If you ask me, we’re way overdue for a Wendell Berry reading around here.
In Berry’s essay The Use of Energy, he reflects on the agrarian ethos, the connection between religion and energy, and the role of living things, tools, and machines. He concludes that the energy crisis is not one of technology, but of morality. And the issue at hand is restraint.
He asks: “Can we forbear to do anything that we are able to do?”
The only people among us that I know of who have answered this question convincingly in the affirmative are the Amish. They alone, as a community, have carefully restricted their use of machine-developed energy, and so have become the only true masters of technology. They are mostly farmers, and they do most of their farmwork by hand and by the use of horses and mules. They are pacifists, they operate their own schools, and in other ways hold themselves aloof from the ambitions of a machine-based society. And by doing so they have maintained the integrity of their families, their community, their religion, and their way of life.
They have escaped the mainstream American life of distraction, haste, aimlessness, violence, and disintegration. Their life is not idly wasteful or destructive. The Amish no doubt have their problems; I do no wish to imply that they are perfect. But it can not be denied that they have mastered one of the fundamental paradoxes of our condition: we can make ourselves whole only by accepting our partiality, by living within our limits, by being human — not by trying to be gods. By restraint they make themselves whole.