Crisis of Individualism

In the book, The Unsettling of America by Wendell Berry, an argument is made concerning the multiple crises of America. Berry argues that our mistreatment of the environment is due to our character, agriculture, and our culture. The argument that stood out to me the most was his view on character. However, it did not stand out to me because I agreed with it. It stood out because he attacks all of the wrong aspects of American’s character. Berry attacks specialization, claiming that it leads to people who are only masters of one trade (Berry, 1977). While specialization does lead to a person being efficient at only one job, when society puts together all of these jobs, the country reaps great benefits of lower prices and high employment. Thanks to specialization, there are jobs that do not even require a high school degree because all of the training is on the job and it is very repetitive. Berry continues to argue that a specialized worker “is probably the most unhappy average citizen in the history of the world. He has not the power to provide himself with anything but money” which is constantly inflating (Berry, 1977). Without these “unhappy” workers, we would not be able have and enjoy many of the products we take for granted today. On top of that, I know multiple factory, specialized workers who also work their own farm every day. Berry paints a wide generalization of all specialized workers, and frankly, it aggravates me. Thomas Jefferson’s agrarian society will never come to pass in America, and he needs to accept that. All of this is to say, specialization is not the area of our character that causes environmental problems. It is our innate individualism that leads to the mistreatment of the environment. We all want to be the best. Many times, we strive for greatness at the expense of the environment. Similar to the conservation agencies that invest in businesses with terrible conservation histories, people love to say something about their character to make themselves look good, only to turn around and act in ways that contradict their words. We say we want to help the environment, but then we realize it is going to take much from ourselves to really make a difference, so we move on to other things in the interest of ourselves. If we could get people to understand that helping the environment is essentially the same as helping yourself, then people would be much more likely to truly conserve. Really, it is a crisis of individualism.

Berry, Wendell. (1977). The Unsettling of America.

2 comments to Crisis of Individualism

  1. alex158 says:

    America does need specialization. If our workers are trained in every field imaginable, then they can only be average at best in any one field. We need specialization to avoid being a mediocre country.

  2. mitchell158 says:

    Don’t get me wrong, I think our “specialized” way of life has more positives than negatives but I do think Berry points out areas for concerns. There are always exceptions, but I do believe for a majority of americans the reason they work is for purely for the money and then when they are not working they watch tv. I think Berry’s main point is that Americans are forgetting to do stuff for themselves; work because you enjoy it and don’t let others provide your source of entertainment.

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