Wendell Berry is one of those writers that have a talent for pointing out the obvious when the obvious seems so well-hidden. In his essay “Faustian Economics” he writes, “All are entitle to pursue without limit whatever they conceive as desirable-a license that classifies the most exalted Christian capitalist with the lowliest pornographer.” (pg. 43, What Matters?) This “doctrine” as he calls it is a necessary implication of the idea of a limitless economy.
The “family farm”, the concept that Berry is defending and the goal that I am trying to achieve seems like a simple and straightforward goal…but it is not. The implications of living in such a way as to be independent are many. First, I had to understand what it is that I am trying to be independent from. Secondly, I had to address and accept the limitations of the family farm (cottage farm, hobby farm…pick your term). And lastly, I had to address the cost of giving up on the Faustian idea of economics.
There are quite a few people with similar ideas of living and many of those people have to come to terms with these ideas, including: what is wrong with accepting modern society. Berry puts it forthright! “…Shifting the cost of depletion and pollution from the producer to the general public, the future, and other species…” (Forward, What Matters?) I’m not sure that there are those that can live honestly with these consequences, but I am finding out that I am not one of them.
Like any idea, the idea of a family farm ironically begins larger than life. The would-be farmer envisions endless, healthy fields and forests with a clean running, self-fed stream with no dependence upon modern conveniences. This thought is cut short when one remembers a necessity for most of us: toilet paper. This simple idea reminds us of the difficulties that are involved in going “off grid”, or even trying to live responsibly. Money is a necessary evil on this planet, given that we desire a quality of life that can be measured by any modern means. However, it is important to remember that money is not really the root of all evil, but simply the vehicle in which we travel to find it.
So what are our options with such dreams as independent living and eating responsibly? Berry again drives home what ought to be obvious to any thinking man. The agrarian economic policies would be in order of priority: 1) Nature, 2) Economies of land use, 3) Manufacturing, and 4) Consumer economies (pg. 3, What Matters?). I’ve never thought of my dream with regard to such priorities, but seeing them in writing drives home the ultimate goal: I want to reorganize my priorities.
I would recommend to anyone considering revitalizing their commitment to true, independent living to also re-visit the priorities by which they live by. I think that they will find that to simplify their life, they must first complicate their philosophy.