Love the quick profit, the annual raise, vacation with pay. Want more of everything ready-made. Be afraid to know your neighbors and to die. And you will have a window in your head. Not even your future will be a mystery any more. Your mind will be punched in a card and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something they will call you. When they want you to die for profit they will let you know.
So, friends, every day do something that won’t compute. Love the Lord. Love the world. Work for nothing. Take all that you have and be poor. Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace the flag. Hope to live in that free republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot understand. Praise ignorance, for what man has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias. Say that your main crop is the forest that you did not plant, that you will not live to harvest. Say that the leaves are harvested when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns. Put your faith in the two inches of humus that will build under the trees every thousand years. Listen to carrion – put your ear close, and hear the faint chattering of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful though you have considered all the facts. So long as women do not go cheap for power, please women more than men. Ask yourself: Will this satisfy a woman satisfied to bear a child? Will this disturb the sleep of a woman near to giving birth?
Go with your love to the fields. Lie down in the shade. Rest your head in her lap. Swear allegiance to what is nighest your thoughts. As soon as the generals and the politicos can predict the motions of your mind, lose it. Leave it as a sign to mark the false trail, the way you didn’t go. Be like the fox who makes more tracks than necessary, some in the wrong direction.
I’ve noticed over the years that a certain kind of person uses Wendell Berry poems. I’m not sure I’m that kind of person, but here’s a piece that combines personal morality, Christian imagery, anarchy, and concern for the earth.
His Manifesto is nearly fifty years old, but it’s still useful, despite some archaic language. In the first stanza, Berry lays out the problem of consumer capitalism. Obviously, the environmental degradation that comes along with rampant consumerism isn’t addressed there. Fifty years on, it’s clear that our species must find new means of production— food, energy, goods— and new modes of distributing them. It’s not outside our means, to be sure. What we seem to lack is the collective will to change things.
Well, collective will and systems of power that would allow sweeping changes. The world as it is concentrates power in the hands of a few. Listening to those few, one gets the impression that they, too, are trapped on this behemoth ship, unable to turn quickly.
Then Russia invaded Ukraine, violating the “Golden Arches Theory of Conflict Prevention,” which is basically a theory of economics that says countries interconnected by large multi-national corporations (like McDonald’s, Starbucks, Dell) would never go to war. Huge multi-national corporations left Russia within two weeks, leaving profits and Russian workers behind.
It’s possible to shift our focus. When Covid 19 swept the planet, and people decided their neighbors were important. The planet saw a dip in carbon emissions because there were simply fewer cars on the road. New modes of working from home and working fewer days a week caught on for a while. People planted gardens and tried to adjust to a “new normal” that could have been beneficial to human communities and to the planet.
Of course, it was far from a perfect time. We were watching people die (and we still are). We didn’t know what would happen next. But the fact that so many people started thinking about how to live even just a little bit differently was encouraging.
The Manifesto asks readers to not cooperate with the structures that commodify human beings and reduce them to consuming machines. It asks us to push back in noncooperation. “Every day do something that won’t compute.” It asks us to think toward the deep future by cultivating Sequoias and humus.
The poem reminds me a little of Ecclesiastes, where the unnamed preacher finally advises the reader to simply enjoy life while it is lived. Berry calls that practicing resurrection. Resurrection doesn’t simply live toward itself, but toward the future. resurrection behaves not in the modes of the current world, but in the nonexistent “world to come”, something which may or may not happen. resurrection takes its values from another space and holds up the very things, places, and people our current structure cannot afford to value.
This summer, practice resurrection in big ways and in small ways. Learn again to “do something every day that can’t compute.” Plant a garden. Bother a politician. Befriend a neighbor. Drive less. Buy fewer consumables, and buy used if you can. Shop at the farmers market.