And so when the government in Frankfort again proves too stupid or too blind or too corrupt to see the plain truth and to act with simple decency, I intend to be there, and I trust that I won't be alone. I hope, moreover, to be there, not with a sign or a slogan or a button, but with the facts and the arguments. A crowd whose discontent has risen no higher than the level of slogans is only a crowd. But a crowd that understands the reasons for its discontent and knows the remedies is a vital community, and it will have to be reckoned with. I would rather go before the government with two men who have a competent understand of an issue, and who therefore deserve a hearing, than to go with two thousand who are vaguely dissatisfied.
But even the most articulate public protest is not enough. We don't live in the government or in institutions or in our public utterances and acts, and the environmental crisis has its roots in our lives. By the same token, environmental health will also be rooted in our lives. That is, I take it, simply a fact, and in the light of it we can see how superficial and foolish we would be to think that we could correct what is wrong merely by tinkering with the institutional machinery. The changes that are required are fundamental changes in the way we are living.
rhat it seems to me that we are up against in this country, in any attempt to involve private responsibility, is that we have nearly destroyed private life. Our people have given up their independence in return mostly for the cheap seductions and the shoddy merchandise of so-called "affluence. " We have delegated all our vital functions and responsibilities to salesmen and agents and bureaus and experts of all sorts. We cannot feed or clothe ourselves, or entertain ourselves, or communicate with each other, or be charitable or neighborly or loving, or even respect ourselves, without recourse to a merchant or a corporation or a public service organization or an agency of the government or a style-setter. Most of us cannot think of dissenting from the opinions or the actions of one organization without first forming a new organization. Individualism is going around these days in uniform, handing out the party line on individualism. Dissenters want to publish their personal opinions over a thousand signatures.
Confucius says that the "chief way for the production of wealth" (and he is talking about real goods, not money) is "that the producers be many and that the mere consumers be few. . . " But even in the much publicized rebellion of the young against the materialism of the affluent society, the consumer mentality is too often still intact: the standards of behavior are
still those of kind and quantity, the security sought is still the security of numbers, and the chief motive is still the consumer's anxiety that one is missing out on what is "in. " In this state of total consumerism--which is to say a state of helpless dependence on things and services and ideas and motives that we have forgotten how to provide ourselves--all meaningful contact between ourselves and the earth is broken. We do not understand the earth either in terms of what it offers us or what it requires of us, and I think it is the rule that people inevitably destroy what they do not understand. Most of us are not directly responsible for strip mining and extractive agriculture and other forms of environmental abuse. But we are quilty nevertheless, for we connive in them by our ignorance. We do not know enough about them; we do not have a particular enough sense of their damage. Most of us not only do not know how to produce the best food in the best way--we don't know how to produce any kind in any way. And for this condition we have elaborate rationalizations, instructing us that dependence for everything on somebody else is efficient and economical and a scientific miracle. I say, instead, that it is pure madness, mass produced. A man who understands the weather only in terms of golf is participating in a chronic public insanity that either he or his descendents
will be bound to realize as suffering. I believe that the death of the world is breeding in such minds much more certainly and much faster than in any political capital or atomic arsenal.
For an index of our loss of contact with the earth we need only to look at the condition of the American farmer--who must in our society, as in every society, enact man's dependence on the land, and his responsibility to it. In an age of unparalleled affluence and leisure, the American farmer is harder pressed and harder worked than ever before; his margin of profit is small, his hours long; his outlays for land and equipment and the expenses of maintenance and operation are growing rapidly greater; he cannot compete with industry for labor; he is being forced more and more to depend on the use of destructive chemicals and on the often wasteful methods of haste and anxiety. As a class, farmers are one of the despised minorities. So far as I can see farming is considered marginal or incidental to the economy of the country, and farmers, when they are thought of at all, are thought of as hicks and yokels, whose lives do not fit into the modern scene. The average American farmer is now an old man, whose sons have moved away to the cities. His knowledge, and his intimate connection with the land are about to be lost.
The small independent farmer is going the way of the small independent craftsmen and storekeepers. He is being forced off the land into the cities, his place taken by absentee owners, corporations, and machines. Some would justify all this in the name of efficiency. As I see it, it is an enormous social and economic and cultural blunder. For the small farmers who lived on their farms cared about their land. And given their established connection to their land--which was often hereditary and traditional as well as economic--they could have been encouraged to care for it more competently than they have so far. The corporations and machines that replace them will never be bound to the land by the sense of birthright and continuity and love which enforces care. They will be bound by the rule of efficiency which takes thought only of the volume of the year's produce, and takes no thought of the slow increment of the life of the land, not measurable in pounds or dollars, which will assure the livelihood and the health of the coming generations.
If we are to hope to correct our abuses of each other and of other races and of our land, and if our effort to correct these abuses is to be more than a political fad that will in the long run be only another form of abuse, then we are going to have to go far beyond public protest and political action. We are going to have to rebuild the substance and the integrity of private life in this country. We are going to have to gather up the fragments of knowledge and responsibility that we have parceled out to the bureaus and the corporations and the specialists, and we are going to have to put those fragments back together again in our own minds and in our families and households and neighborhoods. We need better government, no doubt about it. But we also need better minds, better friendships, better marriages, better communities. We need persons and households that do not need to wait upon organizations but who can make necessary changes in themselves, on their own.
X*or most of the history of this country our motto, implied or spoken, has been THINK BIG. I have come to believe that a better motto, and an essential one now, is THINK LITTLE. That implies the necessary change of thinking and feeling, and suggests the necessary work. Thinking Big has led us to the two biggest and cheapest political dodges of our time: plan-making and law-making. We have been carried away on the wings of great gold-plated political and economic generalizations. The lotuseaters of this era are in Washington D. C. , Thinking Big. Somebody comes up with a problem, and somebody in the government comes up with a plan or a law. The result, mostly.