Saturday, September 05, 2009

Consumers, you have nothing to lose but your chains

Over at the increasingly excellent agrarian blog, Front Porch Republic, an excerpt from the upcoming The Humane Vision of Wendell Berry, co-edited by Mark Mitchell. This is an excerpt of the excerpt:

After utility, people are for freedom. That is, without the ability to provide for our own needs and the needs of those closest to us, we are less than fully human. [Wendell] Berry clearly recognizes that certain tools magnify human freedom while others diminish it. It is interesting, again, to note [Ivan] Illich’s essential characterization of industrialization as a form of imprisonment:

People need not only to obtain things, they need above all the freedom to make things among which they can live, to give shape to them according to their own tastes, and to put them to use in caring for and about others. Prisoners in rich countries often have access to more things and services than members of their families, but they have no say in how things are to be made and cannot decide what to do with them. Their punishment consists in being deprived of what I shall call “conviviality.” They are degraded to the status of mere consumers.

Berry advances this argument. Consumers are no better than well-treated prisoners, and the American economy of industrial tools is designed entirely around the project of reducing autonomous tool users into pathetic, imprisoned consumers. The essential characteristic of their imprisonment is a loss of what we have been calling, according to
Illich’s categories, conviviality.

The industrial age has given us many tools, says Berry, “but little satisfaction, little sense of the sufficiency of anything.” This is because the primary product of industrial tools is dissatisfaction and discontent. Perversely, this is by design, for only in dissatisfaction can the user be imprisoned in the status of consumer, always ready to snap up the next thing, helpless to do for himself.

Read the rest here.

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