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9 > Page 9 of Blue-Tail Fly, No. 7

Part of Blue-Tail Fly

has been the persistence of the problem, and the enlargement and enrichment of the government. But the discipline of thought is not generalization; it is detail, and it is personal action. While the government is "studying" and funding and organizing its Big Thought, nothing is being done. But the citizen who is willing to think little, and, accepting the discipline of that, to go ahead on his own, is already solving the problem. A man who is trying to live as a neighbor to his neighbors will have a lively and practical understanding of the work of peace and brotherhood, and--let there be no mistake about it--he is doing that work. A couple who make a good marriage, and raise healthy, morally-competent children are serving the world's future more directly and surely than any political leader, though they never utter a public word. A good farmer who is dealing with the problem of soil erosion on an acre of ground has a sounder grasp of that problem, and cares more about it, and is probably doing more to solve it than any bureaucrat who is talking about it in general. A man who is willing to undertake the discipline and the difficulty of mending his own ways is worth more to the conservation movement than a hundred who are insisting merely that the government and the industries mend their ways. If you are concerned about the proliferation of trash, then by all means start an organization in your community to do something about it. But before--and while--you organize, pick up some cans and bottles yourself. That way, at least, you will assure yourself and others that you mean what you say. If you are concerned about air pollution, help push for government controls, but drive your car less, use less fuel in your home. If you are worried about the damming of wilderness rivers, join the Sierra Club, write to the government, but turn off the lights you're not using, don't install an air conditioner, don't be a sucker for electrical gadgets, don't waste water. In other words, if you are fearful of the destruction of the environment, then learn to quit being an environmental parasite. We all are, in one way or another, and the remedies are not always obvious, though they certainly will always be difficult. They require a new kind of life--harder, more laborious, poorer in luxuries and gadgets, but also, I am certain, richer in meaning and more abundant in real pleasure. To have a healthy environment we will all have to give up things we like; we may even have to give up things we have come to think of as necessities. But to be fearful of the disease and yet unwilling to pay for the cure is not just to be hypocritical; it is to be doomed. If you talk a good line without being changed by what you say, then you are not just hypocritical and doomed; you have become an agent of the disease. Consider, for an example, the President, who advertises his grave concern about the destruction of the environment, and who turns up the air conditioner to make it cool enough to build a fire. Odd as I am sure it will appear to some, I can think of no better form of personal involvement in the cure of the environment than that of gardening. A person who is growing a garden, if he is growing it organically, is improving a piece of the world. He is producing something to eat, which makes him somewhat independent of the grocery business, but he is 0 also enlarging, for himself, the meaning of food and the pleasure of eating. The food he grows will be fresher, more nutritious, less contaminated by poisons and preservatives and dyes. He is reducing the trash problem; a garden is not a disposable container, and it will digest and re-use its own wastes. If he enjoys working in his garden, then he is less dependent on an automobile or merchant for his pleasure. He is involving himself directly in the work of feeding people. If you think I'm wandering off the subject, let me remind you that most of the vegetables necessary for a family of four can be grown on a plot of forty by sixty feet. I think we might see in this an economic potential of considerable importance, since we now appear to be facing the possibiltiy of widespread famine. How much food could be grown in the door-yards of cities and suburbs? How much could be grown along the extravagant rights -of-way of the Interstate system? Or how much could be grown, by the intensive practices and economics of the small farm, on so-called marginal lands? Louis Bromfield like to point out that the people of France survived crisis after crisis because they were a nation of gardeners, who in times of want turned with great skill to their own small plots of ground. And F. H. King, an agriculture professor who traveled extensively in the Orient in 1907, talked to a Chinese farmer who supported a family of twelve, "one donkey, one cow, . . . and two pigs on 2. 5 acres of cultivated land"--and who did this, moreover, by agricultural methods that were sound enough organically to have maintained his land in prime fertility for several thousand years of such use. These are possibilities that are very readily apparent and attractive to minds that are prepared to think little. To Big Thinkers--the bureaucrats and businessmen of agriculture--they are quite simply invisible. But intensive, organic agriculture kept the farms of the Orient thriving for thousands of years, whereas extensive--which is to say, exploitive or extractive--agriculture has critically reduced the fertility of American farmlands in a few centuries or even a few decades. A person who undertakes to grow a garden at home, by practices which will preserve rather than exploit the economy of the soil, has set his mind he will find to be rich in meaning and pleasure. But he is doing something else that is more important: he is making vital contact with the soil and the weather on which his life depends. He will no longer look upon rain as an impediment of traffic, or upon the sun as a holiday decoration. And his sense of man's dependence on the world will have grown precise enough, one would hope, to be politically clarifying and useful. What I am saying is that if we apply our minds directly and competently to the needs of the earth, then we will have begun to make fundamental and very necessary changes in our minds. We will begin to understand and to mistrust and to change our wasteful economy, which markets not just the produce of the earth, but also the earth's ability to produce. We will see that beauty and utility are alike dependent upon the health of the world. But we will also see through the fads and the fashions of protest. We will see that war and oppression and pollution are not separate issues, but are aspects of the same issue. Amid the outcries for the liberation of this group or that, we will know that no person is free except in the freedom of other persons, and that man's only real freedom is to know and faithfully occupy his place--a much humbler place than we have been taught to think--in the order of creation. And we will know that of all issues in education the issue of relevance is the phoniest. If life were as predictable and small as the talkers of politics would have it, then relevance would be a consideration. But life is large and surprising and mysterious, and we don't know what we need to know. When I was a student I refused certain subjects because I thought they were irrelevant to the duties of a writer, and I have had to take (them up, clumsily and late, to understand my duties as a man. What we need in education is not relevance, but abundance, variety, adventurousness, thoroughness. A student should suppose that he needs to learn everything he can, and he should suppose that he will need to know much more than he can learn. on pag9 16