Monday, November 24, 2008

Finitude is a gift

Faced with ecological threats of various kinds, many people would rather not think about them. They retreat into denial, or a security based in the possibility of technological advances or the allegedly inevitable forces of the free market. The broad popularity of reaching for hope in the market or technological fixes can be seen in the frequency with which politicians draw upon these themes. We are comfortable and our inertia draws us to answers that require little thought and less change. We trust that the explosive economic growth of the last few hundred years is now the normal trajectory, able to be extrapolated into the foreseeable future.

Wendell Berry has written an excellent article titled "Faustian economics: Hell hath no limits" reflecting upon our collective obsession with the myth of infinite growth. He argues that the pursuit of limitless consumption, unbounded knowledge and endless control is not only a dangerous illusion destroying our planet, but an attack on our very humanity. We will ultimately lose not just the planet, but also our soul. He rediscovers a life-giving alternative (though he doesn't say so explicitly) in a Christian conception of creatureliness. Here is a taste of the essay's opening:

"The general reaction to the apparent end of the era of cheap fossil fuel, as to other readily foreseeable curtailments, has been to delay any sort of reckoning. The strategies of delay, so far, have been a sort of willed oblivion, or visions of large profits to the manufacturers of such 'biofuels' as ethanol from corn or switchgrass, or the familiar unscientific faith that 'science will find an answer.' The dominant response, in short, is a dogged belief that what we call the American Way of Life will prove somehow indestructible. We will keep on consuming, spending, wasting, and driving, as before, at any cost to anything and everybody but ourselves.

"This belief was always indefensible—the real names of global warming are Waste and Greed—and by now it is manifestly foolish. But foolishness on this scale looks disturbingly like a sort of national insanity. We seem to have come to a collective delusion of grandeur, insisting that all of us are “free” to be as conspicuously greedy and wasteful as the most corrupt of kings and queens. (Perhaps by devoting more and more of our already abused cropland to fuel production we will at last cure ourselves of obesity and become fashionably skeletal, hungry but—thank God!—still driving.)"
The full article is not short (approx. 4,000 words), but well worth reading and re-reading. H/T Roberto.

6 comments:

Anthony Douglas said...

Perhaps it's an indication that my default response is denial, but my first thought on reading this post was that I spend far too much time reading this blog.

Wonder if my keen observation skills merit points, and whether I can get a converter to use them as fuel for our car...?

byron smith said...

Ahahaha - yes indeed. Caught out there, though they are different photos, just taken seconds apart and in the same direction (and with a different camera orientation, of course). This "mistake" has to do with how I select photos for the blog. But I won't say more about that, certainly not in your company. :-)

Even points have their proper limit, but limits are no excuse to avoid generosity. Quite the opposite: and so I'll give you ten for making me laugh.

byron smith said...

You've now passed 600 - congrats. I'm sure you've also noticed that you have a serious competitor for the first time in ages.

Jo N Jules said...

Definitely agree with the observations made by Mr Berry and yourself Byron. Particularly with the way that many people are drawn to the answers that require little or less thought and change.

In trying to make a construction company more sustainable, the amount of time one hits a brick wall that is "Its too hard!" can cause many bruises.

Jo N Jules said...

BTW - the picture of Sydney has two of the buildings that my company has built - Aurora Place and Deutsche bank place. Very appropriate I felt! :)

byron smith said...

JnJ - yes, very appropriate indeed. I picked it just for you! Does "It's too hard", usually mean "It's too expensive"?