Wendell Berry Passage

Eric Gill sees in this indus­tri­al dis­mem­ber­ment of labor a cru­cial dis­tinc­tion between mak­ing and doing, and he describes ‘the degra­da­tion of the mind’ that is the result of the shift from mak­ing to doing. This degra­da­tion of the mind can­not, of course, be with­out con­se­quences. One obvi­ous con­se­quence is the degra­da­tion of prod­ucts. When work­ers’ minds are degrad­ed by loss of respon­si­bil­i­ty for what is being made, they can­not use judg­ment; they have no use for their crit­i­cal fac­ul­ties; they have no occa­sions for the exer­cise of work­man­ship, of work­man­ly pride. And the con­sumer is degrad­ed by loss of oppor­tu­ni­ty for qual­i­ta­tive choice. This is why we must now buy our clothes and imme­di­ate­ly re-sew the but­tons; it is why our expen­sive pur­chas­es quick­ly become junk.

With indus­tri­al­iza­tion has come a gen­er­al depre­ci­a­tion of work. As the pice of work has gone up, the val­ue of it has gone down, until it is now so depressed that peo­ple sim­ply do not want to do it any­more. We can say with­out exag­ger­a­tion that the present nation­al ambi­tion of the Unit­ed States is unem­ploy­ment. Peo­ple live for quit­ting time, for week­ends, for vaca­tions and for retire­ment; more­over, this ambi­tion seems to be class­less, as true in the exec­u­tive suites as on the assem­bly lines. One works not because the work is nec­es­sary, valu­able, use­ful to a desir­able end, or because one loves to do it, but only to be able to quit — a con­di­tion that a san­er time would regard as infer­nal, a con­dem­na­tion. This is explained, of course, by the dull­ness of the work, by the loss of respon­si­bil­i­ty for, or cred­it for, or knowl­edge of the thing made. What can be the sta­tus of the work­ing small farmer in a nation whose mot­to is a sigh of relief: “Thank God it’s Friday”?

But there is an even more impor­tant con­se­quence: By the dis­mem­ber­ment of work, by the degra­da­tion of our minds as work­ers, we are denied our high­est call­ing, for, as Gill says, ‘every man is called to give love to the work of his hands. Every man is called to be an artist’ (Gill, A Holy Con­di­tion of Work­ing). The small fam­i­ly farm is one of the last places — they are get­ting rar­er every day — where men and women (and girls and boys, too) can answer that call to be an artist, to learn to give love to the work of their hands. It is one of the last places where the mak­er — and some farm­ers sill do talk about ‘mak­ing the crops’ — is respon­si­ble, from start to fin­ish, for the thing made. This cer­tain­ly has a spir­i­tu­al val­ue, but it is not for that rea­son an imprac­ti­cal or uneco­nom­ic one. In fact, from the exer­cise of this respon­si­bil­i­ty, this giv­ing of love to the work of the hands, the farmer, the farm, the con­sumer, and the nation all stand to gain in the most prac­ti­cal was: They gain the means of life, the good­ness of food, and the longevi­ty and depend­abil­i­ty of the sources of food, both nat­ur­al and cul­tur­al. The prop­er answer to the spir­i­tu­al call­ing becomes, in turn, the prop­er ful­fill­ment of phys­i­cal need.”

– Wen­dell Berry, A Defense of the Fam­i­ly Farm

One Response to “Wendell Berry Passage”

  1. TheGoldBug says:

    “Shop Class as Soul­craft: An Inquiry into the Val­ue of Work”

    and of course, we can also blame the Chi­nese, because I don’t blame indus­tri­al­iza­tion, I blame POST Industrialization:


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