By Joseph Kellard
If you’re motivated to read, firsthand, what passes for intellectual leadership in America today, then I have a telling essay for you.
Before I first discovered Ayn Rand in the early 1990s, I used to read regularly “The Best American Essays,” an annual anthology of magazine essays. Once I started to read Miss Rand heavily, I lost interest in this publication — and now I know why. Recently I decided to buy the 2009 anthology, curious to see what it was that I once enjoyed about this series several years ago. Well, I’m six essays in (out of 22) and while none are enlightening, some are downright dreadful. The topper, so far, is an essay titled “Faustian Economics,” by Wendell Berry, a novelist, poet and essayist, which was originally published in Harper’s.
The essay perfectly exemplifies the “ideas” motivating the environmental movement. It centers on man’s alleged blindness to “limits,” both his and Earth’s. Rather than provide excerpts from this essay, I’d rather share some of the notes I took while reading it, which I’ve fleshed out here for clarity:
* The author makes no attempt to ground many of his claims. A rationalist?
* He primarily uses “limits” as a packaged deal to decry all that he hates about Technological/Industrial Man.
* He pushes environmentalism’s limited-resources orthodoxy: we’re all just rapacious consumers who, when we do produce, are just using up more and more of Earth’s resources that will inevitably run out…someday.
* He appeals to religion to give his environmentalist claims moral weight — primarily to condemn selfishness and greed.
* He essentially takes the position that too much knowledge is bad — we should know that there are limits and mistakenly believe we can be omniscient.
* Capitalism is a zerosum economic system, consequently money is a fixed (limited) pie and so the haves leave nothing for the have-nots.
* Those who don’t want to accept limits are those who don’t want to sacrifice to “anything whatever.”
* Men aren’t worth anything and don’t amount to anything — even if each man had two lives.
You may reach different, more insightful conclusions than I did. But, nevertheless, this is as near a naked hatred of selfishness, capitalism and (industrial-technology) man as you’ll find in a mainstream (supposed) intellectual publication.
* I made some minor grammatical changes to the original post. ~ JK