By: Wendell Berry

We live in a time when technologies and ideas (often the same thing) are adopted in response not to need but to  advertising, salesmanship, and fashion. Salesmen and saleswomen now hover about us as persistently as angels, intent on “doing us good” according to instructions set forth by persons educated at great public expense in the arts of greed and prevarication. These salespeople are now with most of us, apparently, even in our dreams.

I am more and more impressed by the generality of the assumption that human lives are properly to be invented by an academic-corporate-governmental elite and then either sold to their passive and choiceless recipients or doled out to them in the manner of welfare payments. Any necessary thinking—so the assumption goes—will be done by certified smart people in offices, laboratories, boardrooms, and other high places and then will be handed down to supposedly unsmart people in low places—who will also be expected to do whatever actual work cannot be done cheaper by machines.

Such a society, whose members are expected to think, do or provide nothing for themselves, will necessarily give a high place to salesmanship. For such a society cannot help but encourage the growth of a kind of priesthood of men and women who know exactly what you need and who just happen to have it for you, attractively packaged and at a price no competitor can beat. If you wish to be among the beautiful, then you must buy the right fashions (there are no cheap fashions) and the right automobile (not cheap either). if you want to be counted as one of the intelligent, then you must shop for the right education (not cheap but also not difficult).

Actually, as we know, the new commercial education is fun for everybody. All you have to do in order to have or to provide such an education is to pay your money (in advance) and master a few simple truths:

  • Educated people are more valuable than other people because education is a value-adding industry.
  • Educated people are better than other people because education improves people and makes them good.
  • The purpose of education is to make people able to earn more and more money.
  • The place where education is to be used is called “your career.”
  • Anything that cannot be weighed, measured, or counted does not exist.
  • The so-called humanities probably do not exist. But if they do, they are useless. But whether they exist or not or are useful or not, they can sometimes be made to support a career.
  • Literacy does not involve knowing the meanings of words, or learning grammar, or reading books.
  • The sign of exceptionally smart people is that they speak a language that is intelligible only to other people in their “field” or only to themselves. This is very impressive and is known as “professionalism.”
  • The smartest and most educated people are the scientists, for they have already found solutions to all our problems and will soon find solutions to all the problems resulting from their solutions to all the problems we used to have.
  • The mark of a good teacher is that he or she spends most of his or her time doing research and writes many books and articles.
  • The mark of a good researcher is the same as that of a good teacher.
  • A great university has many computers, a lot of government and corporation research contracts, a winning team, and more administrators than teachers.
  • Computers make people even better and smarter than they were made by previous thingamabobs Or if some people prove incorrigibly wicked or stupid or both, computers will at least speed them up.
  • The main thing is, don’t let education get in the way of being nice to children. Children are our Future. Spend plenty of money on them but don’t stay home with them and get in their way. Don’t give them work to do; they are smart and can think up things to do on their own. Don’t teach them any of that awful, stultifying, repressive, old-fashioned morality. Provide plenty of TV, microwave dinners, day care, computers, computer games, cars. For all this, they will love and respect us and be glad to grow up and pay our debts.
  • A good school is a big school.
  • Disarm the children before you let them in.
Of course, education is for the Future, and the Future is one of our better-packaged items and attracts many buyers. (The past, on the other hand, is hard to sell; it is, after all, past.) The Future is where we’ll all be fulfilled, happy, healthy, and perhaps will live and consume forever. It may have some bad things in it, like storms or floods or earthquakes or plagues or volcanic eruptions or stray meteors, but soon we will learn to predict and prevent such things before they happen. In the Future, many scientists will be employed in figuring out how to prevent the unpredictable consequences of the remaining unpreventable bad things. There will always be work for scientists.
The Future, as everybody knows, is a subject of extreme importance to politicians, and we have several political packages that are almost irresistible—expensive, of course, but rare:
  1. Tolerance and Multiculturalism: Quit talking bad about women, homosexuals, and preferred social minorities, and you can say anything you want about people who haven’t been to college, manual workers, country people, peasants, religious people, unmodern people, old people, and so on. Tolerant and multicultural persons hyphenate their land of origin and their nationality. I, for example, am a Kentuckian-American.
  2. Preservation of Human Resources: Despite world-record advances in automation, robotification, and other “labor-saving” technologies, it is assumed that almost every human being may, at least in the Future, turn out to be useful for something, just like the members of other endangered species. Sometimes, after all, the Economy still requires a “human component.” At such times, human resources are called “human components,” and are highly esteemed in that capacity as long as their usefulness lasts. Therefore, don’t quit taking care of human resources yet. See that the schools are run as ideal orphanages or, as ideal jails. Provide preschool and pre-preschool. Also postschool. Keep the children in institutions and away from home as much as possible—remember that their parents wanted children only because other people have them, and are much too busy to raise them. Only the government cares. Move the children around a lot while they’re young, for this provides many opportunities for socialization. Show them a lot of TV, for TV is educational. Teach them about computers, for computers still require a “human component.” Teach them the three Ss: Sex can be Scientific and Safe. When the children grow up, try to keep them busy. Try to see that they become addicted only to legal substances. That’s about it.
  3. Reduce the Government: The government should only be big enough to annihilate any country and (if necessary) every country, to spy on its citizens and on other governments, to keep big secrets, and to see to the health and happiness of large corporations. A government thus reduced will be almost too small to notice and will require almost no taxes and spend almost no money.
  4. The Free Market: The free market sees to it that everything ends up in the right place—that is, it makes sure that only the worthy get rich. All millionaires and billionaires have worked hard for their money, and they deserve the rewards of their work. They need all the help they can get from the government and the universities. Having money stimulates the rich to further economic activity that ultimately benefits the rest of us. Needing money stimulates the rest of us to further economic activity that ultimately benefits the rich. The cardinal principle of the free market is unrestrained competition, which is a kind of tournament that will decide which is the world’s champion corporation. Ultimately, thanks to this principle, there will be only one corporation, which will be wonderfully simplifying. After that, we will rest in peace.
  5. Unlimited Economic Growth: This is the pet idea of the Party of Hardheaded Realists. That unlimited economic growth can be accomplished within limited space, with limited materials and limited intelligence, only shows the unlimited courage and self-confidence of these Great Minds. That unlimited economic growth implies unlimited consumption, which in turn implies unlimited pride, covetousness, lust, anger, gluttony, envy, and sloth, only makes the prospect even more unlimited.
  6. The Food System: The Food System is firmly grounded on the following principles;
  • Food is important mainly as an article of international trade.
  • It doesn’t matter what happens to farmers.
  • It doesn’t matter what happens to the land.
  • Agriculture has nothing to do with “the environment.”
  • There will always be plenty of food, for if farmers don’t grow it from the soil, then scientists will invent it.
  • There is no connection between food and health. People are fed by the food industry, which pays no attention to health, and are healed by the health industry, which pays no attention to food.
  • It follows that there is no connection between healing and health. Hospitals customarily feed their patients poor-quality, awful-tasting, factory-made expensive food and keep them awake all night with various expensive attentions. There is a connection between money and health.
But however much I may change my mind, I will never agree with those saleswomen and salesmen who suggest that if I will only do as they say, all will be fine. All is not going to be fine. Even if we all agreed with all the saints and prophets, all would not be fine. For we would still be mortal, partial, suffering poor creatures, not very intelligent and never the authors of our best hope.
P.S. Last summer, for example, I read a newspaper article announcing, in the awestricken voice of the science journalist, “a new generation of technological inventions—most of them involving some variation on the home computer.” The two inventions specifically described in the article were electronic newspapers and something called “hypertext.”
The benefits of the electronic newspaper apparently all have to do with convenience: “These screens will display a front page with an index. The user can tap a pen to the screen to call up a story, flip a page, turn a still photograph into a TV news scene, or even make a dinner or theatre reservation from an ad.”
Hypertext “makes it possible to create all sorts of linkages and short circuits within a text.” And this “is extremely useful in organizing technical material so that the reader can efficiently select which parts of a text to read.” The reason for this, according to a “consultant,” is that “usually you don’t want to read everything— you only want to read what you don’t know . ” Hypertext “is reader-friendly and makes it easy to chart a path to the desired parts.” Thanks also to this invention, “creative writing professors are teaching courses about how to write hypertext novels that literally go in all directions.” These novels are “interactive”:
In reading a hypertext novel You may follow the point of view of a chosen character, or you may chose the outcome you like best, or you may wander off into subtleties beyond anything James Joyce could have imagined. The possibilities —and the stories—may be endless.
This opens up new realms of choice and creativity. In some ways it frees the reader from being merely a passive receptacle of the 
” author’s genius (or lack of same)
I hope you will understand at least somewhat the disgust, the contempt, and the joy with which I have received this news.
It disgusts me because I know there is no need for such products, which will put a lot of money into the pockets of people who don’t care how they earn it and will bring another downward turn in the effort of gullible people to become better and smarter by way of machinery. This is a perfect example of modern salesmanship and modern technology—yet another way to make people pay dearly for what they already have (the ability to turn the pages of a newspaper or respond to an ad; the ability to read and write, to choose what to read, and to read “actively”).
I read about these things with contempt because of the nonsense and the falsehood involved. For example, no real comparison is made in this article between paper newspapers and electronic ones. The stated difference is simply that one is newer and somehow easier than the other. And what exactly is implied by the use of a machine that makes it possible to read only “what you don’t know”? is this perhaps what we call “skimming”? But how do you know, without reading or at least skimming, whether you know or do not know what is in a text? And what of the pleasure of reading again what you already know? The assumption here is that reading is an ordeal, of which the less said the better. And don’t we remember that television was once expected to produce a new era of general enlightenment? And now will we believe that the electronically stupefied will turn from their soap operas to “hypertext” and indulge themselves in “subtleties and complexities” beyond the powers of James Joyce? And are we to suppose that readers of, say, James Joyce have hitherto been mere passive receptacles of his genius? And haven’t we known all along that the stories are endless?
My joy comes from my instantaneous knowledge that I am not going to buy either piece of equipment. When the inevitable saleswoman comes to tell me that I cannot be up-to-date, or intelligent, or creative, or handsome, or young, or eligible for the sexual favors of so fair a creature as herself unless I buy these products, I am not going to do it.
 Somewhere is better than anywhere.  – Flannery O’Connor



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