The Unsettling of America

March 31, 2009

In this novel, author Wendell Berry compares his mind and character that has happened in agriculture to the downward spiral of our culture. Berry feels that our culture and agriculture needs to be a unified system. One of the things Berry talks about in his novel energy. He views that our use of energy is broken down to two things machine energy such as cars and other kinds of transportation as well as biological energy. Everybody has to help out in the use of biological energy that includes plants, animals, and humans.  The concept of return is also comes up in the book which means what ever they take in, they turn it into a form so it can be used by another plant, animal etc.  This takes more responsiblity as well as care than used by production and consumption.

Presentation: The Unsettling of America Culture and Agriculture- Wendell Berry

March 31, 2009

The Main Point:

  • In the preface of the book Berry writes about what got him started on creating this book. He says that “the first notes I made for it were incited by a news story in the summer of 1967 on the report of President Johnson’s “special commission on federal food and fiber policies.” Berry continues to write to describe this commission quoting a newspaper article which said “that the country’s biggest farm problem was a surplus of farmers: ‘…the technological in advances in agriculture have so greatly reduced the need for manpower that too many people are trying to live on a national farm income wholly inadequate for them.’ The proposed solutions were to find ‘better opportunities for the farm people, … a more comprehensive national employment policy, … retraining programs, …improved general educational facilities'” (V-VI).


  • Berry then writes “Reading that article, I realized that my values were not only out of fashion, but under powerful attack. I saw that I was a member of a threatened  minority. This is what set me off” (VI). In the rest of the book, so far, Berry has one theme: bash big farming businesses and root for the little guy. He gives tons and tons of his own personal criticisms for big farming “agribusiness” culture, and praises the little farmers, however, he doesn’t give the reader any solutions as to how we would have enough food without the big farming businesses. So far Berry seems like a babbling idiot.


  • One of the reasons that Berry uses to claim why Americans have moved on to big industrial farms is due to laziness. “The growth of the exploiters’ revolution on this continent has been accompanied by the growth of the idea that work is beneath human dignity, particularly any form of hand work. We have made it an overriding ambition to escape work…” (12). Do you agree or disagree with Berry’s claim?



  • Berry writes about energy and claims that it is a fantasy for us to believe that we can “pursue our ideals of affluence, comfort, mobility, and leisure indefinitely” (13). I agree with this statement and the statement that “we cannot restrain ourselves…we waste fossil fuel energy” (13). But I also want to mention something else that Berry brings up in this section. Berry claims that: “If we had an unlimited supply of solar or wind power, we would use that destructively, too, for the same reasons.” Do you agree with this statement or disagree?


The Split

  • Berry mentions that “the split between what we think and what we do is profound” (18).  He then talks about how the Sierra Club has owned stocks and bonds in Exxon. Do you think that it’s okay for the Sierra Club to own stocks and bonds in Exxon? How else should they make money if not with good investments? Without money how can the Sierra Club function?


Against Specialists

  • Berry is also against the idea of having specialists- “people who are elaborately and expensively trained to do one thing” (19). He claims that “There are, for instance, educators who have nothing to teach, communicators who have nothing to say, medical doctors skilled at expensive cures for diseases that they have no skill, and no interest, in preventing” (19). Do you think that Berry is correct?
  • Berry also says “The specialist system fails from a personal point of view because a person who can do only one thing can do virtually nothing for himself. In living in the world by his own will and skill, the stupidest peasant or tribesman is more competent than the most intelligent worker or technician or intellectual in a society of specialists” (21). Again, do you agree?


What is a triumph?

  • Sort of tying in with our previous discussions of “progress” is the idea of “triumph.” I find that Berry would feel that progress does not mean an advancement in technology. He says “That one American farmer can now feed himself and fifty-six other people may be, withing the narrow view of the specialist, a triumph of technology; by no stretch of reason can it be considered a triumph of agriculture or of culture” (33). Berry does not further explain WHY this is not a triumph of agriculture, that is, until you get to page 87 and you read about the definition of agriculture.


  • “The word agriculture, after all, does not mean “agriscience,” much less “agribusiness.” It means “cultivation of land.” And cultivation is at the root of the sense both of culture and of cult. The ideas of tillage and worship are thus joined in culture. And these words all come from an Indo-European root meaning both “to revolve” and “to dwell” (87)”


Dog Eat Dog World

  • Berry seems to whine about the small farms failure. He claims that “…it appears that the failure of so many small farmers over so many years is really a kind of justice: it is their own fault; they ought to have been more efficient; if they had to get bigger in order to be more efficient, then they ought to have got bigger” (63). However, isn’t this true of most businesses in America now-a-days? Just look at all of the Wal*Marts taking over small stores. Why is it different when it’s agribusinesses taking over small farms? Or is it different?


Wrap Up / My Opinions

  • I feel that Berry sings a one note song. He complains about agribusinesses, yet doesn’t really give any explanations on how we are supposed to stop agribusinesses, or bring back old-style farms, and still manage to make enough food for not only the citizens of America, but for export. So far I have found Berry’s book to be boring and I find myself saying “so what?” often.
  • Do you think that we should go back to small old-style farms? Or do you think that agribusiness is the way to go?

Paper-Less OWU

March 30, 2009

For the “Paper-Less OWU” project we are going to build off of all the data obtained by David Ebanhoh and his group last semester.  This semester we are going to try and work with creating a paperless classroom.  We are looking to see were the best improvements can be made to reduce paper usage.  One suggestion made by David and his group was to contact IT to create a prompt that says “Do you really need to print this?” and to go along with this have a fact about the effects of using so much paper.  We thought this was a good idea since the most paper usage seemed to be coming from the library and not all of it seemed necessary.  We are also going to work closely with Dr. Krygier in survey all his students since he has created the first paperless classroom.  We are going to see what their opinions are about the class and if there could be anyway to improve it.  We are also going to try and promote teaching using the internet and powerpoints that are available to students on blackboard.  We feel that this will help reduce wasted paper in taking notes and drastically cut the use of handouts.  We are also going to see if it would be possible to get students to buy the BeBook which is an electronic device that can have textbooks downloaded to it.  This would eliminate paper use in textbooks and in many cases it is cheaper to get an electronic version of a book then to get the actual book.  We are going to analyze data from the waste project of last semester to see how much paper was thrown away rather then recycled.

How To Be Idle

March 18, 2009

This book was quite different than any book that I have ever read. It was interestingly set up like a daily journal writing about many different kinds of issues form a hangover to a Pub. When talking about a hangover Hodgkinson tells the  reader do not be ashamed about what you are missing that day but look it as a day off and that you need to abandon yourself from everything that day. Not only that but he goes on talking about how the poor is just not interested in keeping jobs but rather just live off of unemployment checks and benefits that are provided by the government. Overall, it was an alright book all it did was talk about random things you could do with your time if you did not want to go to work.

How to be Idle- Tom Hodgkinson

March 18, 2009

Three reasons why we are reading this book in a class about the environment… Well

1) Maybe it’s teaching us to take life less seriously and to actually live and appreciate what we have… like appreciating the out doors and nature and the wilderness and things of that sort?

2) “The idler’s desire is to live with no rules, or only rules that have been invented by himself.” (228) The environment lives by no rules, only rules invented by itself.

3) In the life of somebody that is an idler they care more about living life rather than material goods and following the system… The environment teaches people to live life and there are no material goods there.

Nature: Chapters Six through Nine

March 4, 2009

Chapter 6:

1.  “The very language we use to conceptualize various aspects of nature derives from the realm of cultural forms.” -110

2. “The latest generation of human geographers and the “new” garden historians seek to reveal the victors and victims in the competition for control over the definition and use of nature”  -111

3.  “Landscapes of leisure were no more innocent and no less enclosed than the landscapes of agricultural process.”  -115

4.  “The impulse to wrap yourself  in the trappings of antiquity can be explained by the rise of an urban-based commercial class conscious of its perceived vulgarity and anxious to acquire social respectability and cultural status by purchasing rural estates.”  -118

5.  “As capitalism besieged the natural world, nature was increasingly defined as those places “where industry was not”.”  -120

Chapter 7:

1.  “The idea of nature predating man-made law stems from the classical (stoic) idea of nature as universal moral arbitrator.” -127

2 “The eighteenth-century search for a better civilization often led to the tropical islands.”  -129

3.  “Aesthetic concepts of nature, focusing on the external beauty of natural forms, cannot be divorced from metaphysical concepts of nature…”  -131

4.  “Thoreau’s ideas captivated John Muir, the Scottish-born crusader to wilderness preservations and national parks in the United States.  Muir founded the Sierra Club in 1892 to combat threats to his most sacred space, the Sierra Nevada mountains in California.”  -134

5.  “…the Romantic ideology of nature is more ambiguous than is usually appreciated by today’s  environmentalists.”   -135

Chapter 8:

1.  “During the 1980’s, sociobiology revitalized Social Darwinism.”  -146

2. “Both Marx and Engels defined freedom largely in terms of emancipation from the problems of securing food, shelter and fuel.                    -149

3.  “According to the deep ecological world-view, “we the people”, who drive too many cars, use too many disposable nappies and eat too many hamburgers, must shoulder direct responsibility for out ecological predicament, instead of palming it off onto some wicked military-industrial complex, fat-cat elite, or exploitative economic order. “Real” solutions are sought at the individual level.”  -154

4.  “For social justice environmentalists the source of these problems is “environmental racism” -the deliberate location of environmentally hazardous facilities in disempowered. low-income and ethnic/racial minority communities.”   -157

5.  “…some of those at variance with the dominant ethos of industrial capitalism might be decried by those on the left as nostalgia-ridden  reactionaries.”  -162-3

Chapter 9:

1.  “The “end of nature” debate is more readily associated, however, with Bill McKibben’s The End of Nature (1990), a book about the dire implications of climate change induced by global warming for traditional ideas of nature and culture.”   -174

2.  “McKibben denies that nature has been slowly dying for centuries by drawing a qualitative distinction between the kind of damage inflicted through abusive logging, farming and hunting and a new order of assault constituted by various pollutants since 1945.”  -176

3.  “Climate change as the alleged cause of nature’s death has been rivaled (if not eclipsed) in the popular mind over recent years by advances in genetic engineering.”

4.  “…upholders of the sacred distinction between people and animals have pinpointed the ability to think in abstract terms as the critical divide.”   -183

5.  “How can we presume to know that a species wishes to avoid extinction? Or that a mountain has not been yearning for the day when a ski resort would break the monotony of the ages?”  -185

Loans designed to aid people in poverty can also be used to preserve the planet

March 4, 2009

A recent article found in Scientific American Magazine highlights the environmental benefits of providing micro credit to potential entrepreneurs in developing countries. Loans on the order of ~$100 can allow for dramatic increase in individuals quality of life. By promoting projects that are sustainable, a few micro credit companies hope to reduce the environmental impact of poverty.