In this blog series, the MSAN Summer Interns each respond to one of four Wendell Berry articles. The original article, “The Work of Local Culture” can be found here.
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Wendell Berry in, “The Work of Local Culture,” suggests that society as a whole needs to shift back to local culture and putting back into the earth rather than cannibalizing it for a more global focus. The striking problems with how we all live today often emerge in times of stress: droughts, natural disasters, recessions. My personal identification with his opinions in this article comes from my experiences during Hurricane Katrina. My family had the privilege of harboring 25 people from New Orleans and the surrounding areas and Wendell’s plight became evident. Generations have become accustomed to outsourced entertainment to fill their increasing idle time and when we are faced with have to necessarily unplug, shock ensues.
I agree with Berry in that small communities must hold steadfast in their lifestyles and do their best to go back to self sustainability of the past. What I have to challenge him on is that a huge part of local-centric change must start with the cities as well. The country small families can go back to late night chats together and small scale, regiocentric farming but they must also have the support and attention from those who are currently concentrating elsewhere.
The reason I say this is that cities have the buying power and the decision making power to actually implement changes. Berry speaks of having his nearby landfill in Kentucky being used by metropolises like New York City. Those in the cities must be made to come face to face with the fact that their byproducts, relentless demand, and waste are choking out their small town neighbors. They also must help in financially supporting their country counterparts overseas.
I can be critical given the time passed since the article was written. Hindsight is always 20/20. Wendell brings very valid points to the table in this piece; for example society and nature alike are better having been added to rather than stripped away. Just like the bucket in the story, our world is the combined result of what we’re layering and at this point, we’re not layering constructive elements. Even still, the country families Wendell holds responsible for rescuing our faults cannot shoulder the burden. Urban dwellers must be also accountable for reckless abuse of resources. They can help reinforce the positive living done by those country families living life sustainably.
By Claire Campbell, MSAN Intern