di Enzo Ferrara
Each time, after an event of war or terror disseminates all over clusters of death, fear, and frightfulness, it seems urgent to enfork new lenses – maybe new eyes, if possible, after September 11th 2001 – and wider perspectives to observe and analyze the world. Unfortunately, this is not the case for most of the talks heard from politicians, bureaucrats, and commentators that tend to reduce extremely complex problems of international politics to issues of unity, armed security, normality, and retaliation. Everywhere terrorism, homeland security, and patriotism have emerged in the common lexicon, and while rhetoric is proposed to substitute thought, assumptions and attendant emotions are used to inspire and buttress a varied set of political and military responses to the facts of terrorism. After September 11th 2001, a new international policy has been launched, which is well condensed within the awkward statements of the National Security Strategy of the United States of America, promulgated by the administration of G.W. Bush. The most immediate and visible consequence is the recourse to preemptive war as a permanent means of solving international problems of politics and economics. But, the concern about the opportunistic strategy embedded within this new governmental trend is spread and apparent also in the areas of civil liberties, for the unilateralist foreign policy. In addition, inaction and publicly explicated unawareness about the global threats actually menacing the environment and public health seem to be affected by the same kind of pernicious and defensive short-term see-sight.
In these times, to resist the temptation of simple and rhetoric thinking, most savant people have been deeply immersed in a process of reflection, in the effort to search with great authenticity the real meaning of September 11th and the subsequent events. Also, several citizens and organizations, along with some attentive and selected media, have been moved to provide an ongoing review of the words and actions of the world leaders and to discuss the world as it has changed, with a different outlook than that exhibited in much of the media and political leadership.
Among many other valuable organizations, the Orion Society deserves a good deal of efforts to increase public awareness and, since 1982, it has been working to explore alternative world-view and reconnect human society with the natural world as well as to inform, inspire, and engage individuals and grassroots organizations in becoming a significant cultural force, for healing nature and community.
In the aftermath of September 11th, to present the social and cultural endangerment embedded within the emerging New World Order and to answer sensibly to questions like what is terrorism, what does a secure homeland looks like, and who is a patriot, Orion gathered some of its best friends and coworkers. These are American farmers, poets, novelists, essayists, and teachers, which rank among the US nation’s greatest provocative and visionaries philosophers of contemporary times. Featuring Wendell Berry, Barry Lopez, Terry Tempest Williams, Richard Nelson, and David James Duncan, effective and successful, although tiny essays have been collected and three volumes issued that constitute what has been called the New Patriotism Series of the Orion Society.
Chronologically, the first volume of the series, In the Presence of Fear, collects three essays given by Wendell Berry as a response put down in face of the crisis and its consequences. The first composition, Thoughts in the Presence of Fear, a distillation of the values Berry has expressed throughout his career, presents a sense of urgency, as if the author was to offer, almost instinctively, his thought collecting the elements useful to move as soon as possible the discussion further, out of condolence and revenge towards hope and thoughtfulness. Effectively, the success of this text and the timely translation into seven foreign languages witnesses the monumental urgency of the times and the demand of authentic wisdom after the tragedy.
The second essay, The Idea of a Local Economy, drags the question of patriotism, terrorism, and security into a wider perspective. It is a denounce of the current practice and criteria adopted for the global model of economics. Berry warns that the law of competition in the end is the law of war and argues against the generally accustomed acceptance of terms like efficiency and free market, without the necessary criticism. The contradictions of this model and its disruptive environmental impact lend the author to prospect “before us the spectacle of unprecedented ‘prosperity’ and ‘economic growth’ in a land of degraded farms, forests, ecosystems and watersheds…” (p.16). The last contribution of the book, In Distrust of Movements, dismantles the long-held assumptions about movements that do not promote a comprehensive vision for broad-based cultural change. A list of problems, difficulties, fears, and fearful hopes is provided while renovate respect for the Earth is indicated as an essential point in the program, if efficacy of actions is aimed at.
The essays collected in the second issue, Patriotism and the American Land, present broader and not only instinctive reflections. As indicated by the curators of the series, Marion Gilliam and Laurie Lane-Zucker, the question is decidedly moved towards what is the true meaning of patriotism; essential elements of this inquiry are addressed. The three contributors, Richard Nelson, Barry Lopez, and Terry Tempest Williams, offer moving historical and testimonial accounts, presenting eminent examples of great American patriots, like Henry David Thoreau, Gilbert White, Aldo Leopold, and Rachel Carson.
Patriots for the American Land, by Richard Nelson, starts the discussion enlarging the prospect about how it is possible to be a patriot. It addresses to Native American relationships with the natural world to individuate the true traditional culture of modern Americans and their genuine roots of patriotism. Nelson suggests patriotism based on conservationism, ecological knowledge, moral and ethical consideration, spiritual belief, and a profound love for the Earth. He acknowledges “a need for wider recognition that government has as much duty to protect the land, the air, the water, and the natural environment against technological damage, as it has to protect the country against foreign enemies” (Admiral Hyman Rickover, cited p.13).
Subsequently, the essay The Naturalist, by Barry Lopez, insightfully reviews the evolving role played by ‘naturalists’ over the past two centuries and tries to imagine what is the correct place for them between nature, culture and science. According to Lopez, the “modern naturalist” has become a kind of emissary working to reestablish good relations with all the biological components that humanity has excluded from its moral universe. The approach is at recognizing “that a politics with no biology, or a politics without field biology, or a political platform in which human biological requirements form but one plank, is a vision of the gates of Hell” (p.36).
The last contribution, One Patriot, by Terry Tempest Williams, focuses on the character, motivations, creativity, and courage of Rachel Carson. The piece enlists her writings and particularly addresses towards the importance in rising public awareness of her major work, Silent Spring, a well renowned historical accusation against the industrial use of pesticide. This pamphlet was published in 1962 and is defined here as a “devastating heavily documented, relentless attack upon human carelessness, greed, and responsibility” (p.49). Most of the blind reactions against Carson are recalled along with the labels used to discredit her. A call for action is found between the lines: “there are many forms of terrorism. Environmental degradation is one of them. We have the opportunity to shift the emphasis on American independence to American interdependence and redefine what acts of responsibility count as heroism” (p.59).
The last volume of the series, Citizens Dissent, collects two essays. The first one, A Citizen’s Response to the National Security Strategy of the United States of America, is the simple and honest reaction of Wendell Berry drawing attention to the numerous flaws and contradictions of the new National Security Strategy. It was originally placed in abridged form as a full-page statement in The New York times on February 9, 2003. Subsequently, it knew a large diffusion worldwide and is now available from the Internet (http://www.oriononline.org). Opportunely it warns that the new rule of the White House is a radical revision of the traditional political character of the USA; democratic citizens must deal with the question that it acts against the original Declaration of Independence of the USA and prospects the acceptance of war as a permanent condition.
Afterwards, in a manner both informative and emotionally crushing, David James Duncan’s contribution takes the literature of political dissent to a new place in When Compassion Becomes Dissent, a “haunting call to the collective conscience of the citizenry” (p.iii). Reflecting upon the duties of his work as a teacher of scholarly writing, Duncan explains that his contribution is a literary essay on the current war against imagination and compassion. To fully accomplish his educational tasks he teaches the difference between fiction making and lying, true and fake, imaginary and real. Thus, unavoidably he approaches dissent evaluating the words used by the Bush’s administration and its rhetoric. For examples, he notes, Bush’s presumption about America’s “clear responsibility” to “rid the world of evil” forces literature into a dissident position, since honest readers know “this is a very different goal from any recommended by Jesus, Buddha, or Muhammad, though not so different from some recommended by Stalin, McCarthy, and Mao Tse Tung” (p.29). Duncan’s citations are notable. Martin Luther King at the height of the Vietnam War: “a time comes when silence is betrayal … we are called upon to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for the victims of our nation .” (p. 46), is compared to Colin Powell asked for the number of Iraqis dead, because of the USA blitzkrieg: “Frankly that’s a number that doesn’t interest me very much” (p.47).
The September 11th tragedies and the insurgence of international terrorism as well as the emergencies of global warming, land degradation, and spread pollution, require the creation of a new world order. But such reactions like the National Security Strategy, the detention center of Guantanamo Bay, or the rebuttal of international agreements as the Kyoto Protocol or the International Criminal Court do not represent a good change. On the contrary they attempt to forge a new world order based upon unbalanced military and economics power and resource distribution, a step absolutely backwards for what concerns with social development and environment protection, pursued with bilingual arguments and opportunism. The Deeper reflections collected in the volumes of the New Patriotism Series address that wrecked worldview and offer a substantially different vision for international policy and leadership in this defining moment of the world history.
The publications of the New Patriotism series are meaningful attempts to let the need for cultural change come forward in the general discourses and to show that it is misleading to see this new reality, the Age of Terror, without studying the relationship between different kinds of terror, and without expanding our universe of concern. The focus and the privileged audience are in the USA, but these provocative publications call on the values, responsibilities, and leadership of all the world nations. They ought to be widely distributed and read to gain a richer significance for the term patriotism and “reweave the frayed fabric of national identities, … heal our landscapes and communities, respect and uphold our inalienable rights, and set us on a path of true justice, freedom and sustainability” (Gilliam and Lane-Zucker, foreword to Patriotism and the American Land, p.vii).
In the Presence of Fear: Three Essays for a Changed World, Wendell Berry, The Orion Society (2001), pp. III + 44, ISBN 0-913098-60-4, US $ 8.00
Patriotism and the American Land, Richard Nelson, Barry Lopez, and Terry Tempest Williams, The Orion Society (2002), p. VII + 90, ISBN 0-913098-61-2, US $ 8.00
Citizens Dissent: Security, Morality, and Leadership in an Age of Terror, Wendell Berry and David James Duncan, The Orion Society (2003), p. III + 60, ISBN 0-913098-62-0, US $ 8.00
Enzo Ferrara, Torino, Italy.