Wendell Berry, Feminism, The Body, and the Machine (2002)


1.      A Key Idea: One way we are worse off than 40 years ago, even with all modern technology

         a.      A family living that not so long ago was ordinarily supplied by one job now routinely required two or more

         b.      True?                   



3.       Defense of women (and men) staying at home and making their living there

         a.      Rejects idea that a person’s dignity requires that they work outside the home

         b.      Employment outside the home is not as valuable/important as employment at home

                   i.       E.g., children need ordinary daily association with both parents

4.      Berry’s critique of working outside the home

         a.      Not clear desirable for people, marriage, society, country

         b.      Bossed around: Life as a corporate underling (even when well paid) with a boss who demands obedience is not an “acceptable end to our quest for human dignity and worth”

                   i.       Men are more compliant to their bosses than most housewives to their husbands!

         c.      Much work outside home meaningless

                   i.       Computer worker whose keystrokes per hour are monitored

                   ii.      Assembly line worker who drills same six holes day after day

         d.      Women can’t improve themselves by submitting to the same specialization, degradation, trivialization and tyrannization of work that men have submitted to

                   i.       Women joining the national vandalism is not liberation

         e.      Loss of economic independence and consequent subordination to bosses

         f.       Slave to money: People become helpless to do anything for themselves or anyone else w/o money and so for money they do what they are told                                                                            

5.      We have destroyed the household economy and thus the household

         a.      Loss of home employment and self-employment

         b.      Disintegration of family and community

         c.      Problem is not men exploiting women, but economy exploiting both and everything else



7.      “Technological progress”

         a.      Destroyed household and communities: Provided means for productive and consumptive capacities of people to be detached from household and community and serve others purely economic ends

         b.      Seductive: Created a glamor of newness, ease and affluence that made it seductive even to those who suffered most from it

         c.      Overconsumption for many: Put unheard of quantities of consumer goods/services within reach of ordinary people

         d.      Concentrated power: Also made possible gathering of real property and real power in fewer and fewer hands

8.      Defenses of “techno-logical progress” invariably quantitative (rather than qualitative) and don’t subtract costs

         a.      Statistics on ownerships of cars, TV sets, increase life expectancy

         b.      Soil loss, pollution, social disintegration not considered

9.      Statistics on increased life expectancy ignores

         a.      Long life desirable only up to a point (when better off dead)

         b.      Good life preferable to long life

         c.      Is prolonged life virtuous or satisfactory?

         d.      Life of a vicious criminal or “inched out of a veritable hell of captivity within the medical industry” both add to long life statistics

10.    In general, tech progress produced social and ecological decline

         a.      Industrial war worse than war used to be

         b.      Industrial agriculture diminishes everything it affects (except by standards of quantity and mechanical efficiency)

         c.      Industrial workmanship is certainly worse than traditional workmanship

         d.      TV not a great tool of education, but tool of stupefaction and disintegration

         e.      Industrial education has abandoned the old duty of passing on the cultural and intellectual inheritance in favor of baby-sitting and career preparation

11.    Tech progress made us a people who can’t think about anything important

         a.      Even English sparrows do not let loose into the streets young sparrows who have no notion of their identity or adult responsibilities

         b.      Where in history to you find

                   i.       Educated people who know more about sports than history of own country

                   ii.      Uneducated people who do not know stories of families and communities?

12.    Aims of tech progress?

13.    Not love of family, community, country or God

         a.      Not integrity/happiness of family, which made subordinate to ed system, TV industry, and consumer economy

         b.      Not integrity/health of our communities (we care for them even less than for our families)

         c.      Not love of country (we are far more concerned with desecration of the flag than we are about desecration of our land)

         d.      Not love of god (it counts for at least as little in daily order of business as love of family, community and country)

         e.      Not “to make a better future for our children” for we destroy the natural givens on which they depend

14.    Aims of tech progress is money and ease

         a.      Ease, an easy life, is not a good life



16.    Desirability of adopting any tech innovation has two, not one, possible answers:

         a.      If motives are money, ease, and haste to arrive in tech determined future, then no question or thought

         b.      If motive love of family, community, country and God, then have to think and may have to decide that the proposed innovation is undesirable

17.    Baffled about how to end or reduce dependence on some tech innovation already adopted

         a.      E.g., Automobile: people living in the country where public transportation does not exist can’t give up cars w/o becoming less useful to each other

                   i.       Because of automobile we live too far from each other and from things we need to be able to get about any other way


18.    A computer for Wendell Berry? (15 years later than earlier article)

         a.      He’s a writer and is offered an expensive machine to help him

         b.      He needs to ask if this machine is desirable

         c.      He needs lots of help but gets it from other humans

         d.      He does not need or want to write faster, easier and more, but better and only other people can help him do that

         e.      More volume of writing is not good

                   i.       In my field, 6-8 journals only used to be one; not clear what is written is any better.

         f.       Computers can’t help you write better

                   i.       One publisher claims under influence of computers people writing worse

19.    Doesn’t he want to keep up with the times? No.


20.    Danger most immediately to be feared by tech progress is degradation and obsolescence of the body

         a.      Long history of hatred of the body and natural world as prison of the soul

         b.      Shortcutting the intimacy of the body’s involvement in making a work of art (like an essay), risks reducing the work of art and art itself

         c.      By using computers writers are flirting with radical separation of mind and body, elimination of the work of the body from the work of the mind

                   i.       Doesn’t want his mental work to be disassociated from physical work

21.    Handwriting has valuable influence on the work written

         a.      Shaping one’s words with one’s own hands imparts character and quality to them

         b.      Looks hospitable to improvement

                   i.       More and more spunk required to mar clean final looking lines of type

         c.      Longer he keeps piece of writing handwritten the better it will be

         d.      Corrected longhand written page has evidence of its past, so there is something to go back to

                   i.       Ignores “track changes”.....

22.    Handwriting allows one to go and write in the woods or wherever, unhooked to the power structure or grid

23.    Allows that people can write good things with a computer

         a.      Some of his best friends have computers (ha!)


24.    Insignificant impact argument?

25.    In response to–It will do no good to not buy a computer–insignificant impact on overall use

         a.      Does him some good

         b.      Thoreau’s reply: why should anyone wait to do what is right until everybody does it?


26.    Unsure where to draw the line on technology, but it is a question worth losing sleep over

         a.      He knows were to draw the line when it is easy to draw

                   i.       Luxury to deny himself a TV set

                   ii.      No doubt better off w/o computer

                   iii.     Joyfully denies himself a motorboat, a camping van, and off road vehicle and every other kind of recreational machinery

                   iv.     No want of a second home

                   v.      Suffer comfortably the lack of colas, TV dinners and other counterfeit foods and beverages

         b.      Stuck with these problematic technologies

                   i.       He’s in bondage to auto industry and energy companies (nothing to recommend them but our dependence on them)

                   ii.      Still fly in airplanes, which have nothing to recommend them but speed

                            (1)    Inconvenient, uncomfortable, undependable, ugly, stinky and scary

                   iii.     Still cuts wood with chainsaw, nothing to recommend it but speed and has all faults of airplane except it does not fly?


27.    Line ought to be drawn w/o fail whenever it can be drawn easily

28.    Ought to be easy (though many do not find it so) to refuse to buy what one does not need

         a.      If you are already solving your problem with the equipment you have why solve it with something more expensive and damaging

         b.      If you don’t have a problem, why pay for a solution

         c.      If you love freedom and elegance of simple tools, why encumber yourself with something complicated?

29.    If ever going to have a world fit and pleasant for little children, we are going to have to draw the line where it is not easily drawn

         a.      Going to have to learn to give up things that we have learned (in only a few years, after all) to “need”

Study questions on Berry’s Feminism, the Body, and the Machine.

1.      What does Berry think of the idea that women need to work outside of the home in order to be liberated?

2.      What does Berry think about the idea that our increased life expectancy shows that technological progress has improved our lives?

3.      According to Berry, what are the aims of technological progress? What should be its aims on his view?

4.      Does Berry think that we should aim for a life of ease? What do you think and why?

5.      What does Berry think about the prospects of reducing our dependence on technologies we have already adopted?

6.      Does Berry reject the idea that a computer would allow him to write faster, easier and in greater quantity?

7.      Explain what Berry means by his concern that “technological progress leads to degradation and obsolescence of the body.” Apply this idea to the question of Berry using a computer in his writing.

8.      Why does Berry think writing by hand is valuable?

9.      What are some of the technologies Berry has rejected and what are some that he uses with regret?

10.    According to Berry, where should we draw the line with new technology? Do you agree?