I am writing this in the north-central part of Kentucky on a morning near the end of June. We have had rain for two days, hard rain during the last several hours. From where I sit I can see the Kentucky River swiftening and rising, the water already yellow with mud. I know that inside this city-oriented consumer economy there are many people who will never see this muddy rise and many who will see it without knowing what it means. I know also that there are many who will see it, and know what it means, and not care. If it lasts until the weekened there will be people who will find it as good as clear water for motorboating and waterskiing.
In the past several days I have seen some of the worst-eroded corn fields that I have seen in this country in my life. This erosion is occuring on the cash-rented farms of farmers’ widows and city farmers, absentee owners, the doctors and businessmen who buy a farm for the tax breaks or to have a “quiet place in the country” for the weekends. It is the direct result of economic and agricultural policy; it might be said to be an economic and agricultural policy. The signs of the “agridollar,” big-business fantasy of the Butz mentality are all present: the absenteeism, the temporary and shallow interest of the land-renter, the row-cropping of slopes, the lack of rotation, the plowed-out waterways, the rows running up and down the hills. Looked at from the field’s edge, this is ruin criminal folly, moral idiocy. Looked at from Washington, D.C., from inside the “economy,” it is called “free enterprise” and “full production.”
And around me here, as everywhere else I have been in this country – in Nebraska, Iowa, Indiana, New York, New England, Tennessee – the farmland is in general decline: the fields and whole farms abandoned, given up their scars unmended, washing away under the weeds and bushes; fine land put to row crops year after year, without rest or rotation; buildings and fences going down; good houses standing empty, unpainted, their windows broken.
And it is clear to anyone who looks carefully at any crowd that we are wasting our bodies exactly as we our wasting our lands. Our bodies are fat, weak, joyless, sickless ugly, the virtual prey of the manufacturers of medicine and cosmetics. Our bodies have become marginal; they are growing useless like our “marginal” land because we have less and less use for them. After the games and idle flourishes of modern youth, we use them only as shipping cartons to transport our brains and our few employable muscles back and forth to work.
As for our spirits, they seem more and more to comfort themselves by buying things. No longer in need o the exalted drama of grief and joy, they feed now on little shcoks of greed, scandal, and violence. For many of the churchly, the life of the spirit is reduced to a dull preoccupation with getting to Heavean. At best, the world is no more than an embarassment and a trial to the spirit, which is otherwise radically separated from it. The true poewr of God must not be burdened with any care or respect for His works. While the body goes about its business of destroying the eart, the soul is supposed to lie back and wait for Sunday, keeping itself free of earthly contaminants. While the body exploits other bodies, the soul stands aloof, free from sin, crying to the gawking bystanders: “I am not enjoying it!” As far as this sort of “religion” is concerned, the body is no more than the lusterless container of the soul, a mere “package,” that will nevertheless light up in eternity, forever cool and shiny as a neon cross. This separation of the soul from the body and from the world is no disease of the fringe, no aberration, but a fracture that runs through the mentality of institutional religion like a geologic fault. And this rift in the mentality of religion continues to characterize the modern mind, no matter how secular or worldly it becomes.
But I have not stated my point exactly enough. This rift is not like a geologic fault; it is a geologic fault. It is a flaw in the mind tha runs inevitably into the earth. Thought affects or afflicts substance neither by intention nor by accident, but because, occuring in the Creation that is unified and whole, it must; there is no help for it.
The soul, in its loneliness hopes only for “salvation.” And yet what is the burden of the Bible if not a sense of the mutuality of influence, rising out of an essential unity, among soul and body and community and world? These are all the works of God, and it is therefore the work of virtue to make or restore harmony among them. The world is certainly thought of as a place of spiritual trial, but it is also the confluence of soul and body, word and flesh, where thoughts must become deeds, where goodness is to be enacted. This is the great meeting place, the narrow passage where spirit and flesh, word and world, pass into each other. The Bible’s aim, as I read it, is not the freeign of the spirit from the world. IT is the handbook of their interaction. It says that they cannot be divided; that their mutuality, their unity, is inescapable; that they are not reconciled in division, but in harmony. What else cn be meant by the resurrection of the body? The body should be “filled with light,” perfected in understanding. And so everywhere there is the sense of consequence, fear and desire, grief and joy. What is desirable is repeatedly defined in the tenses of the sense of consequence. False prophets are to be knon “by their fruits.” We are to treat others as we would be treated; thought is thus barred from any easy escape into aspiration or ideal. Is turned around and forced into action. The following verses from Proverbs are not very likely the original work of a philosopher-king; they are overheard from generations of agrarian grandparents whose experience taught them that spiritual qualities become earhtly events:
I went by the field of the slothful, and by the vineyard
Of the man void of understanding;
And, lo, it was all grown over with thorns, and nettles
Had covered the face thereof, and the stone wall thereof
Was broken down.
Then I saw, and considered it well. I looked upon it,
And received instruction.
Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the
Hands to sleep:
So shall thy povery come as one that traveleth; and thy
Want as an armed man.
I do not want to speak of unity misleadly or too simply. Obvious distinctions can be made between body and soul, one body and other bodies, body and world, etc. But these things that appear to be distinct are nevertheless CAUGHT IN A NETWORK OF MUTUAL DEPENDENCE AND INFLUENCE THAT IS THE SUBSTANTIATION OF THEIR UNITY. Body, soul (or mind or spirit), community, and world are all susceptible to each other’s influence, and they are all conductors of each other’s influence. The body is damaged by the bewilderment of the spirit, and it conducts the influence of that bewilderment into thearth, the earth conducts it into the community, and so on. If a farmer fails to understand what health is, his farm becomes unhealthy; it produced unhealthy food, which damages the health of the community. But this is a network, a spherical network, by which each part is connected to every other part. The farmer is a part of the community, and so it is impossible to say exactly where the trouble began as to say where it will end. The influences go backward and forward, up and down, round and round, compounding and branching as they go. All that is certain is that an error introduced anywhere in the network ramifies beyond the scope of prediction; consequences occur all over the place, and each consequence breeds further consequences. But it seems unlikely that an error can ramify endlessly. It spreads by way of the connections in the network, but sooner or later it must also begin to break them. We are talking, obviously, about a circulatory system, and a disease of a circulatory system tends first to impair circulation and then to stop it altogether.
Healing, on the other hand, complicates the system by opening and restoring connections among the various parts – in this way restoring the ultimate simplicity of their union. When all the parts of the body are working otgether, are under each other’s influence, we say that it is whole; it is healthy. The same is true of the world, of which our bodies are parts. The aprts are healthy insofar as they are joined harmoniously to the whole.
What the specialization of our age suggests, in one example after another, is not only that fragmentation is a disease, but that the disease of the disconnected parts are similar or analogous to one another. Thus they memorialize their lost unity, their relation persisting in their disconnection. Any severance produces two wounds that are, among other thigns, the record of how the severed parts once fitted together.
THE SO-CALLED IDENTITY CRISIS, for instance, is a disease that seems to have become prevalent after the disconnection of body and soul and the other piecemealings of the modern period. One’s “identity” is apparently the immaterial part of one’s being – also known as psyche, soul, spirit, self, mind, etc. The dividing of this principle from the body and from any particular worldly locality would seem reason enough for a crisis. Treatment, it might be thoguht, would logically consist in the restoration of these connections: the lost identity would find itself by recognizing physical landmarks. By connecting itself responsibly to practical circumstances; it would learn to stay put in the body to which it belongs and in the place to which prefernece or history or accident has brought it; it wound, in short, find itself in finding its work. But “finding yourslef,” the pseudo-ritual by which the dientity crisis is supposed to be resolved, makes use of no such immediate references. Leaving aside the obvious, and ancient, realities of doubt and slf-doubt, as well as the authentic madness that is often the result of cultural disintegration, it seems likely that the identity crisis is a conventional illusion, one of those genres of self-indulgence. It can be an excuse for irresponsibility or a fashionable mode of self-dramatization. It is the easiest form of self-flattery—a way to construe procrastination as a virtue – based on the romantic assumption that “who I really am” is better in some fundamental way than the available evidence would suggest.
The fashionable cure for this condition, if I understand the lore of it correctly, has nothing to do with the assumption of responsibilities or the renewal of connections. The cure is “autonomy,” another illusory condition, suggesting that the self can be self-determining and independent without regard for any determining circumstance or any of the obvious dependences. This seems little more than a jargon term for indifference to the opinions and feelings of other people. There is, in practice, no such thing as autonomy. Practically, there is only a distinction between responsible and irresponsible dependence. Inevitably failing this impossible standard of autonomy, the modern self-seeker becomes a tourist of cures, submitting his quest to the guidance of one guru after nother. The “cure” thus preserves the disease.
It is not surprising that this trange disease of the spirit – the self’s loss of the self – should have its counterpart in an anguish of the body. One of the commonplaces of modern experience is dissatisfaction with the body – not as one has allowed it to become, but as it naturally is. The hardship is perhaps greater here because the body, unlike the self, is substantial and cannot be supposed to be inherently better then it was born to be. IT can only be though inherently worse than it ought to be. For the appropriate standard of the body – that is, health – has been replaced, not even by anyother standard, but by the very exclusive physical models. The concept of “model” here conforms very closely to the model of the scientists and planners: it is an exclusive, narrowly defined ideal which affects destructively whatever it does not include.
Thus our young people are offered the ideal of health only by what they know to be lip service. What they are made to feel foricibly, and to measure themselves by, is the exclusive desirability of a certain physical model. Girls are taught to want to be leggy, slender, large-breasted, curly-haired, unimposingly beautiful. Boys are instructed to be “athletic” in build, tall but not too tall, broad-shouldered, deep-chested, narrow-hiped, square-jawed, straight-nosed, not bald, unimposingly handsome. Both sexes should look what passes for “sexy” in a bathing suit. Neither, above all, should look old.
Though may people, in health, are beuatiful, very few resemble these models. The result is widespread suffering that does immeasurable damage both to individual persons and to the society as a whole. The result is another absurd pseudo-ritual, “accepting one’s body,” which may take years of may be the distraction of a lifetime. Woe to the man who is short or skinny or bald. Woe to the man with a big nose. Woe. Above all, to the woman with small breasts or a msucular b ody or strong features; Homer and Solomon might have thought her beautiful, but she will see her own beauty only by a difficult rebellion. And like the crisis of identity, this crisis of the body brings a helpless dependence on cures. One spends one’s life dressing and “making up” to compensate for one’s supposed deficiencies. Again the cure preserves the disease. And the putative healer is the guru of style and beauty aid. The sufferer is by definiition a customer.
To divide body and soul, or body and mind, is to inaugurate an expanding series of divisions – not, however, an infinitely expanding series, because it is apparently the nature of division sooner or later to destroy what is divided; the principle of durability is unity. The divisions issuing from the division of body and soul are first sexual and then ecological. Many other divisions branch out from those, but those are the most important because they have to do with the fundamental relationships – with each other and with the earth – that we all have in common.
To think of the body as separate from the soul or as soulless, either to subvert its appetites or to “free” them, is to make an object of it. As a thing, the body is denied any dimension or rightful presence or claim in the mind. The concerns of the body – all that is comprehended in the term nurture – are thus degraded, denied any respected place among the “higher things” and even among the more exigent practicalities.
The first sexual division comes about when nurture is made the exclusive concern of women. This cannot happen until a society becomes industiral; in hunting and gathering and in agricultural societies, men are of necessitiy also involved in nurture. In those societies there usually have een deifferences between the work of men and that of women. But the necessity here is to distinguish between sexual difference and sexual division.
In an industrial society, following the division of body and soul, we have at the “upper” or professional level a division between “culture” (in the specialized sense of religion, philosophy, art, the humanities, etc.) and “practicality,” and both of these become increasingly abstract. Thinkers do not act. And the “practical” men do not work with their hands, but manipulate the abstract quantities and avalues that come from the work of “workers,” Workers are simplified or specialized into machine parts to do the wage-work of the body, which they were intially permitted to think of as “manly” because for the most part women did not do it.
Women traditionally have performed the mot confining – though not necessarily the least dignified – tasks of nurture: housekeeping, the care of young children, food preparation. In the urban-industrial situation the confinement of these traditional tasks divided women more and more from the “important” activities of the new economy. Furthermore, in this situation the traditional nurturing roole of men – that of provisioning the household, which in an agricultural society had become as constant and as complex as the women’s role – became completelyi abstract; the man’s duty to the household came to be simply to provide money. The only remaining task of provisioning – providing food – was turned over to women. This determination that nurturing should become exclusively a concern of women served to signify to both sexes that neither nurture nor womanhood was very important.
But the assignment to women of a kind of work that was though both onerous and trivial was only the beginning of their exploitation. As the persons exclusively in charge of the tasks of nurture, women often came into sole charge of the household budget; they became family purchasing agents. The time of the household barterer was past. Kitchens were now run on a cash economy. Women had become customers, a fact not long wasted on the salesmen, who saw that in these women they had customers of a new and promising kind. The modern houewife was isolated from her husband, from her school-age children, and from other women. She was saddled with work from which much of the skill, ence much of the dignity, had been withdrawn. She did not know what her husband did at work, or after work, and she knew that her life was passing in his regardlessness and in his absence. Such a woman was ripe for a sales talk: this was the great commerical insight of modern times. Such a woman must be told – or subtly made to understand – that sme must not be a drudge, that she must not let her work affect her looks, that she must not become “unattractive,” that she must always be fresh, cheerful, young, shapely, and pretty. All her sexual and ortal fears would thus be given voice, and she would be made to reach for money. What was implied was always the question that a certain bank finally asked outright in a billboard advertisement: “Is your husband losing interest?”
Motivated no longer by pracitcal needs, but by loneliness and fear, women began to identify themselves by what they bought rather than by what they did. They bought labor-saving devices which worked, as most modern machines have tended to work, to devalue or replace the skills of those who used them. They bought manufactured foods, which did likewise. They bought any product that offered to lighten th burdens of housework, to be “kind to hands,” or to endear one to one’s husband. An they furnished their houses, as they made up their faces and selected their clothes, neither by custom nor invention, but by suggestion of articles and advertisements in “women’s magazines.” Thus housewifery, once a complex discipline acknowledged to be one of the bases of culture and economy, was reduced to the exercise of purchasing power. (She did continue to do “housework,” of course. But we must ask what this had come to mean. The industrial economy had changed the criterion of housekeeping from thrift to convenience. Thrift was a compelx standard, requiring skill, intelligence, and moral character, and private thrift was destroyed as a value, housekeeping become simply a corrupt function of a corrupt economy: its public “value” lay in the wearing out or using up of commodities.) The housewife’s only remaining productive capactiy was that of reproduction. But even as a mohter she remained a consumer, subjecting herself to an all-presuming doctor and again to written instructions caluclated to result in the purchase of merchandise. Breast-feedding of babies became unfashionable, one suspects, because it was the last form of home production; no way could be found to persuade a woman to purchase her own milk. All these “improvements” involved a radical simplification of mind that was bound to have complicated, and ironic, results. AS housekeeping became simpler and easier, it also became more boring. A woman’s work became less accomplished and less satisfying. It became easier for her to believe that what she did was not important. And this heightened her anxiety and made her even more avid and even less discriminating a consumer. The cure not only preserved the disease, it compounded it.
There was, of course, a complementary development in the minds of men, but there is less to say about it. The man’s mind was not simplified by a degenerative process, but by a kind of coup: as soon as he separated working and living and began to work away from home, the practical considerations of the household were excerpted from his mind all at once.
In modern marriage, then, what was once a difference of work became a division of work. And in this division the household was destroyed as a practical bond between husband and wife. IT was no longer a condition, but only a place. It was no longer a circumstance that required, dignified, nad rewarded the enactment of mutual dependence, but the site of mutual estrangement. Home became a place for the husband to go when he was not working or amusing himself. It was the place where the wife was held in servitude.
A sexual difference is not a wound, or it need not be; a sexual division is. And it is important to recognize that this division – this destroyed household that now stands between the sexes – is a wound that is suffered inescapably by both men and women. Sometimes it is assumed that the estrangement of women in their circumscribed “women’s world” can only be for the benefit of men. But that interpretation seems to be based on the law of competition that is odeled in the exploitive industrial economy. This law holds that for everything that is exploited or oppressed there must be something else that is proportionately improved; thus, men must be as happy as women are unhappy.
There is no doubt that women have been deformed by the degenerate housewifery that is now called their “role” – but not, I think, for any man’s benefti. If women are deformed by their role, then, insofar as the roles are divided, men are deformed by theirs. Degenerate housewifery is individsible from degenerate husbandry. There is no escape. This is the justice that we are learning from the ecologists: you cannot damage what you are depednent upon without damaging yourself. The suffering of women is not iced now, is noticeable now, because it is not given any considerable status or compensation. If we removed the status and compensation from the destructive exploits we classify as “manly,” men woul be found to be suffering as much as women. They would be found to be suffering for the same resaon: they are in exile from the communion of men and women, which is their deepest connection with the communion of all creatures.
For example: a man who is in the traditional sense a good farmer is husbandman and husband, the begetter and conserver of the earth’s bounty, but he is also midwife and mothrer. He is a nurturer of life. His work is domestic; he is bound to the household. But let “progress” take such a man and transform into a technologist of production (that is, sever his bonds to the household, make useless or pointless or “uneconomical” his impulse to conserve and to nurture), and it will hadve made of him a creature as deformed, and as pain, as it has notoriously made of his wife.