Our Place Within Creation
Sex, Economy, Freedom and Community by Wendell Berry
One of Wendell Berry's biggest concerns is the destruction of the environment. He links much of this to the ravages of industrial capitalism:
When the interests of local communities and economics are subordinated to the interests of “business”, then two further catastrophes inevitably result. First, the people are increasingly estranged from the native wealth, health, knowledge, and please of their country. And second, the country itself is destroyed.
This destruction is reflected in our disposition towards seeing the environment only in terms of its instrumental value. It is even reflected in our very use of the word environment, for, as Wendell Berry puts it, "no settled family or community has ever called its home place an environment." Rather, we should think of it as a creation that we belong to, of which we require certain things, but which also makes demands on us: "that we care properly for it, that we leave it undiminished not just to our children but to all the creatures who will live in it after us."
While industrial capitalism brings wealth and efficiency, it is fundamentally driven by growth, production, and consumption, without regard to its impact on communities and creation. This happens by means of "global thinking", by which Berry means a kind of abstracting generality that ignores the particular needs and conditions of actual circumstances. Accordingly, decisions are made by far-away organisations that are difficult to hold to account, goods are produced by unknown machines and workers who never see the fruit of the labour, and the far-away destruction wrought upon creation goes unfelt by the end consumer. This he calls the "dilemma of private economic responsibility": that "we have allowed our suppliers to enlarge our economic boundaries so far that we cannot be responsible for our effects on the world." Indeed, global thinking amounts to a kind of hubris and irresponsibility, for "no one can know the whole globe. We can connect ourselves to the globe as a whole only by means of a global economy that, without knowing the earth, plunders it for us."
Berry’s solution is to reaffirm our connection to the local and particular through what Roger Scruton calls oikophilia; the feeling of love and belonging to one’s home. People don’t want to destroy that which they belong to. If they produce waste or destroy the environment, they can see the impact immediately and are hurt by it. Local consumers will change their habits, and with them local producers---themselves with a personal stake in what's going on---attenuate the method or scale of production. This tight feedback loop between consumer and producer allows local choices to have a meaningful impact on local markets. Global markets, by contrast, can only be moved by a sluggish global consensus---perhaps one that will arrive too late to "fix" climate change.
"Economics" usually refers to the dismal science that sprang from Adam Smith, but there is another sense, less common now, of "home economics", about the relationships and services between individuals, families, and communities. Berry suggests that a rediscovery of home economics is necessary to shift economic self-determination back into the community. This we achieve by reducing the scale of our methods and consumption---and therefore our industrial independence---through buying, selling, and marketing local goods, working and living in the same place, consuming and growing local food, doing as much as possible for ourselves and our neighbours, "and by doing everything possible to provide to ordinary citizens the opportunity to own a small, usable share of the country".