THEOSOPHY, Vol. 82, No. 4, February, 1994
(Pages 113-118; Size: 14K)



[Part 15 of a 16-part series]

Wendell Berry indicates in his book, The Unsettling of America, that a universe centered around mechanical devices has "usurped the whole Chain of Being." The "natural cycles of birth, growth, death, and decay" have given way to machines transforming raw material "into a manufactured Paradise, [which is] a fantasy in the minds of the privileged and the powerful; the reality is a shambles."

In a similar vein, H. P. Blavatsky's article, "Civilization, the Death of Art and Beauty," discusses man's influence on the environment of her time and of the future:

Owing to the triumphant march and the invasion of civilization, Nature, as well as man and ethics, is sacrificed, and is fast becoming artificial. Climates are changing, and the face of the whole world will soon be altered. Under the murderous hand of the pioneers of civilization, the destruction of whole primeval forests is leading to the drying up of rivers, and the opening of the Canal of Suez has changed the climate of Egypt ... Almost tropical countries are now becoming cold and rainy, and fertile lands threaten to be soon transformed into sandy deserts. ... Scarce a landscape in England but the fair body of nature is desecrated by the advertisements of "Pear's Soap" and "Beecham's Pills." The pure air of the country is polluted with smoke, the smells of greasy railway-engines, and the sickening odours of gin, whiskey, and beer... (H.P.B. Articles I, 152). [Note: For those who might like to read it, once you have finished reading this article, I've placed a link to HPB's "Civilization, the Death of Art and Beauty" article at the end of this one.--Compiler]
The Organization of Disorder -- A Dream Farm

Dr. Berry refers to a 1974 article in the American Farmer, where ideas are given by students from South Dakota State University for a carefully engineered "dream" farm about 100 years into the future. Less than one-fourth of its 9 square miles will be for production; livestock will be housed in a 15 story factory-like building, which will also contain all shops and facilities. Water, wastes, and air will be recycled.

As we might expect, Dr. Berry questions this concept of a future farm. The aims are worthy, but it is too controlled -- virtually totalitarian in operation. He notes that our large cities are examples of side by side "unprecedented organization and unprecedented disorder." Human intelligence is needed to guide from within and to adapt to changing needs. Control from without is "an invitation to disorder." Allowing machines to make major decisions would dehumanize natural, intelligent evolutionary processes.

People who would ordinarily do agricultural work would be displaced in the "dream" farm, even more than in this century. Giving too much time to "recreation" does not help with providing creative activities for workers' minds and bodies. Trying to add a blend of "human values" after totalitarian mechanization, Dr. Berry aptly states, is like enriching bread after removing nutrients from the wheat. He further argues:

If agriculture is acknowledged to have anything to do with culture, then its study has to include people. But the agriculture experts ruled people out when they made their discipline a ... collection of specialties -- and moved it into its own "college" in the university. ... But what respect is one to give to a science that parcels a unified discipline into discrete fragments, that has no interest in its effects if they are not immediately measurable in a laboratory, and that is founded upon the waste of topsoil, energy, and manpower, and upon the dissolution of communities? Not much (The Unsettling of America, p. 88).
Energy in the Wheel of Life

William Blake defined energy as "Eternal Delight." Dr. Berry identifies two basic kinds of energy: Living, organic energy used in the "Wheel of Life," and the energy generated by machines. In a similar vein, theosophists may recall the two kinds of electricity mentioned by H. P. Blavatsky in Isis Unveiled I, 188: brute and intelligent electricity.

In the Wheel of Life, a healthy soil contains so-called dead and live material. The "dead" matter does not stay that way for long; it becomes food for living organisms in the soil. Dr. Berry philosophizes:

It is impossible to contemplate the life of the soil for very long without seeing it as analogous to the life of the spirit. No less than the faithful of religion is the good farmer mindful of the persistence of life through death, the passage of energy through changing forms (Ibid, p. 86).
Soil is highly complex and alive. The observant farmer knows that the soil of his fields varies greatly in its qualities. Its composition, depth, slope, drainage, and other characteristics are the concern of good farmers, who, as partners with the soil, plant with a sense of best use and return to it the equivalent of what was removed. Farming becomes an art as well as a science -- a religion, a way of life, a profound philosophy. To illustrate:
Agricultural technology ... must conform to natural processes and limits rather than to mechanical or economic models. The culture that sustains agriculture ... must form its consciousness and its aspiration upon the correct metaphor of the Wheel of Life. The appropriate agricultural technology would ... enable the diversification of economics, methods, and species to conform to the diverse kinds of land. It would always use plants and animals together ... be as attentive to decay as to growth, to maintenance as to production. It would return all wastes to the soil, control erosion, and conserve water. To enable care and devotion and to safeguard the local communities and cultures of agriculture, it would use the land in small holdings. It would aspire to make each farm so far as possible the source of its own operating energy, by the use of human energy, work animals, methane, wind or water or solar power (Ibid, p. 89).
The Body and the Earth

There is a relationship between the way we treat our bodies and the way we treat the earth. What we have done to the earth we have also done to our bodies. In the words of Dr. Berry:

And it is clear to anyone who looks carefully at any crowd that we are wasting our bodies exactly as we are wasting our land. Our bodies are fat, weak, joyless, sickly, ugly, the virtual prey of the manufacturers of medicine and cosmetics. Our bodies have become marginal; they are growing useless like our "marginal" land because we have less and less use for them. After the games and idle flourishes of modern youth, we use them only as shipping cartons to transport our brains and our few employable muscles back and forth to work (Ibid., p. 108).

If a farmer fails to understand what health is, his farm becomes unhealthy; it produces unhealthy food, which damages the health of the community ... The farmer is part of the community. ... Healing, on the other hand, complicates the system by opening and restoring connections among the various parts -- in this way restoring the ultimate simplicity of their union. When all the parts of the body are working together, are under each other's influence, we say that it is whole; it is healthy. The same is true of the world, of which our bodies are parts. The parts are healthy insofar as they are joined harmoniously to the whole (Ibid., p. 110).

The separation of human functions by class and by gender has not made full use of natural abilities. The farmer is both a husband and a husbandman. Women are wives and mothers and play a nurturing role by performing the tasks of cleaning, food preparation, and care of the young. Men can and sometimes do play these roles; modern society is moving in a genderless direction.

Jefferson and Land-Grant Colleges

Thomas Jefferson's ideas, espoused by Dr. Berry, indicate that liberty is both a right and a privilege. Jefferson wrote of farmers: "Cultivators of the earth are the most valuable citizens. They are the most vigorous, the most independent, the most virtuous..." He referred to manufacturers in a contrasting manner: "I consider the class of artificers as the panderers of vice, and the instruments by which the liberties of a country are generally overturned." (Ibid., p. 143.)

Thirty-six years after Jefferson's passing, the Morrill Act established the first land-grant college. Land-grant colleges were meant to teach and promote branches of learning related to agriculture and mechanical arts. Dr. Berry summarizes the history of such colleges and shows how far they have drifted from Jefferson's ideals by boosting "agribusiness," which has destroyed the small farm, degraded the soil, and poisoned the environment. We need say no more except to once more quote Thomas Jefferson: "it is not too soon to provide by every possible means that as few as possible shall be without a little portion of land. The small landholders are the most precious part of a state..."


Agribusiness represents an orthodoxy that considers only its methods to be correct. Changes for the better must come from outside this orthodoxy -- from the margins in Dr. Berry's terminology. It sounds much like the struggle of the Theosophical Movement against orthodoxy in religion, science, and philosophy, all of which assume positions of authority.

Natural, unorthodox farming is practiced in the Peruvian Andes at Uchucmarca, where within 40 miles the land rises from 3200 feet to 14,700 feet. There are four major production zones (the natives distinguish seven). The Andean peasants have learned to cope with soil erosion, pests, drought, frost, etc. in wholly natural ways. One of the main crops is potatoes; Peru is noted for about 50 of the more than 2,000 varieties. New varieties are bred as needed to meet changing conditions. The semi-wild varieties survive in the hedgerows between fields, which also retain loose soil and provide for wildlife. Dr. Berry comments:

This principle of accommodating the margins, of diversity within unity, underlies our Constitution and Bill of Rights ... To put dissent and divergence to use, to turn a curious eye to the margins, eager to see what may have been tried and proven there, we will need a sounder, saner culture than we have.
Dr. Berry then discusses the health of a farm. A farm family must love the land and its diversity and be willing to maintain it. A healthy farm must have the right proportion of all kinds of life, including people. The Amish are almost alone in maintaining sufficient human presence on the farm. A healthy farm can maintain its fertility and most energy needs from its own resources. Organic farms can be large and profitable; he describes farms in Iowa and Nebraska that have produced healthy organic crops and animals. The cost of producing crops is approximately the same for organic and conventional farms, but energy use on the organic farm is only 1/3 as much (statistics provided by Dr. Barry Commoner and a Washington University research group).

Dr. Berry makes a strong case for using large numbers of horses and mules on farms, as of old. He praises the old natural ways of the Amish farmers who make extensive and diverse use of people and animals.

Since the 1977 publication of The Unsettling of America, much has come to light to support the major contentions of Dr. Berry. We must stop destroying and poisoning valuable farm land as well as other resources before our collective greed reaches a point of no return. The theosophical concept of brotherhood, with its scientific basis, gives a better understanding of ecological principles. The dissemination of these principles is of utmost importance to the health of the earth.

[Note: Here's the link to HPB's article, entitled "Civilization, the Death of Art and Beauty", that was mentioned and quoted from in the above article by the Editors.--Compiler]

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