Wendell Berry, "Thoughts in the Presence of Fear"

Anonymous Comrade writes: "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


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


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


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


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


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."