Wendell Berry (and me) on Consumerism

wendell berry

Don’t own so much clutter that you will be relieved to see your house catch fire.  (from Farming, a handbook  by Wendell Berry)

Wednesday is Senior Day at the “Goodwill” – 20% off all purchases.  My mom goes every week.  She also goes the first Saturday of each month when everything is 50% off.  I went with her once and as I browsed through the book section, I saw a woman rifling through the paperbacks and pulling out articles of clothing.  I asked my step-father what she was doing.

      “Oh, people come in here during the week and hide things so they can get them for half price on Saturdays.”

       Perhaps some of you might find value in bargain shopping, buying used clothing and what not and I would generally agree with you.  It’s much better than buying retail.  But consider this…

        My step-father once cleaned out the bottom of my mother’s closet and found she owned 72 1/2 pairs of shoes.  Now, they were mostly Goodwill shoes so the total cost probably wouldn’t have amounted to even 1 pair of Guccis.   But my point is, how many shoes does one person need?

        And, given that I’m the child of a divorce and can’t pick on one parent without also picking on the other, let me mention one of my Dad’s quirks – collectibles. Namely, Nascar driver Tony Stewart’s memorabilia.  My step-mother keeps a precise inventory of how much they have invested in Tony Stewart products.   At the risk of raising their insurance rates I won’t even bother to estimate it.  I’ll just tell you they recently built a huge pole barn mainly to store their die-cast cars and other objects (okay, so their real vehicles can still fit in there – but it’s early yet).

Wendell Berry who is a farmer in Northeast Kentucky as well as a poet and essayist has written a great deal on how poorly we have done as stewards of creation.  In the disposable society we have created for ourselves, we have lost our attachment to the land, to our community, to our God.  In a desperate effort to fill our lives with products , we have sacrificed relationships.

I want to close with another Berry poem,  part of a “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front” –

Love the quick profit, the annual raise, vacation with pay.
Want more of everything ready-made.
Be afraid to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.

Not even your future will be a mystery any more.
Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.

When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.

So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.

(image of Wendell Berry from wiselywoven, some rights reserved)

3 thoughts on “Wendell Berry (and me) on Consumerism

  1. Hey indytony,

    Thanks for your thoughtful comment over on my blog. As it happens–and perhaps you found this while you were over there–what you posted here from Berry is a part of the poem “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front.” It’s one of my absolute favorite Wendell Berry poems. In fact, I posted it in full last Christmas on my blog.

    It’s a beautiful and thoughtful bit of writing. You have fine taste.

  2. Tony, thank you for stopping and liking the post The Peace of Wild Things. I only came to Wendell Berry’s writing since I began my PhD. He is such an advocate for the common sense approach to life through his conservationism and social justice positions which he speaks to so openly. I look forward to following a blog that echos my view on being stewards of creation and holding Earth’s gifts in trust for the next generations.

    Take care,

    Ivon

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