As I continue to contemplate the ways that war, consumerism, and entertainment have come to play a central – and often religious – role in our society, I find myself turning repeatedly to the prophetic voice of Wendell Berry.
In this brilliant selection from his 2002 essay Conservationist and Agrarian, Berry critiques the instability of an economy that relies on the overspending of its people (long before that played out the Great Recession of 2008), and the correlated power that corporations have gained in our political process (almost decade before the Citizens United debacle).
“I have spent my life on two losing sides. As long as I have been conscious, the great causes of agrarianism and conservation, despite local victories, have suffered an accumulation of losses, some of them probably irreparable – while the third side, that of land-exploiting corporations, has appeared to grow ever richer.
I say “appeared” because I think their wealth is illusory. Their capitalism is based, finally, not on the resources of nature, which it is recklessly destroying, but on fantasy. Not long ago I heard an economist say, “If the consumer ever stops living beyond their means, we’ll have a recession.” And so the two sides of nature and the rural communities are being defeated by a third side that will eventually be found to have defeated itself.
Perhaps in order to survive its inherent absurdity, the third side is asserting its power as never before; by its control of politics, of public education, and of the media; by its dominance of science; and by biotechnology which it is commercializing with unprecedented haste and aggression in order to control totally the world’s land-using economics and its food supply.
The massive ascendancy of corporate power over democratic process is probably the most ominous development since the end of World War II, and for the most part “the free world” seems to be regarding it as merely normal.”