story, to see it whole and clear, I have had to imagine more than I have known.
    • The most insistent and formidable concern of agriculture, wherever it is taken seriously, is the distinct individuality of every farm, every field on every farm, every farm family, and every creature on every farm.
    • To farm is to be placed absolutely.
    • The ability to speak exactly is intimately related to the ability to know exactly.
    • Ask the world to reveal its quietude- not the silence of machines when they are still, but the true quiet by which birdsongs, trees, bellworts, snails, clouds, storms become what they are, and are nothing else.
    • A mind that has confronted ruin for years Is half or more a ruined mind.
    • Sit and be still until in the time of no rain you hear beneath the dry wind's commotion in the trees the sound of flowing water among the rocks, a stream unheard before, and you are where breathing is prayer.
    • Small creatures die because larger creatures are hungry. How superior to this human confusion of greed and creed, blood and fire.
    • Do not think me gentle because I speak in praise of gentleness, or elegant because I honor the grace that keeps this world. I am a man crude as any, gross of speech, intolerant, stubborn, angry, full of fits and furies. That I may have spoken well at times, is not natural. A wonder is what it is.
    • The poem is important, but not more than the people whose survival it serves...
    • So, friends, every day do something that won't compute. Love the Lord. Love the world. Work for nothing. Take all that you have and be poor. Love someone who does not deserve it. Denounce the government and embrace the flag. Hope to live in that free republic for which it stands. Give your approval to all you cannot understand. Praise ignorance, for what man has not encountered he has not destroyed.
    • Laugh. Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful though you have considered all the facts.
    • As soon as the generals and the politicos can predict the motions of your mind, lose it. Leave it as a sign to mark the false trail, the way you didn't go. Be like the fox who makes more tracks than necessary, some in the wrong direction. Practice resurrection.
    • To be sane in a mad time is bad for the brain, worse for the heart.'
    • From the union of power and money, from the union of power and secrecy, from the union of government and science, from the union of government and art, from the union of science and money, from the union of ambition and ignorance, from the union of genius and war, from the union of outer space and inner vacuity, the Mad Farmer walks quietly away.
    • Let me say and not mourn: the world lives in the death of speech and sings there.
    • What I stand for is what I stand on.
    • Whether we and our politicians know it or not, Nature is party to all our deals and decisions, and she has more votes, a longer memory, and a sterner sense of justice than we do.
    • The line that connects the bombing of civilian populations to the mountain removed by strip mining ... to the tortured prisoner seems to run pretty straight. We're living, it seems, in the culmination of a long warfare - warfare against human beings, other creatures and the Earth itself.
    • Great problems call for many small solutions.
    • Stay alive, all your life.
    • In Human culture lies the preservation of wildness.
    • Today, local economies are being destroyed by the 'pluralistic,' displaced, global economy, which has no respect for what works in a locality. The global economy is built on the principle that one place can be exploited, even destroyed, for the sake of another place.
    • Once plants and animals were raised together on the same farm - which therefore neither produced unmanageable surpluses of manure, to be wasted and to pollute the water supply, nor depended on such quantities of commerical fertilizer. The genius of America farm experts is very well demonstrated here: they can take a solution and divide it neatly into two problems.
    • wendell berry

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