By Contributor on February 22, 2010

By Wendell Berry

To speak of the need for affection and loyalty and social stability is not at all to slight the need for life-supporting work. Of course people need to work.

Everybody does. And in a money-using economy, people need to earn money by their work. Even so, to speak of “a job” as if it were the only economic need a person has, as if it doesn’t matter what the job is or where a person must go in order to have it, is brutally reductive. To speak so is to leave out virtually everything that is humanly important: family and community ties, connection to a home place, the questions of vocation and good work. If you have “a job,” presumably, you won’t mind being a stranger among strangers in a strange place, doing work that is demeaning or unethical or work for which you are unsuited by talent or calling.

When people accept mobility as a condition of work, it means that they have accepted a kind of homelessness. It used to be a part of good manners to ask a person you had just met, “Where are you from?” That question has now become a social embarrassment, for it is too likely to be answered, “I’m not from anywhere.” But to be not from anywhere is part of the definition of helplessness. Mobility is a condition in which you can do little or nothing to help yourself, and in which you live apart from family and old neighbors who would be the people most likely to help you.

Usury, for example, is “a job.” But it happens to be a job that nobody ought to do. It is a violence against fellow humans who happen to be in need, a violence against work, or against good work, a violence against nature, and therefore (for those to whom it matters) a violence against God. It is a job also that estranges and isolates one from other people, who are perceived by the usurer not as neighbors, but as potential victims.

To be mobile is not only to be in a new sense homeless. It is also to be in an old sense landless.

Wendell Berry's whole story appears in the December/January 2010 issue. Subscribe to The Progressive for just $14.97 by clicking here for immediate access.

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By Wendell Berry

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. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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