Which of Wendell Berry’s ideas do you find most powerful or resonant, or the ones you find yourself most incorporating into your life?
Well, it’s his attention to scale. To clumsily paraphrase what I’ve gleaned from his writing: since the Industrial Revolution we have more and more effectively learned to sell each other our destruction. We have learned to consume the planet’s resources with ever increasing frequency and appetite, all the while, throwing up billboards and commercials to distract the population from the damage we’re inflicting. “Don’t worry about those mountains, or those forests, or those oceans. Look, here’s a new sequel to the game where you get to shoot Nazis.”
One of the things I appreciate about it, and getting to participate in this conversation, is it keeps my own head on straight. It also makes me scrutinize the material objects that I purchase, and that I own, of looking around at, “Do I really need more than two or three pairs of shoes?” Once you get your head wrapped around that idea, go back and look at the advertising that’s being pumped into our lives every day. I’ve always said, I would hate to work in a Mad Men sensibility. I’d hate to work for a toothpaste company. Can you imagine, in this day and age having to still get people excited and say, “Hey, we’ve put some crazy new minty shit flakes in our toothpaste.”
To achieve what I look at as success has changed so drastically by reading Wendell’s work. It has allowed the rose colored glasses of consumerism to fall away.
I feel like a lot is the idea of the limits, and how freedom actually merges out of working within a limit. He talks about poems and marriage, and how there’s actually more freedom in working within those forms—not just having an endless choice, which is often what drives consumerism.
He has wonderful language about materialism and consumerism teaching us that everything is disposable. If you’re not happy with your home, your shoes, your car, your kids, your wife, throw it away. Get another one. We’re all complicit in this massive churning military industrial complex. We’re all sending our money to energy companies. “Look, here’s my money. I understand that you will then send me electricity. I assume you’re going to be cool, right guys? You’re not going to destroy any ecosystems, or you’re not going to dump a bunch of fucking oil in the Gulf? Because that would be wrong.”
Wendell talks about this Amish friend of his who has a rule. The way he determines how many acres he can farm is that he won’t harness a beast after supper. If he has 200 acres and he has four kids, and they can farm their crops and tend to their livestock, they can get all their chores done before supper, then that’s the right amount. If he has another kid, or somehow he gets a new more efficient thresher, then maybe he can tack on another 20 acres. That knocked me on my ass. Because I’ve had such good luck in my life. I’ve had such good fortune, especially in the last 10 or 15 years, where professionally the world has said, here’s your dream acting job. Let’s just keep that going into more of a great career. Also, as adjunct to your acting jobs, you get to tour as a humorist, you get to publish five books, and you get to keep working at your wood shop.” I said, “Holy cow, this is great. I can literally work 24/7, 365, doing stuff that is so joyful, wearing four or five different hats.”