Connecting Wilderness and Mankind This is an argumentative (synthesis) essay it has to have three cited sources and at least one direct quote from all three sources.
I could not add this source to the list but it is a web article https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5114301/.
Argument Synthesis Essay
Connecting Wilderness and Mankind Introduction
Experienced academic writers have knowledge on the subject and evidence to support their positions. For this essay, you will use texts studied in class to support, develop, and/or refute your own argument about themes presented during Module 1. This essay will require you to synthesize ideas – to pull ideas from multiple texts together – into an original argument; simple summary will not suffice. This essay will allow you to position yourself as a fellow scholar within theoretical and academic conversations.
Brainstorming, Research, and Analysis
- Start by looking through the course readings related to our first module: How Do We Shape the Land? You will notice that they range from topics related to Wilderness, Agriculture and Land Use, Soil Conservation, and the Green Revolution. Select two articles from class that relate to one another in some way, even if they disagree or take different perspectives on an issue. Then, select one source from a scholar in your major that relates to the other two articles.
Connecting Wilderness and Mankind
- Next, read your texts closely and analyze them rhetorically. Here are some questions you might consider when you analyze:
What are the authors’ goals and purposes? Who were the intended audiences, and how did those audiences shape the texts? How do the authors’ backgrounds shape the texts? What forms of evidence do the authors use? Where and why do the authors agree? Where and why do the authors disagree?
- Next, think about how your texts relate to the overarching themes or questions of the class. Here are some questions you might consider:
- Should wilderness be preserved at the expense of civilization?
- To what extent should man and nature be interdependent?
- To what extent should soil erosion be treated as an ecocrisis?
- Using your analysis notes and research question, provide a 3-5 page argument, using your three texts as evidence. This argument may support, refute, develop and/or challenge the ideas that you’ve encountered in the assigned readings. Regardless, you should contribute to the scholarly conversations you’ve encountered in the assigned articles.
Connecting Wilderness and Mankind Goals
The goals of this assignment are (1) to synthesize ideas from multiple texts into an original argument and (2) to become conversant with several theoretical issues that concern issues related to land use and forestry.
The Process and Writing Calendar
Friday, February 15 – Topic and sources due
Friday, February 22 – Peer Review
Friday, March 1 – Argument Synthesis due on Dropbox by 11:59 pm
Rubric/Requirements (Subject to change as announced.)
- Follow prompt, use approved topic
- Clear, focused purpose
- Well-written thesis, represents essay in entirety
- Brief summary of the original text to help the reader(s) understand the example
- Brief summary of the scholarly source to help the reader(s) understand the debate
- Introduction is attention-getting
- Sets context, motive and criteria for analysis
- Introduces the sources by providing relevant background information (author, title)
- Clear organization that emphasizes content and strategies for development
- Each paragraph clearly fits with purpose of essay
- Paragraphs are structured clearly
- Utilizes effective transitions between main ideas and paragraphs (flows well)
Connecting Wilderness and Mankind Development/Detail:
- Analysis is clear and fully explained
- Analysis demonstrates depth of thought, going beyond surface meaning for each example
- Each main point (paragraph) analyzes specific detail from text and connects to thesis
- Quotes are smoothly worked into paragraph, not dropped in
- Quotes and support from text are fully explained in connection to thesis
- Essay demonstrates a certain level of maturity, professionalism and appropriateness
- Makes significant revisions from draft to draft, not just sentence-level changes
- Active verbs, present tense
- Sentence structure and variety
- Punctuation—commas, colons, dashes and semi-colons
The Body and the Earth
On the Cliff
The question of human limits, of the proper definition and place of human beings
within the order of Creation, finally rests upon our attitude toward our biological
existence, the life of the body in this world. What value and respect do we give to
our bodies? What uses do we have for them? What relation do we see, if any,
between body and mind, or body and soul? What connections or responsibilities do we maintain between our bodies and the earth? These are religious questions,
obviously, for our bodies are part of the Creation, and they involve us in all the
issues of mystery. But the questions are also agricultural, for no matter how urban
our life, our bodies live by farming; we come from the earth and return to it, and so
we live in agriculture as we live in flesh. While we live our bodies are moving
particles of the earth, joined inextricably both to the soil and to the bodies of other
living creatures. It is hardly surprising, then, that there should be some profound
resemblances between our treatment of our bodies and our treatment of the earth.
That humans are small within the Creation is an ancient perception, represented
often enough in art that it must be supposed to have an elemental importance. On
one of the painted walls of the Lascaux cave (20,000-15,000 B.C.), surrounded by
the exquisitely shaped, shaded, and colored bodies of animals, there is the childish
stick figure of a man, a huntsman who, having cast his spear into the guts of a bison,
is now weaponless and vulnerable, poignantly frail, exposed, and incomplete. The
message seems essentially that of the voice out of the whirlwind in the Book of Job:
the Creation is bounteous and mysterious, and humanity is only a part of it–not its
equal, much less its master.
Old Chinese landscape paintings reveal, among towering mountains, the frail outline
of a roof or a tiny human figure passing along a road on foot or horseback. These
landscapes are almost always populated. There is no implication of a dehumanized
interest in nature “for its own sake.” What is represented is a world in which humans
belong, but which does not belong to humans in any tidy economic sense; the
Creation provides a place for humans, but it is greater than humanity and within it
even great men are small. Such humility is the consequence of an accurate insight,
ecological in its bearing, not a pious deference to “spiritual” value.
Closer to us is a passage from the fourth act of King Lear, describing the outlook
from one of the Dover cliffs:
The crows and choughs that wing the midway air
Show scarce so gross as beetles. Halfway down
Hangs one that gathers samphire, dreadful trade!
Methinks he seems no bigger than his head.
The fishermen that walk upon the beach
Appear like mice, and yond tall anchoring bark
Diminished to her cock–her cock, a buoy
Almost too small for sight.
And this is no mere description of a scenic “view.” It is part of a play-within-a-play,
a sort of ritual of healing. In it Shakespeare is concerned with the curative power of
the perception we are dealing with: by understanding accurately his proper place in
Creation, a man may be made whole.
In the lines quoted, Edgar, disguised as a lunatic, a Bedlamite, is speaking to his
father, the Earl of Gloucester. Gloucester, having been blinded by the treachery of
his false son, Edmund, has despaired and has asked the supposed madman to lead
him to the cliff’s edge, where he intends to destroy himself. But Edgar’s description
is from memory; the two are not standing on any such dizzy verge. What we are
witnessing is the working out of Edgar’s strategy to save his father from false
feeling–both the pride, the smug credulity, that led to his suffering and the despair
that is its result. These emotions are perceived as madness; Gloucester’s blindness is
literally the result of the moral blindness of his pride, and it is symbolic of the
spiritual blindness of his despair.
Thinking himself on the edge of a cliff, he renounces this world and throws himself
down. Though he falls only to the level of his own feet, he is momentarily stunned.
Edgar remains with him, but now represents himself as an innocent bystander at the
foot of what Gloucester will contin
What Gloucester has passed through, then, is a rite of death and rebirth. In his new
awakening he is finally able to recognize his true son. He escapes the unhuman
conditions of godly pride and fiendish despair and dies “smilingly” in the truly
human estate ” ‘Twixt two extremes of passion, joy and grief …”
Until modern times, we focused a great deal of the best of our thought upon such
rituals of return to the human condition. Seeking enlightenment or the Promised
Land or the way home, a man would go or be forced to go into the wilderness,
measure himself against the Creation, recognize finally his true place within it, and
thus be saved both from pride and from despair. Seeing himself as a tiny member of
a world he cannot comprehend or master or in any final sense possess, he cannot
possibly think of himself as a god. And by the same token, since he shares in,
depends upon, and is graced by all of which he is a part, neither can be become a
fiend; he cannot descend into the final despair of destructiveness. Returning from
the wilderness, he becomes a restorer of order, a preserver. He sees the truth,
recognizes his true heir, honors his forebears and his heritage, and gives his blessing
to his successors. He embodies the passing of human time, living and dying within
the human limits of grief and joy.
On the Tower
Apparently with the rise of industry, we began to romanticize the wilderness–which
is to say we began to institutionalize it within the concept of the “scenic.” Because
of railroads and improved highways, the wilderness was no longer an arduous
passage for the traveler, but something to be looked at as grand or beautiful from the
high vantages of the roadside. We became viewers of “views.” And because we no
longer traveled in the wilderness as a matter of course, we forgot that wilderness still
circumscribed civilization and persisted in domesticity. We forgot, indeed, that the
civilized and the domestic continued to depend upon wilderness–that is, upon
natural forces within the climate and within the soil that have never in any
meaningful sense been controlled or conquered. Modern civilization has been built
largely in this forgetfulness.
And as we transformed the wilderness into scenery, we began to feel in the presence
of “nature” an awe that was increasingly statistical. We would not become
appreciators of the Creation until we had taken its measure. Once we had climbed or
driven to the mountain top, we were awed by the view, but it was an awe that we felt
compelled to validate or prove by the knowledge of how high we stood and how far
we saw. We are invited to “see seven states from atop Lookout Mountain,” as if our
political boundaries had been drawn in red on the third morning of Creation.
We became less and less capable of sensing ourselves as small within Creation,
partly because we thought we could comprehend it statistically, but also because we
were becoming creators, ourselves, of a mechanical creation by which we felt
ourselves greatly magnified. We built bridges that stood imposingly in titanic
settings, towers that stood around us like geologic presences, single machines that
could do the work of hundreds of people. Why, after all, should one get excited
about a mountain when one can see almost as far from the top of a building, much
farther from an airplane, farther still from a space capsule? We have learned to be
fascinated by the statistics of magnitude and power. There is apparently no limit in
sight, no end, and so it is no wonder that our minds, dizzy with numbers, take refuge
in a yearning for infinitudes of energy and materials.
And yet these works that so magnify us also dwarf us, reduce us to insignificance.
They magnify us because we are capable of them. They diminish us because, say
what we will, once we build beyond a human scale, once we conceive ourselves as
Titans or as gods, we are lost in magnitude; we cannot control or limit what we do.
The statistics of magnitude call out like Sirens to the statistics of destruction. If we
have built towering cities, we have raised even higher the cloud of megadeath. If
people are as grass before God, they are as nothing before their machines.
If we are fascinated by the statistics of magnitude, we are no less fascinated by the
statistics of our insignificance. We never tire of repeating the commonizing figures
of population and population growth. We are entranced to think of ourselves as
specks on the pages of our own overwhelming history. I remember that my highschool
biology text dealt with the human body by listing its constituent elements,
measuring their quantities, and giving their monetary worth–at that time a little less
than a dollar. That was a bit of the typical fodder of the modern mind, at once
sensational and belittling–no accidental product of the age of Dachau and
In our time Shakespeare’s cliff has become the tower of a bridge–not the scene of a
wakening rite of symbolic death and rebirth, but of the real and final death of
suicide. Hart Crane wrote its paradigm, as if against his will, in The Bridge:
Out of some subway scuttle, cell or loft
A bedlamite speeds to thy parapets,
Tilting there momentarily, shrill shirt ballooning,
A jest falls from the speechless caravan.
In Shakespeare, the real Bedlamite or madman is the desperate and suicidal
Gloucester. The supposed Bedlamite is in reality his true son, and together they
enact an eloquent ritual in which Edgar gives his father a vision of Creation.
Gloucester abandons himself to this vision, literally casting himself into it, and is
renewed; he finds his life by losing it. Gloucester is saved by a renewal of his sense
of the world and of his proper place in it. And this is brought about by an enactment
that is communal, both in the sense that he is accompanied in it by his son, who for
the time being has assumed the disguise of a madman but the role of a priest, and in
the sense that it is deeply traditional in its symbols and meanings. In Crane, on the
other hand, the Bedlamite is alone, surrounded by speechlessness, cut off within the
crowd from any saving or renewing vision. The height, which in Shakespeare is the
traditional place of vision, has become in Crane a place of blindness; the bridge,
which Crane intended as a unifying symbol, has become the symbol of a final
After I had begun to think about these things, I received a letter containing an
account of a more recent suicide. The following sentences from that letter seem both
to corroborate Crane’s lines and to clarify them:
“My friend _______ jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge two months ago…. She had
been terribly depressed for years. There was no help for her. None that she could
find that was sufficient. She was trying to get from one phase of her life to another,
and couldn’t make it. She had been terribly wounded as a child…. Her wound could
not be healed. She destroyed herself.”
The letter had already asked, “How does a human pass through youth to maturity
without ‘breaking down’?” And it had answered: “help from tradition, through
ceremonies and rituals, rites of passage at the most difficult stages.”
My correspondent went on to say: “Healing, it seems to me, is a necessary and
useful word when we talk about agriculture.” And a few paragraphs later he wrote:
“The theme of suicide belongs in a book about agriculture…”
I agree. But I am also aware that many people will find it exceedingly strange that
these themes should enter so forcibly into this book. It will be thought that I am off
the subject. And so I want to take pains to show that I am on the subject–and on it,
moreover, in the only way most people have of getting on it: by way of the issue of
their own health. Indeed, it is when one approaches agriculture from any other issue
than that of health that one may be said to be off the subject.
The difficulty probably lies in our narrowed understanding of the word health. That
there is some connection between how we feel and what we eat, between our bodies
and the earth, is acknowledged when we say that we must “eat right to keep fit” or
that we should eat “a balanced diet.” But by health we mean little more than how we
feel. We are healthy, we think, if we do not feel any pain or too much pain, and if
we are strong enough to do our work. If we become unhealthy, then we go to a
doctor who we hope will “cure” us and restore us to health. By health, in other
words, we mean merely the absence of disease. Our health professionals are
interested almost exclusively in preventing disease (mainly by destroying germs)
and in curing disease (mainly by surgery and by destroying germs).
But the concept of health is rooted in the concept of wholeness. To be healthy is to
be whole. The word health belongs to a family of words, a listing of which will
suggest how far the consideration of health must carry us: heal, whole, wholesome,
hale, hallow, holy. And so it is possible to give a definition to health that is positive
and far more elaborate than that given to it by most medical doctors and the officers
of public health.
If the body is healthy, then it is whole. But how can it be whole and yet be
dependent, as it obviously is, upon other bodies and upon the earth, upon all the rest
of Creation, in fact? It immediately becomes clear that the health or wholeness of
the body is a vast subject, and that to preserve it calls for a vast enterprise. Blake
said that “Man has no Body distinct from his Soul…” and thus acknowledged the
convergence of health and holiness. In that, all the convergences and dependences of
Creation are surely implied. Our bodies are also not distinct from the bodies of other
people, on which they depend in a complexity of ways from biological to spiritual.
They are not distinct from the bodies of plants and animals, with which we are
involved in the cycles of feeding and in the intricate companionships of ecological
systems and of the spirit. They are not distinct from the earth, the sun and moon, and
the other heavenly bodies.
It is therefore absurd to approach the subject of health piecemeal with a
departmentalized band of specialists. A medical doctor uninterested in nutrition, in
agriculture, in the wholesomeness of mind and spirit is as absurd as a farmer who is
uninterested in health. Our fragmentation of this subject cannot be our cure, because
it is our disease. The body cannot be whole alone. Persons cannot be whole alone. It
is wrong to think that bodily health is compatible with spiritual confusion or cultural
disorder, or with polluted air and water or impoverished soil. Intellectually, we
know that these patterns of interdependence exist; we understand them better now
perhaps than we ever have before; yet modern social and cultural patterns contradict
them and make it difficult or impossible to honor them in practice.
To try to heal the body alone is to collaborate in the destruction of the body. Healing
is impossible in loneliness; it is the opposite of loneliness. Conviviality is heating.
To be healed we must come with all the other creatures to the feast of Creation.
Together, the above two descriptions of suicides suggest this very powerfully. The
setting of both is urban, amid the gigantic works of modern humanity. The fatal
sickness is despair, a wound that cannot be healed because it is encapsulated in
loneliness, surrounded by speechlessness. Past the scale of the human, our works do
not liberate us–they confine us. They cut off access to the wilderness of Creation
where we must go to be reborn–to receive the awareness, at once humbling and
exhilarating, grievous and joyful, that we are a part of Creation, one with all that we
live from and all that, in turn, lives from us. They destroy the communal rites of
passage that turn us toward the wilderness and bring us home again.
The Isolation of the Body
Perhaps the fundamental damage of the specialist system–the damage from which
all other damages issue–has been the isolation of the body. At some point we began
to assume that the life of the body would be the business of grocers and medical
doctors, who need take no interest in the spirit, whereas the life of the spirit would
be the business of churches, which would have at best only a negative interest in the
body. In the same way we began to see nothing wrong with putting the body–most
often somebody else’s body, but frequently our own—a task that insulted the mind
and demeaned the find it easier than ever to prefer our own other creatures and to
abuse, exploit, and otherwise hold in contempt those other bodies for the greater
good or comfort of our own.
The isolation of the body sets it into direct conflict with everything else in Creation.
It gives it a value that is destructive of every other value. That this has happened is
paradoxical, for the body was set apart from the soul in order that the soul should
triumph over the body. The aim is stated in Shakespeare’s Sonnet 146 as plainly as
Poor soul, the center of my sinful earth,
Lord of these rebel powers that thee array,
Why dost thou pine within and suffer dearth,
Painting thy outward walls so costly gay?
Why so large cost, having so short a lease,
Shall worms, inheritors of this excess,
Eat up thy charge? Is this thy body’s end?
Then, soul, live thou upon thy servant’s loss,
And let that pine to aggravate thy store;
Buy terms divine in selling hours of dross;
Within be fed, without be rich no more.
So shalt thou feed on death, that feeds on men,
And death once dead, there’s no more dying then.
The soul is thus set against the body, to thrive at the body’s expense. And so a
spiritual economy is devised within which the only law is competition. If the soul is
to live in this world only by denying the body, then its relation to worldly life
becomes extremely simple and superficial. Too simple and superficial, in fact, to
cope in any meaningful or useful way with the world. Spiritual value ceases to have
any worldly purpose or force. To fail to employ the body in this world at once for its
own good and the good of the soul is to issue an invitation to disorder of the most
What was not foreseen in this simple-minded economics of religion was that it is not
possible to devalue the body and value the soul. The body, cast loose from the soul,
is on its own. Devalued and cast out of the temple, the body does not skulk off like a
sick do to die in the bushes. It sets up a counterpart economy of its own, based also
on the law of competition, in which it devalues and exploits the spirit. These two
economies maintain themselves at each other’s expense, living upon each other’s
loss, collaborating without cease in mutual futility and absurdity.
You cannot devalue the body and value the soul–or value anything else. The
prototypical act issuing from this division was to make a person a slave and then
instruct him in religions “charity” more damaging to the master than to the slave.
Contempt for the body is invariably manifested in contempt for other bodies–the
bodies of slaves, laborers, women, animals, plants, the earth itself. Relationships
with all other creatures become competitive and exploitive rather than collaborative
and convivial. The world is seen and dealt with, not as an ecological community, but
as a stock exchange, the ethics of which are based on the tragically misnamed “law
of the jungle.” This “jungle” law is a basic fallacy of modern culture. The body is
degraded and saddened by being set in conflict against the Creation itself, of which
all bodies are members, therefore members of each other. The body is thus sent to
war against itself.
Divided, set against each other, body and soul drive each other to extremes of
misapprehension and folly. Nothing could be more absurd than to despise the body
and yet yearn for its resurrection. In reaction to this supposedly religious attitude, we
get, not reverence or respect for the body, but another kind of contempt: the desire to
comfort and indulge the body with equal disregard for its health. The “dialogue of
body and soul” in our time is being carried on between those who despise the body
for the sake of its resurrection and those, diseased by bodily extravagance and lack
of exercise, who nevertheless desire longevity above all things. These think that they
oppose each other, and yet they could not exist apart. They are locked in a conflict
that is really their collaboration in the destruction of soul and body both.
What this conflict has done, among other things, is to make it extremely difficult to
set a proper value on the life of the body in this world–to believe that it is good,
howbeit short and imperfect. Until we are able to say this and know what we mean
by it, we will not be able to live our lives in the human estate of grief and joy, but
repeatedly will be cast outside in violent swings between pride and despair. Desires
that cannot be fulfilled in health will keep us hopelessly restless and unsatisfied.
By dividing body and soul, we divide both from all else. We thus condemn
ourselves to a loneliness for which the only compensation is violence–against other
creatures, against the earth, against ourselves. For no matter the distinctions we draw
between body and soul, body and earth, ourselves and others–the connections, the
dependences, the identities remain. And so we fail to contain or control our violence.
It gets loose. Though there are categories of violence, or so we think, there are no
categories of victims. Violence against one is ultimately violence against all. The
willingness to abuse other bodies is the willingness to abuse one’s own. To damage
the earth is to damage your children. To despise the ground is to despise its fruit; to
despise the fruit is to despise its eaters. The wholeness of health is broken by
If competition is the correct relation of creatures to one another and to the earth, then
we must ask why exploitation is not more successful than it is. Why, having lived so
long at the expense of other creatures and the earth, are we not healthier and happier
than we are? Why does modern society exist under constant threat of the same
suffering, deprivation, spite, contempt, and obliteration that it has imposed on other
people and other creatures? Why do the health of the body and the health of the
earth decline together? And why, in consideration of this decline of our worldly
flesh and household, our “sinful earth,” are we not healthier in spirit?
It is not necessary to have recourse to statistics to see that the human estate is
declining with the estate of nature, and that the corruption of the body is the
corruption of the soul. I know that the country is full of “leaders” and experts of
various sorts who are using statistics to prove the opposite: that we have more cars,
more superhighways, more TV sets, motorboats, prepared foods, etc., than any
people ever had before–and are therefore better off than any people ever were
before. 1 can see the burgeoning of this “consumer economy” and can appreciate
some of its attractions and comforts. But that economy has an inside and an outside;
from the outside there are other things to be seen.
I am writing this in the north-central part of Kentucky on a morning near the end of
June. We have had rain for two days, hard rain during the last several hours. From
where I sit 1 can see the Kentucky River swiftening and rising, the water already
yellow with mud. I know that inside this city-oriented consumer economy there are
many people who will never see this muddy rise and many who will see it without
knowing what it means. I know also that there are many who will see it, and know
what it means, and not care. If it lasts until the weekend there will be people who
will find it as good as clear water for motorboating and waterskiing.
In the past several days I have seen some of the worst-eroded corn fields that I have
seen in this country in my life. This erosion is occurring on the cash-rented farms of
farmers’ widows and city farmers, absentee owners, the doctors and businessmen
who buy a farm for the tax breaks or to have “a quiet place in the country” for the
weekends. It is the direct result of economic and agricultural policy; it might be said
to be an economic and agricultural policy. The signs of the “agridollar,” big-business
fantasy of the Butz mentality are all present: the absenteeism, the temporary and
shallow interest of the land-renter, the row-cropping of slopes, the lack of rotation,
the plowed-out waterways, the rows running up and down the hills.
Looked at from the field’s edge, this is ruin, criminal folly, moral idiocy. Looked at
from Washington, D.C., from inside the “economy,” it is called “free enterprise” and
And around me here, as everywhere else I have been in this country–in Nebraska,
Iowa, Indiana, New York, New England, Tennessee–the farmland is in general
decline: fields and whole farms abandoned, given up with their scars unmended,
washing away under the weeds and bushes; fine land put to row crops year after
year, without rest or rotation; buildings and fences going down; good houses
standing empty, unpainted, their windows broken.
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.
As for our spirits, they seem more and more to comfort themselves by buying things.
No longer in need of the exalted drama of grief and joy, they feed now on little
shocks of greed, scandal, and violence. For many of the churchly, the life of the
spirit is reduced to a dull preoccupation with getting to Heaven. At best, the world is
no more than an embarrassment and a trial to the spirit, which is otherwise radically
separated from it. The true lover of God must not be burdened with any care or
respect for His works. While the body goes about its business of destroying the
earth, the soul is supposed to lie back and wait for Sunday, keeping itself free of
earthly contaminants. While the body exploits other bodies, the soul stands aloof,
free from sin, crying to the gawking bystanders: “I am not enjoying it!” As far as
this sort of “religion” is concerned, the body is no more than the lusterless container
of the soul, a mere “package,” that will nevertheless light up in eternity, forever cool
and shiny as a neon cross. This separation of the soul from the body and from the
world is no disease of the fringe, no aberration, but a fracture that runs through the
mentality of institutional religion like a geologic fault. And this rift in the mentality
of religion continues to characterize the modern mind, no matter how secular or
worldly it becomes.
But I have not stated my point exactly enough. This rift is not like a geologic fault; it
is a geologic fault. It is a flaw in the mind that runs inevitablyinto the earth. Thought
aff ects or afflicts substance neither by intention nor by accident, but because,
occurring in the Creation that is unified and whole, it must; there is no help for it.
The soul, in its loneliness, hopes only for “salvation.” And yet what is the burden of
the Bible if not a sense of the mutuality of influence, rising out of an essential unity,
among soul and body and community and world? These are all the works of God,
and it is therefore the work of virtue to make or restore harmony among them. The
world is certainly thought of as a place of spiritual trial, but it is also the confluence
of soul and body,word and flesh,where thoughts must become deeds, where
goodness is to be enacted. This is the great meeting place, the narrow passage where
spirit and flesh, word and world, pass into each other. The Bible’s aim, as I read it ‘
is not the freeing of the spirit from the world. It is the handbook of their interaction.
It says that they cannot be divided; that their mutuality, their unity, is inescapable;
that they are not reconciled in division, but in harmony. What else can be meant by
the resurrection of the body?
The body should be “filled with light,” perfected in understanding. And so
everywhere there is the sense of consequence, fear and desire, grief and joy. What is
desirable is repeatedly defined in the tensions of the sense of consequence. False
prophets are to be known “by their fruits.” We are to treat others as we would be
treated; thought is thus barred from any easy escape into aspiration or ideal, is
turned around and forced into action. The following verses from Proverbs are not
very likely the original work of a philosopher-king; they are overheard from
generations of agrarian grandparents whose experience taught them that spiritual
qualities become earthly events:
I went by the field of the slothful, and by the
vineyard of the man void of understanding;
And, lo, it was all grown over with thorns, and
nettles had covered the face thereof, and the stone
wall thereof was broken down.
Then I saw, and considered it well. I looked
upon it, and received instruction.
Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding
of the hands to sleep:
So shall thy poverty come as one that traveleth ;
and thy want as an armed man.
I do not want to speak of unity misleadingly or too simply. Obvious distinctions can
be made between body and soul, one body and other bodies, body and world, etc.
But these things that appear to be distinct are nevertheless caught in a network of
mutual dependence and influence that is the substantiation of their unity. Body, soul
(or mind or spirit), community, and world are all susceptible to each other’s
influence, and they are all conductors of each other’s influence. The body is
damaged by the bewilderment of the spirit, and it conducts the influence of that
bewilderment into the earth, the earth conducts it into the community, and so on. If a
farmer fails to understand what health is, his farm becomes unhealthy; it produces
unhealthy food, which damages the health of the community. But this is a network, a
spherical network, by which each part is connected to every other part. The farmer is
a part of the community, and so it is as impossible to say exactly where the trouble
began as to say where it will end. The influences go backward and forward, up and
down, round and round, compounding and branching as they go. All that is certain is
that an error introduced anywhere in the network ramifies beyond the scope of
prediction; consequences occur all over the place, and each consequence breeds
further consequences. But it seems unlikely that an error can ramify endlessly. It
spreads by way of the connections in the network, but sooner or later it must also
begin to break them. We are talking, obviously, about a circulatory system, and a
disease of a circulatory system tends first to impair circulation and then to stop it
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.
What the specialization of our age suggests, in one example after another, is not only
that fragmentation is a disease, but that the diseases of the disconnected parts are
similar or analogous to one another. Thus they memorialize their lost unity, their
relation persisting in their disconnection. Any severance produces two wounds that
are, among other things, the record of how the severed parts once fitted together.
The so-called identity crisis, for instance, is a disease that seems to have become
prevalent after the disconnection of body and soul and the other piecemealings of
the modern period. One’s “identity” is apparently the immaterial part of one’s being–
also known as psyche, soul, spirit, self, mind, etc. The dividing of this principle from
the body and from any particular worldly locality would seem reason enough for a
crisis. Treatment, it might be thought, would logically consist in the restoration of
these connections: the lost identity would find itself by recognizing physical
landmarks, by connecting itself responsibly to practical circumstances; it would
learn to stay put in the body to which it belongs and in the place to which preference
or history or accident has brought it; it would, in short, find itself in finding its work.
But “finding yourself,” the pseudo-ritual by which the identity crisis is supposed to
be resolved, makes use of no such immediate references. Leaving aside the obvious,
and ancient, realities of doubt and self-doubt, as well as the authentic madness that is
often the result of cultural disintegration, it seems likely that the identity crisis has
become a sort of social myth, a genre of self-indulgence. It can be an excuse for
irresponsibility or a fashionable mode of self-dramatization. It is the easiest form of
self-flattery–a way to construe procrastination as a virtue–based on the romantic
assumption that “who I really am” is better in some fundamental way than the
available evidence proves.
The fashionable cure for this condition, if I understand the lore of it correctly has
nothing to do with the assumption of responsibilities or the renewal of connections.
The cure is “autonomy,” another mythical condition, suggesting that the self can be
self-determining and independent without regard for any determining circumstance
or any of the obvious dependences. This seems little more than a jargon term for
indifference to the opinions and feelings of other people. There is, in practice, no
such thing as autonomy. Practically, there is only a distinction between responsible
and irresponsible dependence. Inevitably failing this impossible standard of
autonomy, the modern self-seeker becomes a tourist of cures, submitting his quest to
the guidance of one guru after another. The “cure” thus preserves the disease.
It is not surprising that this strange disease of the spirit—the self’s search for the
self–should have its counterpart in an anguish of the body. One of the
commonplaces of modern experience is dissatisfaction with the body–not as one has
allowed it to become, but as it naturally is. The hardship is perhaps greater here
because the body, unlike the self, is substantial and cannot be supposed to be
inherently better than it was born to be. It can only be thought inherently worse than
it ought to be. For the appropriate standard for the body–that is, health–has been
replaced, not even by another standard, but by very exclusive physical models. The
concept of “model” here conforms very closely to the model of the scientists and
planners: it is an exclusive, narrowly defined ideal which affects destructively
whatever it does not include.
Thus our young people are offered the ideal of health only by what they know to be
lip service. What they are made to feel forcibly, and to measure themselves by, is the
exclusive desirability of a certain physical model. Girls are taught to want to be
leggy, slender, large-breasted, curly-haired, unimposingly beautiful. Boys are
instructed to be “athletic” in build, tall but not too tall, broad-shouldered, deepchested,
narrow-hipped, square-jawed, straight-nosed, not bald, unimposingly
handsome. Both sexes should look what passes for “sexy” in a bathing suit. Neither,
above all, should look old.
Though many people, in health, are beautiful, very few resemble these models. The
result is widespread suffering that does immeasurable damage both to individual
persons and to the society as a whole. The result is another absurd pseudo-ritual,
“accepting one’s body,” which may take years or may be the distraction of a lifetime.
Woe to the man who is short or skinny or bald. Woe to the man with a big nose.
Woe, above all, to the woman with small breasts or a muscular body or strong
features; Homer and Solomon might have thought her beautiful, but she will see her
own beauty only by a difficult rebellion. And like the crisis of identity, this crisis of
the body brings a helpless dependence on cures. One spends one’s life dressing and
“making up” to compensate for one’s supposed deficiencies. Again, the cure
preserves the disease. And the putative healer is the guru of style and beauty aid.
The sufferer is by definition a customer.
To divide body and soul, or body and mind, is to inaugurate an expanding series of
divisions–not, however, an infinitely expanding series, because it is apparently the
nature of division sooner or later to destroy what is divided; the principle of
durability is unity. The divisions issuing from the division of body and soul are first
sexual and then ecological. Many other divisions branch out from those, but those
are the most important because they have to do with the fundamental relationships–
with each other and with the earth that we all have in common.
To think of the body as separate from the soul or as soulless, either to subvert its
appetites or to “free” them, is to make an object of it. As a thing, the body is denied
any dimension or rightful presence or claim in the mind. The concerns of the body–
all that is comprehended in the term nurture–are thus degraded, denied any
respected place among the “higher things” and even among the more exigent
The first sexual division comes about when nurture is made the exclusive concern of
women. This cannot happen until a society becomes industrial; in hunting and
gathering and in agricultural societies, men are of necessity also involved in nurture.
In those societies there usually have been differences between the work of men and
that of women. But the necessity here is to distinguish between sexual difference
and sexual division.
In an industrial society, following the division of body and soul, we have at the
“upper” or professional level a division between 4 c culture” (in the specialized
sense of religion, philosophy, art, the humanities, etc.) and “practicality,” and both
of these become increasingly abstract. Thinkers do not act. And the “practical” men
do not work with their hands, but manipulate the abstract quantities and values that
come from the work of “workers.” Workers are simplified or specialized into
machine parts to do the wage-work of the body, which they were initially permitted
to think of as “manly” because for the most part women did not do it.
Women traditionally have performed the most confining–though not necessarily the
least dignified–tasks of nurture: housekeeping, the care of young children, food
preparation. In the urban-industrial situation the confinement of these traditional
tasks divided women more and more from the “important” activities of the new
economy. Furthermore, in this situation the traditional nurturing role of men, that of
provisioning the household, which in an agricultural society had become as constant
and as complex as the women’s role–became completely abstract; the man’s duty to
the household came to be simply to provide money. The only remaining task of
provisioning–purchasing food–was turned over to women. This determination that
nurturing should become exclusively a concern of women served to signify to both
sexes that neither nurture nor womanhood was very important.
But the assignment to women of a kind of work that was thought both onerous and
trivial was only the beginning of their exploitation. As the persons exclusively in
charge of the tasks of nurture, women often came into sole charge of the household
budget; they became family purchasing agents. The time of the household barterer
was past. Kitchens were now run on a cash economy. Women had become
customers, a fact not long wasted on the salesmen, who saw that in these women
they had customers of a new and most promising kind. The modern housewife was
isolated from her husband, from her school-age children, and from other women.
She was saddled with work from which much of the skill, hence much of the
dignity, had been withdrawn, and which she herself was less and less able to
consider important. She did not know what her husband did at work, or after work,
and she knew that her life was passing in his regardlessness and in his absence. Such
a woman was ripe for a sales talk: this was the great commercial insight of modern
times. Such a woman must be told–or subtly made to understand–that she must not
be a drudge, that she must not let her work affect her looks, that she must not
become “unattractive,” that she must always be fresh, cheerful, young, shapely, and
pretty. All her sexual and mortal fears would thus be given voice, and she would be
made to reach for money. What was implied was always the question that a certain
bank finally asked outright in a billboard advertisement: “Is your husband losing
Motivated no longer by practical needs, but by loneliness and fear, women began to
identify themselves by what they bought rather than by what they did. They bought
labor-saving devices which worked, as most modern machines have tended to work,
to devalue or replace the skills of those who used them. They bought manufactured
foods, which did likewise. They bought any product that offered to lighten the
burdens of housework, to be “kind to hands,” or to endear one to one’s husband. And
they furnished their houses, as they made up their faces and selected their clothes,
neither by custom nor invention, but by the suggestion of articles and advertisements
in “women’s magazines.” Thus housewifery, once a complex discipline
acknowledged to be one of the bases of civilization, was reduced to the exercise of
[She did continue to do “housework,” of course. But we must ask what this had come
to mean. The industrial economy had changed the criterion of housekeeping from
thrift to convenience. Thrift was a complex standard, requiring skill, intelligence,
and moral character, and private thrift was rightly considered a public value. Once
thrift was destroyed as a value, housekeeping became simply a corrupt function of a
corrupt economy: its public “value” lay in the wearing out or using up of
The housewife’s only remaining productive capacity was that of reproduction. But
even as a mother she remained a consumer, subjecting herself to an all-presuming
doctor and again to written instructions calculated to result in the purchase of
merchandise. Breast-feeding of babies became unfashionable, one suspects, because
it was the last form of home production; no way could be found to persuade a
woman to purchase her own milk. All these “improvements” involved a radical
simplification of mind that was bound to have complicated, and ironic, results. As
housekeeping became simpler and easier, it also became more boring. A woman’s
work became less accomplished and less satisfying. It became easier for her to
believe that what she did was not important. And this heightened her anxiety and
made her even more avid and even less discriminating as a consumer. The cure not
only preserved the disease, it compounded it.
There was, of course, a complementary development in the minds of men, but there
is less to say about it. The man’s mind was not simplified by a degenerative process,
but by a kind of coup: as soon as he separated working and living and began to work
away from home, the practical considerations of the household were excerpted from
his mind all at once.
In modern marriage, then, what was once a difference of work became a division of
work. And in this division the household was destroyed as a practical bond between
husband and wife. It was no longer a condition, but only a place. It was no longer a
circumstance that required, dignified, and rewarded the enactment of mutual
depen’dence, but the site of mutual estrangement. Home became a place for the
husband to go when he was not working or amusing himself. It was the place where
the wife was held in servitude.
A sexual difference is not a wound, or it need not be; a sexual division is. And it is
important to recognize that this division–this destroyed household that now stands
between the sexes–is a wound that is suffered inescapably by both men and women.
Sometimes it is assumed that the estrangement of women in their circumscribed
“women’s world” can only be for the benefit of men. But that interpretation seems to
be based on the law of competition that is modeled in the exploitive industrial
economy. This law holds that for everything that is exploited or oppressed there
must be something else that is proportionately improved; thus, men must be as
happy as women are unhappy.
There is no doubt that women have been deformed by the degenerate housewifery
that is now called their “role”–but not, I think, for any man’s benefit. If women are
deformed by their role, then, insofar as the roles are divided, men are deformed by
theirs. Degenerate housewifery is indivisible from degenerate husbandry. There is
no escape. This is the justice that we are learning from the ecologists: you cannot
damage what you are dependent upon without damaging yourself. The suffering of
women is noticed now, is noticeable now, because it is not given any considerable
status or compensation. If we removed the status and compensation from the
destructive exploits we classify as “manly,” men would be found to be suffering as
much as women. They would be found to be suffering for the same reason: they are
in exile from the communion of men and women, which is their deepest connection
with the communion of all creatures.
For example: a man who is in the traditional sense a good farmer is husbandman and
husband, the begetter and conserver of the earth’s bounty, but he is also midwife and
motherer. He is a nurturer of life. His work is domestic; he is bound to the
household. But let “progress” take such a man and transform him into a technologist
of production (that is, sever his bonds to the household, make useless or pointless or
“uneconomical” his impulse to conserve and to nurture), and it will have made of
him a creature as deformed, and as pained, as it has notoriously made of his wife.
The Dismemberment of the Household
We are familiar with the concept of the disintegral life of our time as a dismembered
cathedral, the various concerns of culture no longer existing in reference to each
other or within the discipline of any understanding of their unity. It may also be
conceived, and its strains more immediately felt, as a dismembered household.
Without the household–not just as a unifying ideal, but as a practical circumstance
of mutual dependence and obligation, requiring skill, moral discipline, and work–
husband and wife find it less and less possible to imagine and enact their marriage.
Without much in particular that they can do for each other, they have a scarcity of
practical reasons to be together. They may “like each other’s company,” but that is a
reason for friendship, not for marriage. Aside from affection for any children they
may have and their abstract legal and economic obligations to each other, their union
has to be empowered by sexual energy alone.
Perhaps the most dangerous, certainly the most immediately painful, consequence of
the disintegration of the household is this isolation of sexuality. The division of
sexual energy from the functions of household and community that it ought both to
empower and to grace is analogous to that other modern division between hunger
and the earth. When it is no longer allied by proximity and analogy to the nurturing
disciplines that bound the household to the cycles of fertility and the seasons, life
and death, then sexual love loses its symbolic or ritualistic force, its deepest
solemnity and its highest ‘oy. It loses its sense of consequence and responsibility. It
becomes “autonomous,” to be valued only for its own sake, therefore frivolous,
therefore destructive–even of itself. Those who speak of sex as “recreation,”
thinking to claim for it “a new place,” only acknowledge its displacement from
The isolation of sexuality makes it subject to two influences that dangerously
oversimplify it: the lore of sexual romance and capitalist economics. By “sexual
romance” I mean the sentimentalization of sexual love that for generations has been
the work of popular songs and stories. By means of them, young people have been
taught a series of extremely dangerous falsehoods:
1) That people in love ought to conform to the fashionable models of physical
beauty, and that to be unbeautiful by these standards is to be unlovable.
2) That people in love are, or ought to be, young–even though love is said to last
3) That marriage is a solution–whereas the most misleading thing a love story can
do is to end “happily” with a marriage, not because there is no such thing as a happy
marriage, but because marriage cannot be happy except by being made happy.
4) That love, alone, regardless of circumstances, can make harmony and resolve
5) That “love will find a way” and so finally triumph over anykind of practical
As experience frets away gullibility, the exclusiveness of the sentimental ideal gives
way to the possessiveness of sexual capitalism. Failing, as they cannot help but fail,
to be each other’s all, the husband and wife become each other’s only. The sacrament
of sexual union, which in the time of the household was a communion of
workmates, and afterward tried to be a lovers’ paradise, has now become a kind of
marketplace in which husband and wife represent each other as sexual property.
Competitiveness and jealousy, imperfectly sweetened and disguised by the illusions
of courtship, now become governing principles, and they work to isolate the couple
inside their marriage. Marriage becomes a capsule of sexual fate. The man must
look on other men, and the woman on other women, as threats. This seems to have
become particularly damaging to women; because of the progressive degeneration
and isolation of their “role,” their worldly stock in trade has increasingly had to be
“their” men. In the isolation of the resulting sexual “privacy,” the disintegration of
the community begins. The energy that is the most convivial and unifying loses its
communal forms and becomes divisive. This dispersal was nowhere more
poignantly exemplified than in the replacement of the old ring dances, in which all
couples danced together, by the so-called ballroom dancing, in which each couple
dances alone. A significant part of the etiquette of ballroom dancing is, or was, that
the exchange of partners was accomplished by a “trade.” It is no accident that this
capitalization of love and marriage was followed by a divorce epidemic–and by
fashions of dancing in which each one of the dancers moves alone.
The disintegration of marriage, which completes the disintegration of community,
came about because the encapsulation of sexuality, meant to preserve marriage from
competition, inevitably en-closed competition. The principle that fenced everyone
else out fenced the couple in; it became a sexual cul-de-sac. The model of economic
competition proved as false to marriage as to farming. As with other capsules, the
narrowness of the selective principle proved destructive of what it excluded, and
what it excluded was essential to the life of what it enclosed: the nature of sexuality
itself. Sexual romance cannot bear to acknowledge the generality of instinct,
whereas sexual capitalism cannot acknowledge its particularity. But sexuality
appears to be both general and particular. One cannot love a particular woman, for
instance ‘ unless one loves womankind–if not all women, at least other women. The
capsule of sexual romance leaves out this generality, this generosity of instinct; it
excludes Aphrodite and Dionysus. And it fails for that reason. Though sexual love
can endure between the same two people for a long time, it cannot do so on the basis
of this pretense of the exclusiveness of affection. The sexual capitalist–that is, the
disillusioned sexual romantic–in reaction to disillusion makes the opposite
oversimplification; one acknowledges one’s spouse as one of a general, necessarily
troublesome kind or category.
Both these attitudes look on sexual love as ownership. The sexual romantic croons,
“You belong to me.” The sexual capitalist believes the same thing but has stopped
crooning. Each holds that a person’s sexual property shall be sufficient unto him or
unto her, and that the morality of that sufficiency is to be forever on guard against
expropriation. Within the capsule of marriage, as in that of economics, one intends
to exploit one’s property and to protect it. Once the idea of property becomes
abstract or economic, both these motives begin to rule over it. They are, of course,
contradictory; all that one can really protect is one’s “right” or intention to exploit.
The proprieties and privacies used to encapsulate marriage may have come from the
tacit recognition that exploitive sex, like exploitive economics, is a very dirty
business. One makes a secret of the sexuality of one’s marriage for the same reason
that one posts “Keep Out/Private Property” on one’s strip mine. The tragedy, more
often felt than acknowledged, is that what is exploited becomes undesirable.
The protective capsule becomes a prison. It becomes a household of the living dead,
each body a piece of incriminating evidence. Or a greenhouse excluding the
neighbors and the weather for the sake of some alien and unnatural growth. The
marriage shrinks to a dull vigil of duty and legality. Husband and wife become
competitors necessarily, for their only freedom is to exploit each other or to escape.
It is possible to imagine a more generous enclosures household welcoming to
neighbors and friends; a garden open to the weather, between the woods and the
road. It is possible to imagine a marriage bond that would bind a woman and a man
not only to each other, but to the community of marriage, the amorous communion
at which all couples sit: the sexual feast and celebration that joins them to all living
things and to the fertility of the earth, and the sexual responsibility that joins them to
the human past and the human future. It is possible to imagine marriage as a
grievous, joyous human bond, endlessly renewable and renewing, again and again
rejoining memory and passion and hope.
But it is extremely difficult, now, to imagine marriage in terms of such dignity and
generosity, and this difficulty is explained by the failure of these possessive and
competitive forms of sexual love that have been in use for so long. This failure
raises unavoidably the issue of fidelity: What is it, and what does it mean–in
marriage, and also, since marriage is a fundamental relationship and metaphor, in
No one can be glad to have this issue so starkly raised, for any consideration of it
now must necessarily involve one’s own bewilderment. We are apparently near the
end of a degenerative phase of an evolutionary process–a long way from any largescale
regeneration. For that reason it is necessary to be hesitant and cautious,
respectful of the complexity and importance of the problem. Marriage is not going to
change because somebody thinks about it and recommends an “answer”; it can
change only as its necessities are felt and as its circumstances change.
The idea of fidelity is perverted beyond redemption by understanding it as a grim,
literal duty enforced only by willpower. This is the “religious” insanity of making a
victim of the body as a victory of the soul. Self-restraint that is so purely negative is
self-hatred. And one cannot be good, anyhow, just by not being bad. To be faithful
merely out of duty is to be blinded to the possibility of a better faithfulness for better
It is reasonable to suppose, if fidelity is a virtue, that it is a virtue with a purpose. A
purposeless virtue is a contradiction in terms. Virtue, like harmony, cannot exist
alone; a virtue must lead to harmony between one creature and another. To be good
for nothing is just that. If a virtue has been thought a virtue long enough, it must be
assumed to have practical justification–though the very longevity that proves its
practicality may obscure it. That seems to be what happened with the idea of
fidelity. We heard the words “forsaking all others” repeated over and over again for
so long that we lost the sense of their practical justification. They assumed the force
of superstition: people came to be faithful in marriage not out of any understanding
of the meaning of faith or of marriage, but out of the same fear of obscure
retribution that made one careful not to break a mirror or spill the salt. Like other
superstitions, this one was weakened by the scientific, positivist intellectuality of
modern times and by the popular “sophistication” that came with it. Our age could
be characterized as a manifold experiment in faithlessness, and if it has as yet
produced no effective understanding of the practicalities of faith, it has certainly
produced massive evidence of the damage and disorder of its absence.
It is possible to open this issue of the practicality of fidelity by considering that the
modern age was made possible by the freeing, and concurrently by the cheapening,
of energy. It can be said, of course, that the modern age was made possible by
technologies that control energy and thus make it usable at an unprecedented rate.
But such control is at best extremely limited: the devices by which industrial and
military energies are used control them only momentarily; their moment of
usefulness sets them loose in the world as social, ecological, and geological forces.
We can use these energies only as explosives; we can control the rate, intensity, and
time of combustion, but our effective control ends with the use of the small amount
of the released energy that we are able to harness. Past that, the effects are on their
own, to compound themselves as they will. In modern times we have never been
able to subject our use of energy to a sense of responsibility anywhere near complex
enough to be equal to its effects.
It may be that the principle of sexual fidelity, once it is again fully understood, will
provide us with as good an example as we can find of the responsible use of energy.
Sexuality is, after all, a form of energy, one of the most powerful. If we see sexuality
as energy, then it becomes impossible to see sexual fidelity as merely a “duty,” a
virtue for the sake of virtue, or a superstition. If we made a superstition of fidelity,
and thereby weakened it, by thinking of it as purely a moral or spiritual virtue, then
perhaps we can restore its strength by recovering an awareness of its practicality.
At the root of culture must be the realization that uncontrolled energy is disorderly–
that in nature all energies move in forms; that, therefore, in a human order energies
must be given forms. It must have been plain at the beginning, as cultural
degeneracy has made it plain again and again, that one can be indiscriminately
sexual but not indiscriminately responsible, and that irresponsible sexuality would
undermine any possibility of culture since it implies a hierarchy based purely upon
brute strength, cunning, regardlessness of value and of consequence. Fidelity can
thus be seen as the necessary discipline of sexuality, the Practical definition of
sexual responsibility, or the definition of the moral limits within which such
responsibility can be conceived and enacted. The forsaking of all others is a keeping
of faith, not just with the chosen one, but with the ones forsaken. The marriage vow
unites not just a woman and a man with each other; it unites each of them with the
community in a vow of sexual responsibility toward all others. The whole
community is married, realizes its essential unity, in each of its marriages.
Another use of fidelity is to preserve the possibility of devotion against the
distractions of novelty. What marriage offers–and what fidelity is meant to protect–
is the possibility of moments when what we have chosen and what we desire are the
same. Such a convergence obviously cannot be continuous. No relationship can
continue very long at its highest emotional pitch. But fidelity prepares us for the
return of these moments, which give us the highest joy we can know: that of union,
communion, atonement (in the root sense of at-onement). The principle is stated in
these lines by William Butler Yeats (by ” the world” he means the world after the
Maybe the bride-bed brings despair,
For each an imagined image brings
And finds a real image there;
Yet the world ends when these two things,
Though several, are a single light …
To forsake all others does not mean–because it cannot mean–to ignore or neglect
all others, to hide or be hidden from all others, or to desire or love no others. To live
in marriage is a responsible way to live in sexuality, as to live in a household is a
responsible way to live in the world. One cannot enact or fulfill one’s love for
womankind or mankind, or even for all the women or men to whom one is attracted.
If one is to have the power and delight of one’s sexuality, then the generality of
instinct must be resolved in a responsible relationship to a particular person.
Similarly, one cannot live in the world; that is, one cannot become, in the easy,
generalizing sense with which the phrase is commonly used, a “world citizen.”
There can be no such thing as a “global village.” No matter how much one may love
the world as a whole, one can live fully in it only by living responsibly in some
small part of it. Where we live and who we live there with define the terms of our
relationship to the world and to humanity. We thus come again to the paradox that
one can become whole only by the responsible acceptance of one’s partiality.
But to encapsulate these partial relationships is to entrap and condemn them in their
partiality; it is to endanger them and to make them dangerous. They are enlivened
and given the possibility of renewal by the double sense of particularity and
generality: one lives in marriage and in sexuality, at home and in the world. It is
impossible, for instance, to conceive that a man could despise women and yet love
his wife, or love his own place in the world and yet deal destructively with other
Home Land and House Hold
What I have been trying to do is to define a pattern of disintegration that is at once
cultural and agricultural. I have been groping for connections–that I think are
indissoluble, though obscured by modern ambitions–between the spirit and the
body, the body and other bodies, the body and the earth. If these connections do
necessarily exist, as I believe they do, then it is impossible for material order to exist
side by side with spiritual disorder, or vice versa, and impossible for one to thrive
long at the expense of the other; it is impossible, ultimately, to preserve ourselves
apart from our willingness to preserve other creatures, or to respect and care for
ourselves except as we respect and care for other creatures; and, most to the point of
this book, it is impossible to care for each other more or differently than we care for
[a long section on Homer’s Odyssey omitted here]
The Necessity of Wildness
Domestic order is obviously threatened by the margin of wilderness that surrounds
- Marriage may be destroyed by instinctive sexuality; the husband may choose to
remain with Kalypso or the wife may run away with godlike Paris. And the forest is
always waiting to overrun the fields. These are real possibilities. They must be
considered, respected, even feared.
And yet I think that no culture that hopes to endure can afford to destroy them or to
set up absolute safeguards against them. Invariably the failure of organized
religions, by which they cut themselves off from mystery and therefore from the
sacred, lies in the attempt to impose an absolute division between faith and doubt, to
make belief perform as knowledge; when they forbid their prophets to go into the
wilderness, they lose the possibility of renewal. And the most dangerous tendency in
modern society, now rapidly emerging as a scientific-industrial ambition, is the
tendency toward encapsulation of human order–the severance, once and for all, of
the umbilical cord fastening us to the wilderness or the Creation. The threat is not
only in the totalitarian desire for absolute control. It lies in the willingness to ignore
an essential paradox: the natural forces that so threaten us are the same forces that
preserve and renew us.
An enduring agriculture must never cease to consider and respect and preserve
wildness. The farm can exist only within the wilderness of mystery and natural
force. And if the farm is to last and remain in health, the wilderness must survive
within the farm. That is what agricultural fertility is: the survival of natural process
in the human order. To learn to preserve the fertility of the farm, Sir Albert Howard
wrote, we must study the forest.
Similarly, the instinctive sexuality within which marriage exists must somehow be
made to thrive within marriage. To divide one from the other is to degrade both and
ultimately to destroy marriage.
Fidelity to human order, then, if it is fully responsible, implies fidelity also to natural
order. Fidelity to human order makes devotion possible. Fidelity to natural order
preserves the possibility of choice, the possibility of the renewal of devotion. Where
there is no possibility of choice, there is no possibility of faith. One who returns
home–to one’s marriage and household and place in the world–desiring anew what
was previously chosen, is neither the world’s stranger nor its prisoner, but is at once
in place and free.
The relation between these two fidelities, inasmuch as they sometimes appear to
contradict one another, cannot help but be complex and tricky. In our present stage
of cultural evolution, it cannot help but be baffling as well. And yet it is only the
double faith that is adequate to our need. If we are to have a culture as resilient and
competent in the face of necessity as it needs to be, then it must somehow involve
within itself a ceremonious generosity toward the wilderness of natural force and
instinct. The farm must yield a place to the forest, not as a wood lot, or even as a
necessary agricultural principle, but as a sacred grove–a place where the Creation is
let alone, to serve as instruction, example, refuge; a place for people to go, free of
work and presumption, to let themselves alone. And marriage must recognize that it
survives because of, as well as in spite of, Kalypso and Paris and the generosity of
instinct that they represent. It must give some ceremonially acknowledged place to
the sexual energies that now thrive outside all established forms, in the destructive
freedom of moral ignorance or disregard. Without these accommodations we will
remain divided: some of us will continue to destroy the world for purely human
ends, while others, for the sake of nature, will abandon the task of human order.
What forms or revisions of forms may be adequate to this double faith, I do not
know. Cultural solutions are organisms, not machines, and they cannot be invented
deliberately or imposed by prescription. Perhaps all that one can do is to clarify as
well as possible the needs and pressures that bear upon the process of cultural
evolution. I am certain, however, that no satisfactory solution can come from
considering marriage alone or agriculture alone. These are our basic connections to
each other and to the earth, and they tend to relate analogically and to be
reciprocally defining: our demands upon the earth are determined by our ways of
living with one another; our regard for one another is brought to light in our ways of
using the earth. And I am certain that neither can be changed for the better in the
experimental, prescriptive ways we have been using. Ways of life change only in
living. To live by expert advice is to abandon one’s life.
“Freedom” From Fertility
The household is the bond of marriage that is most native to it, that grows with it
and gives it substantial being in the world. It is the practical condition within which
husband and wife can enact devotion and loyalty to each other. The motive power of
sexual love is thus joined directly to constructive work and is given communal and
ecological value. Without the particular demands and satisfactions of the making
and keeping of a household, the sanctity and legality of marriage remain abstract, in
effect theoretical, and its sexuality becomes a danger. Work is the health of love. To
last, love must enflesh itself in the materiality of the world–produce food, shelter,
warmth or shade, surround itself with careful acts, well-made things. This, I think, is
what Millen Brand means in Local Lives when he speaks of the “threat” of love—
“so that perhaps acres of earth and its stones are needed and drawn-out work and
monotony/to balance that danger…”
Marriage and the care of the earth are each other’s disciplines. Each makes possible
the enactment of fidelity toward the other. As the household has become
increasingly generalized as a function of the economy and, as a consequence, has
become increasingly “mobile” and temporary, these vital connections have been
weakened and finally broken. And whatever has been thus disconnected has become
a ground of exploitation for some breed of salesman, specialist, or expert.
A direct result of the disintegration of the household is the division of sexuality from
fertility and their virtual takeover by specialists. The specialists of human sexuality
are the sexual clinicians and the pornographers, both of whom subsist on the
increasing possibility of sex between people who neither know nor care about each
other. The specialists of human fertility are the evangelists, technicians, and
salesmen of birth control, who subsist upon our failure to see any purpose or virtue
in sexual discipline. In this, as in our use of every other kind of energy, our inability
to contemplate any measure of restraint or forbearance has been ruinous. Here the
impulse is characteristically that of the laboratory scientist: to encapsulate sexuality
by separating it absolutely from the problems of fertility.
This division occurs, it seems to me, in a profound cultural failure. That failure is in
the loss of any sense that sexuality and fertility might exist together compatibly in
this world. We have lost this possibility because we do not understand, because we
cannot bear to consider, the meaning of restraint. The sort of restraint I am talking
about is illustrated in a recent National Geographic article about the people of
Hunza in northern Pakistan. The author is a woman, Sabrina Michaud, and she is
talking with a Hunza woman in her kitchen:
”What have you done to have only one child?’ she asks me. Her own children range
from 12 to 30 years of age, and seem evenly spaced, four to five years apart. ‘We
leave our husband’s bed until each child is weaned,’ she explains simply. But this
natural means of birth control has declined, and population has soared.”
The woman’s remark is thus passed over and not returned to; but if I understand the
significance of this paragraph, it is of great importance. The decline of “this natural
means of birth control” seems to have been contemporaneous with the coming of
roads and “progress and the opening up of a previously isolated country. What is of
interest is that in their isolation in arid, narrow valleys surrounded by the stone and
ice of the Karakoram Mountains, these people had practiced sexual restraint as a
form of birth control. They had neither our statistical expertise nor our doomprophets
of population growth; it just happened that, placed geographically as they
were, they lived always in sight of their agricultural or ecological limits, and they
made a competent response.
We have been unable to see the difference between this kind of restraints cultural
response to an understood practical limit–and the obscure, self-hating, self
fertility of the earth. This is to short-circuit human culture at its source. It is, in
effect, to remove from consciousness the two fundamental issues of human life. It
permits two great powers to be regarded and used as if they were unimportant.
More serious is the resort to “authorized” modes of direct violence. In land use, this
is the permanent diminishment or destruction of fertility as an allowable cost of
production, as in strip-mining or in the sort of agriculture that good farmers have
long referred to also as “mining.” This use of technological means cuts across all
issues of health and culture for the sake of an annual quota of production.
The human analogue is in the “harmless” and “simple” surgeries of permanent
sterilization, which are now being promoted by a propaganda of extreme
oversimplification. The publicity on this subject is typically evangelical in tone and
simplistically moral; the operations are recommended like commercial products by
advertisings complete with exuberant testimonials of satisfied customers and appeals
to the prospective customer s maturity, sexual pride, and desire for “freedom”; and
the possible physical and psychological complications are played down,
misrepresented, not mentioned at all, or simply not known. It is altogether possible
that the operations will be performed by doctors as perfunctory, simplistic,
presumptuous, and uninforming as the public literature.
I am fully aware of the problem of overpopulation, and I do not mean to say that
birth control is unnecessary. What I do mean to say is that any means of birth
control is a serious matter, both culturally and biologically, and that sterilization is
the most serious of all: to give up fertility is a major change, as important as birth,
puberty, marriage, or death.
The great changes having to do with a woman’s fertility–puberty, childbirth, and
menopause–have, like sexual desire, the unarguable sanction of biological
determinism. They belong to a kind of natural tradition. As a result, they are not
only endurable, but they belong to a process–the life process or the Wheel of Life–
that we have learned to affirm with some understanding. We know, among other
things, that this process includes tragedy and survives it, even triumphs over it. The
same applies to the occasions of a man’s fertility, although not so formidably, a man
being less involved, physically, in the predicament of fertility and consciously
involved in it only if he wants to be. Nevertheless, he comes to fertility and, if he is
a moral person, to the same issues of responsibility that it poses for women.
One of the fundamental interests of human culture is to impose this responsibility, to
subject fertility to moral will. Culture articulates needs and forms for sexual restraint
and involves issues of value in the process of mating. It is possible to imagine that
the resulting tension creates a distinctly human form of energy, highly productive of
works of the hands and the mind. But until recently there was no division between
sexuality and fertility, because none was possible.
This division was made possible by modern technology, which subjected human
fertility, like the fertility of the earth, to a new kind of will: the technological will,
which may not necessarily oppose the moral will, but which has not only tended to
do so, but has tended to replace it. Simply because it became possible–and
simultaneously profitable–we have cut the cultural ties between sexuality and
fertility, just as we have cut those between eating and farming. By “freeing” food
and sex from worry, we have also set them apart from thought, responsibility, and
the issue of quality. The introduction of “chemical additives” has tended to do away
with the issue of taste or preference; the specialist of sex, like the specialist of food,
is dealing with a commodity, which he can measure but cannot value.
What is horrifying is not only that we are relying so exclusively on a technology of
birth control that is still experimental, but that we are using it casually, in utter
cultural nakedness, unceremoniously, without sufficient understanding, and as a
substitute for cultural solutions–exactly as we now employ the technology of land
use. And to promote these means without cultural and ecological insight, as merely a
way to divorce sexuality from fertility, pleasure from responsibility–or to sell them
that way for ulterior “moral” motives is to try to cure a disease by another disease.
That is only a new battle in the old war between body and soul–as if we were living
in front of a chorus of the most literal fanatics chanting: “If thy right eye offend thee,
pluck it out! If thy right hand offend thee, cut it off!”
The technologists of fertility exercise the powers of gods and the social function of
priests without community ties or cultural responsibilities. The clinicians of sex
change the lives of people–as the clinicians of agriculture change the lives of places
and communities–to whom they are strangers and whom they do not know. These
specialists thrive in a profound cultural rift, and they are always accompanied by the
exploiters who mine that rift for gold. The pornographer exploits sexual division.
And working the similar division between us and our land we have the
“agribusinessmen,” the pornographers of agriculture.
Fertility as Waste
But there is yet another and more direct way in which the isolation of the body has
serious agricultural effects. That is in our society’s extreme oversimplification of the
relation between the body and its food. By regarding it as merely a consumer of
food, we reduce the function of the body to that of a conduit which channels the
nutrients of the earth from the supermarket to the sewer. Or we make it a little
factory which transforms fertility into pollution–to the enormous profit of
“agribusiness” and to the impoverishment of the earth. This is another technological
and economic interruption of the cycle of fertility.
Much has already been said here about the division between the body and its food in
the productive phase of the cycle. It is the alleged wonder of the Modern World that
so many people take energy from food in which they have invested no energy, or
very little. Ninety-five percent of our people, boasted the former deputy assistant
secretary of agriculture, are now free of the “drudgery” of food production. The
meanings of that division, as I have been trying to show, are intricate and
degenerative. But that is only half of it. Ninety-five percent (at least) of our people
are also free of any involvement or interest in the maintenance phase of the cycle.
As their bodies take in and use the nutrients of the soil, those nutrients are
transformed into what we are pleased to regard as “wastes”–and are duly wasted.
This waste also has its cause in the old “religious” division between body and soul,
by which the body and its products are judged offensive. Once, living with this
offensiveness was considered a condemnation, and that was bad enough. But
modern technology “saved” us with the flush toilet and the water-borne sewage
system. These devices deal with the “wastes” of our bodies by simply removing
them from consideration. The irony is that this technological purification of the body
requires the pollution of the rivers and the starvation of the fields. It makes the
alleged offensiveness of the body truly and inescapably offensive and blinds an
entire society to the knowledge that these “offensive wastes” are readily purified in
the topsoil–that, indeed, from an ecological point of view, these are not wastes and
are not offensive, but are valuable agricultural products essential both to the health
of the land and to that of the “consumers.
Our system of agriculture, by modeling itself on economics rather than biology, thus
removes food from the cycle of its production and puts it into a finite, linear process
that in effect destroys it by transforming it into waste. That is, it transforms food into
fuel, a form of energy that is usable only once, and in doing so it transforms the
body into a consumptive machine.
It is strange, but only apparently so, that this system of agriculture is
institutionalized, not in any form of rural life or culture, but in what we call our
“urban civilization.” The cities subsist in competition with the country; they live
upon a one-way movement of energies out of the countryside–food and fuel,
manufacturing materials, human labor, intelligence, and talent. Very little of this
energy is ever returned. Instead of gathering these energies up into coherence, a
cultural consummation that would not only return to the countryside what belongs to
it, but also give back generosities of learning and art, conviviality and order, the
modern city dissipates and wastes them. Along with its glittering “consumer goods,”
the modern city produces an equally characteristic outpouring of garbage and
pollution–just as it produces and/or collects unemployed, unemployable, and
otherwise wasted people.
Once again it must be asked, if competition is the appropriate relationship, then why,
after generations of this inpouring of rural wealth, materials, and humanity into the
cities, are the cities and the countryside in equal states of disintegration and
disrepair? Why have the rural and urban communities both fallen to pieces?
Health and Work
The modern urban-industrial society is based on a series of radical disconnections
between body and soul, husband and wife, marriage and community, community
and the earth. At each of these points of disconnection the collaboration of
corporation, government, and exert sets up a profit-making enterprise that results in
the further dismemberment and impoverishment of the Creation.
Together, these disconnections add up to a condition of critical ill health, which we
suffer in common–not just with each other, but with all other creatures. Our
economy is based upon this disease. Its aim is to separate us as far as possible from
the sources of life (material, social, and spiritual), to put these sources under the
control of corporations and specialized professionals, and to sell them to us at the
highest profit. It fragments the Creation and sets the fragments into conflict with one
another. For the relief of the suffering that comes of this fragmentation and conflict,
our economy proposes, not health, but vast “cures” that further centralize power and
increase profits: wars, wars on crime, wars on poverty, national schemes of medical
aid, insurance, immunization, further industrial and economic “growth,” etc.; and
these, of course, are followed by more regulatory laws and agencies to see that our
health is protected, our freedom preserved, and our money well spent. Although
there may be some “good intention” in this, there is little honesty and no hope.
Only by restoring the broken connections can we be healed. Connection is health.
And what our society does its best to disguise from us is how ordinary, how
commonly attainable, health is. We lose our health–and create profitable diseases
and dependences–by failing to see the direct connections between living and eating,
eating and working, working and loving. In gardening, for instance, one works with
the body to feed the body. The work, if it is knowledgeable, makes for excellent
food. And it makes one hungry. The work thus makes eating both nourishing and
joyful, not consumptive, and keeps the eater from getting fat and weak. This is
health, wholeness, a source of delight. And such a. solution, unlike the typical
industrial solution, does not cause new problems.
The “drudgery” of growing one’s own food, then, is not drudgery at all. (If we make
the growing of food a drudgery, which is what “agribusiness” does make of it, then
we also make a drudgery of eating and of living.) It is–in addition to being the
appropriate fulfillment of a practical need–a sacrament, as eating is also, by which
we enact and understand our oneness with the Creation, the conviviality of one body
with all bodies. This is what we learn from the hunting and farming rituals of tribal
As the connections have been broken by the fragmentation and isolation of work,
they can be restored by restoring the wholeness of work. There is work that is
isolating, harsh, destructive, specialized or trivialized into meaninglessness. And
there is work that is restorative, convivial, dignified and dignifying, and pleasing.
Good work is not just the maintenance of connections–as one is now said to work
“for a living” or “to support a family”–but the enactment of connections. It is living,
and a way of living; it is not support for a family in the sense of an exterior brace or
prop, but is one of the forms and acts of love.
To boast that now “95 percent of the people can be freed from the drudgery of
preparing their own food” is possible only to one who cannot distinguish between
these kinds of work. The former deputy assistant secretary cannot see work as a vital
connection; he can see it only as a trade of time for money, and so of course he
believes in doing 4,s little of it as possible, especially if it involves the use of the
body. His ideal is apparently the same as that of a real-estate agency which promotes
a rural subdivision by advertising “A homelife of endless vacation.” But the society
that is so glad to be free of the drudgery of growing and preparing food also boasts a
thriving medical industry to which it is paying $500 per person per year. And that is
only the down payment.
We embrace this curious freedom and pay its exorbitant cost because of our hatred
of bodily labor. We do not want to work “like a dog” or “like an ox” or “like a
horse”–that is, we do not want to use ourselves as beasts. This as much as anything
is the cause of our disrespect for farming and our abandonment of it to businessmen
and experts. We remember, as we should, that there have been agricultural
economies that used people as beasts. But that cannot be remedied, as we have
attempted to do, by using people as machines, or by not using them at all.
Perhaps the trouble began when we started using animals disrespectfully: as
“beasts”–that is, as if they had no more feeling than a machine. Perhaps the
destructiveness of our use of machines was prepared in our willingness to abuse
animals. That it was never necessary to abuse animals in order to use them is
suggested by a passage in The Horse in the Furrow, by George Ewart Evans. He is
speaking of how the medieval ox teams were worked at the plow: “… the plowman
at the handles, the team of oxen–yoked in pairs or four abreast–and the driver who
walked alongside with his goad.” And then he says: “It is also worth noting that in
the Welsh organization … the counterpart of the driver was termed y geilwad or the
caller. He walked backward in front of the oxen singing to them as they worked.
Songs were specially composed to suit the rhythm of the oxen’s work . . .”
That seems to me to differ radically from our customary use of any living thing. The
oxen were not used as beasts or machines, but as fellow creatures. It may be
presumed that this work used people the same way. It is possible, then, to believe
that there is a kind of work that does not require abuse or misuse, that does not use
anything as a substitute for anything else. We are working well when we use
ourselves as the fellow creatures of the plants, animals, materials, and other people
we are working with. Such work is unifying, healing. It brings us home from pride
and from despair and places us responsibly within the human estate. It defines us as
we are: not too good to work with our bodies, but too good
to work poorly or