Response to Berry – Letters to the Editor
Wendell Berry’s article (“The Prejudice Against Country People,” April issue) was excellent. I have been following the way country people are portrayed on late night talk shows for some time. Jay Leno does several country slurs a week. The name of any Southern state provokes remarks about trailer parks and inferior intelligence and cousins marrying each other. After he does one, he says, “I am sure there are nice people in the South.”
I have lived in Tennessee for thirty years. My neighbors are nice people. Many of them are a hell of a lot more intellectually sophisticated than Jay Leno. Wendell Berry is right. If Jay and the other country-bashers adopted such an attitude toward an ethnic group like Jews or Mexicans, there would be hell to pay.
One of my hobbies is the history of Elizabethan England where can be found the origins of industrial capitalism: the legitimization of usury, the enclosure of arable land, and the beginnings of imperialism by merchant adventurers in the New World. So I certainly agree with Wendell Berry’s defense of the way of life of the small farmer. I suspect that many of us urban liberals would welcome the chance to get back to the land, though, unfortunately, like Virginia Woolf, we “would not know which end of the cradle to stir.”
So I respectfully suggest that Berry’s own prejudice is showing. It is not that “work is bad,” nor is it about affection for the land. When I think of the Heartland, I remember that it went conservative in the last election, and that the acceptance of evolution is still a work in progress. I remember that the last time I visited my cousin, I was assaulted in the airport by a fanatic demanding to know whether I had “accepted Jesus Christ.”
I say this not to accuse rural people, but to continue a dialogue. The challenge here is to find our way beyond the misunderstandings so that good people on both sides can help each other.
I liked Wendell Berry’s article. So few articles are written about rural life. Without farmers most of us would be dead. They are the most valuable in society, but they are the least valued.
We bought our home from an old bachelor Norwegian farmer. He was a great conversationalist with ideas that could be called socialist, although he would call them common sense. Though he rarely traveled far, he was curious, listened to public radio, and closely followed the news.
I don’t care how many books Richard Lewontin has read or accolades he has won, he is just a fool.
The Middle East is going up in flames, the Catholic Church is unraveling, we are at war in Afghanistan, global warming caused an ice shelf the size of Rhode Island to crumble, the AIDS epidemic in Africa gets worse by the hour, and you send us a magazine with “The Prejudice Against Country People” as the cover story? I know that Wendell Berry is a wonderful man, but it seems that at this very moment in history we have more pressing issues to confront.
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