by Isaiah Ritzmann
The environmental crisis is overwhelming. The sheer scale of climate change and the potential consequences of environmental overshoot is hard to handle in our heads let alone our hearts. Since the beginning of the modern environmental movement a handful of writers and thinkers, modernday prophets, have cast a holistic vision not only of these hard-tofathom dangers but of alternative possibilities for building a better world.
These writers perceived that it was our displacement, not from the earth in general but from our unique, particular places, which helped shape our present crisis. Simply put our problems were rooted in our uprootedness. Renewal would come if people fostered a sense of belonging to their communities and these communities fostered a sense of belonging to their particular places.
One of these people was Wendell Berry – farmer, essayist, and poet from Henry County, Kentucky. With an academic background in the Humanities, having taught in Universities across the United States, he returned to farm in his hometown where his family had farmed for over five generations. From this vantage point, being firmly rooted in his place and the people of his place, he began writing about the struggles of the family farm in the mid-20th century United States under variegated pressures to industrialize. Early on he published The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture (1977) where he expanded his analysis of the problems facing the farming community to issues of ecology, culture and community. Berry critiqued the industrial mindset which saw bigness and uniformity as unqualified goods, machines as unquestionably helpful and tended to reduce the complex mysteries of land and people into simple solutions. A sustainable society cannot be achieved by this kind of mindset. Instead what is required is a robust attention on the particular, both people in their particularities and the land in its unique features and requirements for care. For a society to be sustainable it needs people who care for their places, for people to care for their places they have to know their places and for people to know their places they have to learn to stay, to be rooted, to be ‘placed.’
The Working Centre has been nourished by Wendell Berry’s ethic of community rootedness and writings on care for the land for well over twenty years. Following the success of our July 2017 Daily Circus event on the thought of Ivan Illich we were inspired to have a similar event to explore Berry’s thought. When the Princess Cinema invited us to cohost the documentary Look & See: A Portrait of Wendell Berry the stars aligned in just the right way. With a clear hunger and interest in our community for exploring Berry’s thought we decided to launch a whole year of study, reflection and discussion on the thought and themes of Wendell Berry which we are calling “Finding Our Place.
In the next eleven months, from October of 2017 to July of 2018 the Working Centre will be hosting a whole of series of educational events including a monthly book club, a documentary film series and more installments in our Fermented Thoughts speaker series.