Reflections on Wendell Berry’s It All Turns On Affection: The Jefferson Lecture & Other Essays (2012).
The industrial “Boomer” mindset maintains allegiance to upward mobility. This way of thinking is an unconscious driving force in society causing us to yearn for unattainable satisfaction. We move from place to place seeking a “higher standard of living” in a “stable” community. Yet in reality, most of us live moment-to- moment, paycheck-to-paycheck, moving from town to town striving for the highest paying jobs and best schools for our kids. We work for the weekends and (if fortunate) paid vacations on a beach somewhere to momentarily escape work and the stressors of the world. We earn it, right!?
If we can pause long enough to become conscious of our personal desires for “growth,” we might realize they are connected to “Boomer” ideologies encouraging a belief that we have the right to acquire more. Going deeper into the story, we see we are all implicated and must assume responsibility for maintaining unsustainable economic systems – those divorced from Aldo Leopold’s land community. Feelings of grief and helplessness often emerge when we see our ignore-ance and participatory role in perpetuating unstable systems of exchange. Ironically, this discomfort makes us want to move – cycling us back into the entitled unconscious Boomer mentality.
Alternatively, Wendell Berry calls for a “Sticker” mindset – one in which fidelity to the land and local community is the stabilizing force. In his 2012 Jefferson Lecture, It All Turns on Affection, Berry advocates for a culture of “economic arts.” He challenges us to create local, human-scale economies with the earth involving love, respect, sympathy, mercy, and reverence.
Mindlessly and heartlessly pursuing “The American Dream,” without engaging with the true cycles of health and wealth between humans and the land, will continue to exacerbate our inability to settle. Without affection or attachment to place, our unsustainable culture will persist.
The problem of sustainability is simple enough to state. It requires that the fertility cycle of birth, growth, maturity, death, and decay – what Albert Howard called “the Wheel of Life” – should turn continuously in place, so that the law of return is kept and nothing is wasted. For this to happen in the stewardship of humans, there must be a cultural cycle, in harmony with the fertility cycle, also continuously turning in place. The cultural cycle is an unending conversation between old people and young people, assuring the survival of local memory, which has, as long as it remains local, the greatest practical urgency and value. This is what is meant, and is all that is meant, by “sustainability.” The fertility cycle turns by the law of nature. The cultural cycle turns on affection.
As the season turns now to Fall – time of harvest and gratitude for food and community – pause and reflect about the land on which your community sits.
- Are you in touch with the fertility or lack of fertility in this place?
- Who are the elders in your community?
- Find those that have been there for decades (millennia in the case of non-humans).
- Who are the “Boomers”? Who are the “Stickers”?
- What stories can they tell you of the cultural cycles – of the relationships between the land and the people?
You can learn more about Wendell Berry’s life and work in this newly released film Look & See: A Portrait of Wendell Berry.
Visit lookandseefilm.com for screening locations.