Know your place

Human beings will be happier – not when they cure cancer or get to Mars or eliminate racial prejudice or flush Lake Erie but when they find ways to inhabit primitive communities again. That’s my utopia -Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

After a great weekend in Springfield, I had a six-hour drive to get back to Bowling Green. The entire weekend, save for two or three hours, was spent in the presence of at least one person. As I drove back, a sense of isolation began to set in. I’m sure part of that is because I was leaving behind someone I care very much about, having spent only 36 hours with her.

I turned on my iPod and decided to listen to some lectures I had downloaded by Wendell Berry. Berry is a novelist, philosopher and farmer. His message is one of community and sense of place, not only culturally, but also within the environment. (That distinction is something, were he to read this, that would piss him off to no end) Since discovering Berry I have been very cognizant of my place and how I belong and how I could work to improve that place. Berry says we must know our place, and that includes the resources of nature that we consume. Not having a personal knowledge of these leads to  destructive process like removing whole mountain tops to mine the coal or factory farms that when combined, produce more greenhouse gases than all the gas and diesel guzzling vehicles combined.

Berry further goes on to say that to believe we have a uniform answer for all the worlds problems (e.g. bringing democracy to the Middle East) is absurd and leads to extremely harmful behaviors. Some places aren’t meant to grow corn. Deserts shouldn’t be transformed into vast fields of corn and soybeans, though those fields are practically deserts anyway.

The idea of “one size fits all” stems from and can be blamed on Henry Ford. In America, we look at this man as a genius, the saint of capitalism. He was definitely a crusader for the economic system. I can’t speak much about the man, I didn’t know him, and haven’t studied him. I will say this, he was friend to and possible lover of the known anti-Semite Walt Disney. But the idea of a mass production and factory line products has bled over into agriculture, a place it doesn’t belong.

A car stuck in the mud of the Amazon in Fordlandia

Ford himself experienced this. He so believed in capitalism and the goodness of America, he tried to export it to Brazil. Ford bought 2 million acres of rainforest where he planned on producing rubber for his cars. Part of this land was to be a colony for the workers. A heartland city replicated in the Amazon, morality and all. Without hiring any experts on the place or how it worked, Ford went about trying to create a system of agriculture similar to a Midwest farm (it failed). He also tried to destroy the local history and culture (they rioted).

Without knowledge of the community, Fordlandia (what kind of megalomanic names a colony after themselves?) was destined to fail, and it did. Like the ruins of Easter Island, the buildings of Fordlandia stand as a warning to future generations. Know your limits. Know your place.

The decrepit Fordlandia power house

The decrepit Fordlandia power house

Links about Fordlania

1 Democracy Now! article

2 Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford’s Forgotten Jungle City

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