Home of the Free
In Home of the Free, Wendell Berry, the author takes issue with the way people go through life wanting work and lifestyles to be easier without thinking of the consequence of what it takes to live life “free”. They have the modern day conveniences to help them from getting their hands dirty or having to do anything that someone else can do for them. Berry implies the only way to avoid doing work that might get their hands dirty or feel unsafe doing or, is that they would have to be put into a protective capsule or that person would have to die.
Berry establishes one of these points while he is writing about a team of engineers from Purdue, who foresaw that by 2001, everything would be done by remote. The reality is that this is no longer a projection, it was already happening. Think of the remotes in daily life. There is a remote starter for your car, remote power to turn on and off lights in your home, a remote to open doors, even our cell phones are now a remote for many of these different things. In conclusion to this he asks, “Where does satisfaction come from? ” There would be a lot of “efficiency, production, and consumption”, but little satisfaction.
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He notes that the world of our future is “already established among us, and is growing”. Berry brings up the example of two advertisements that talk about two different products, yet are actually discussing the same concept. That concept being, making ones life easier so that you can go on to do the things you like to do; and leave the thing you “hate” to someone else. The first advertisement is for a tractor that reads: “ Introducing a sound-guard body… A down to earth space capsule. ” It talks about keeping the farmer free of dust, noise, heat, cold, storms, fumes, and keeps the farmer safe.
The second advertisement is for a condominium housing development where you don’t do any of the upkeep of the property that you own. The work that you “hate” to do, the mowing, shoveling, painting, and repair is all done for you so that you can go do the things you want to do. It is for “those who think themselves too good to do work that other people are not too good to do”. Interestingly enough, Berry writes that “Such freedom and safety are always for sale. ” This is a very sad but true thought when it comes to the reality of life. He states ”the only real way to get this sort of freedom nd safety – to escape the hassles of earthly life – is to die. ” While Berry speaks of farm equipment and housing projects that attribute to the problems of convenience, he also talks about the results of people “hating” to do things of inconvenience and that to escape responsibilities they become “haters of natural work. This thought brings to light a natural consequence as their laziness becomes reality. In brief, as he puts it, is that “of the laws that the world imposes on us” that “everything must be returned to its source to be used again.
But one of the first principles of the haters is to violate this law in the name of “inconvenience” or efficiency. Because it is inconvenient to return bottles to the beverage manufacturers, “dead soldiers” pile up in the road ditches and in the waterways”. While we are thinking of his statement, another product comes to mind that goes along with what he says, the “better water bottle”. The ultimate in higher thinking, is that if we build a water bottle that has a filter in it, it will reduce the “dead soldiers” lying in the road ways eliminating the need for so many water bottles.
What the people who came up with this concept misses is, that there is still a bottle to be abandoned at a later date. Yes, it does produce less “dead soldiers”, never the less, they are still a tossed aside product to be abandoned in waste areas and accumulate in piles of dead, stinking unwanted things. Berry writes, while trying to bring some sarcastic humor into this picture, in regards to “efficiency” in another area of life, that in the mass production of meat and milk in food “factories”, there becomes what was once animal manures that could fertilize fields, there is now wastes and pollutants.
When did it become “inconvenient” and “inefficient” to grow our food and produce, the things we need on a daily basis instead of just expecting it to be there at the store waiting for us? Yes, we are paying a high price for which the “haters” call posterity. It makes me feel guilty when I have my bottle of water with me, even though I put it in the recycle bin at the end of the day, I now wonder about where it will end up. Does it go to another plastic product to be tossed aside, this indestructible piece of plastic? I am concerned as I watch the people of convenience” walk by and I look at the products that we all carry to help us make our lives easier. I note the woman next to me has two of the “better water bottles”, one with a small round spring in it to help stir the liquid “meal on the go” that she has in that particular bottle. Another person walks by with a liquid breakfast in a Styrofoam cup, another non-biodegradable product. A couple of construction workers sit down across the room with their plastic coolers, with another product in it to keep the food cool, that has a label on it that says to discard if the container is broken because the stuff inside is toxic.
And where does the little frozen “convenience” go when it can no longer be used? It goes into the never thought about pile of “dead soldiers”. I watch as the mass produced food is sold, consumed and the leftovers are tossed into garbage cans that are conveniently placed in all areas of the room. The garbage cans, with their plastic liners fill up around me. I am brought to my own conscious again as Berry quotes John Milton saying, “To be free is precisely the same thing as to be pious, wise, just and temperate, careful of one’s own, abstinent from what is another’s, and thence, in fine, magnanimous and brave. Can I be brave? Can any of us be truly brave enough to be abstinent?
Wendell says of Milton’s statement, “How do you get free in Milton’s sense of the word? I don’t think you can do it in an earth space capsule or a space space capsule or a capsule of any kind. What Milton is saying is that you can do it only by living in this world as you find it, and by taking responsibility of the consequences of your life in it. And that means doing some chores that, highly objectionable in anybody’s capsule, may not be at all unpleasant in the world. He writes about the “haters” being a type of person that is trying to escape the inconveniences of the world and that the only way for them to do so would be to be put into their own space capsule, safe and not dirty and not having to do any work that would be a burden. He writes, “I wish it were possible for us to let these living dead bury themselves in the earth space capsules of their choice and thing no more about them. ” It is a humorous thought, to think of humans in capsules instead of the piles of garbage that is produced.
Berry concludes as he talks about working on his own farm, using his inefficient tools doing the backbreaking work it takes to maintain a subsistence farm. He is pleased with the work and he talks about how satisfying it is to do the work alongside his children. I understand what he is saying. I come from a family that has been taught that hard work makes a person feel like they have accomplished something and feeling proud of what I have done. I have worked on a small cattle ranch and have known the joy of saving a newborn calf from freezing to death when the ground was cold and hard.
My parents had a powerless lawnmower that my siblings and I learned how to push around a quarter acre yard just to cut the grass and when we were done, the neighbor kids would all come over and play on the freshly cut lawn instead of sitting in front of whatever modern day convenience that children play with and turn into human puddles. I think of the modern conveniences of a television and remote and how someone can just sit and change channels from their couch. I wonder, have we gone too far to go back to what the earth can give us and return to it without doing more damage to the earth?
Are we as humans so inconsiderate and intolerable of what we don’t want to do that we will bring about our own demise? After a great deal of thought, I know that Wendell has only scratched the surface of what is happening to us, the earth and what is on it. Sadly, I sit with my water bottle and ponder, am I willing to change? If I do will it make a difference? I am not lazy, but can I do without the things I use to make my fast paced life easier? I’m not sure. Even those people who I know that try and make a conscious effort to do better, still use modern conveniences. Do the conveniences outweigh the consequences? I wonder.