I recently read a Letter to the Editor in my local paper titled ‘Dirt people and Cloud people by Graham Stowe of Ethridge, TN.
Initially, I thought this letter reminded me of two different Wendell Berry essays written at least some twenty years ago. The first being ‘Two Minds’ which speaks to the Rational mind and the Sympathetic mind, and the other essay ‘It All Turns on Affection’ which draws a distinction between boomers and stickers.
When I say this letter to the editor reminded me of these two essays, I mean only if someone had taken Wendell’s essays ripped them apart, picked the parts they liked, discarded the parts they didn’t, put the pieces in their mouth, digested them and then threw them back up into a half digested pile of mush. Perhaps, then in that pile one could find a similar word or two, and a few ideas that might vaguely appear similar.
Unfortunately, we see this happen quite often to witnesses of truth. Either they are simply plagiarized or their truth is fragmented, reduced, hijacked and pulled out of context to use as means to someone else’s end. Strangely enough, there are many people who think they can speak another’s truth or part of their truth, without having ever believed or lived it, not realizing that not living out the truth one speaks or regurgitating a half truth makes you a liar.
No, I am not calling the person who wrote the letter to the editor a liar nor am I accusing him of plagiarizing. Rather, I am saying this letter is just another example of how we take truth, level it, remove all distinctions, context, traditions, faith and the real person through which a truth is lived out and pressed into reality.
And, we take the leftover mush in our hands to shape and conform it into our own finite image believing in our own omnipotence, omniscience and sovereignty, while being completely unaware that we are constructing something (an image, an ego, a lifestyle, a philosophy, a system or a reason) that reflects us, our bias, our opinions and our self-righteousness. Yet, it is this finite thing that we fashion and find reasonable, and that we will use to lift ourselves up and put others down. In other words, to produce an Us vs Them, I am different than you and I am better than you “philosophy.”
In the 18th century, Johann Hamann confronted Immanuel Kant who thought he had created truth but, in reality, had only constructed a philosophy that he affectionately called Pure Reason. The following quote is from Hamaan.
“Our philosophers talk like alchemists of treasures of fruitfulness; to judge from their fields and vineyards, however, one could swear that they do not know how to distinguish weeds from wheat, grapes from thorns, figs from thistles- they take after that charlatan who tried to pass off the vacuum of his pocket for the great, beautiful spirit, which, were it possible, would have deceived even the Elus [i.e., the elect]. Admittedly, the confusion of language, whereby they both deceive and are deceived, is a very natural magic of automatic reason, and for jokers of similar blindness transforms itself at little cost into a star of the first magnitude.” Johann Hamann
Though I am skeptical of most Letters to the Editor, I decided to give this one a chance hoping this letter would eventually quote the wisdom of G.K. Chesterton when addressing the problems in the word: “Dear Sir: Regarding your article ‘What’s Wrong with the World?’ I am. Yours truly, G.K. Chesterton”
But not knowing the author and giving him the benefit of the doubt that he is living out everything that he is about to instruct us on, I was willing to listen to my neighbor use his freedom and his voice to speak his “peace.”
But…I quickly realized there would be no peace. Consequently, there would be no patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness or self-control to be found when this person decided to retrace the most lazy and very worn out lines of dualism, and add his own personal touch by drawing some new lines between good and bad. Even worse, drawing a line between two good things that God made that are completely interconnected, interrelated and interdependent… “dirt and clouds.” Dare a man try to separate what “God joined together” and that together determines and reflects the health of all creation and it’s creatures.
Still, willing to overlook this erroneous use of a metaphor and thinking I might could squeeze some shred of sense out of this piece, I proceeded until I was confronted with a very specific mathematical claim. According to this man, he claimed that our country is divided into dirt people and cloud people and that in our county 2/3 are dirt people and 1/3 are cloud people.
Thankfully, he defined dirt people and cloud people, which provided a starting point to solve this mathematical equation, and figure out who were these 2/3 dirt people and how were they living in a country and a county using the same global “economy.”
Initially, I thought this man was equating dirt people to farmers. But only 1.3% of the employed United States population are farmers and 9% of our county’s population are farmers, and only 273 (less than 10%) of that 9% make over 25,000 annually, Likewise, accounting for what happened in farming over the last 70 years, it would be hard to find any surviving farms that have not taken advantage of government programs, bailouts, subsidies and the latest technology. But farmers taking any type of financial bailout, using government programs or money to sustain their operations would be disqualified from being counted as dirt people, according to letter’s working definition of dirt people.
If we cannot count most farmers as dirt people and even if we could, it still wouldn’t add up to 2/3 of the people? So, I decided to go my county’s latest employment data. There I discovered that half of working people are employed by “cloud people.” According to https://datausa.io/profile/geo/giles-county-tn/#economy: “The economy of Giles County, TN employs 12.3k people. The largest industries in Giles County, TN are Manufacturing (3,407 people), Health Care & Social Assistance (1,544 people), and Retail Trade (1,116 people), and the highest paying industries are Utilities ($52,813), Mining, Quarrying, & Oil & Gas Extraction ($49,688), and Professional, Scientific, & Technical Services ($49,531).”
Given this information and assuming that being employed by a cloud person would disqualify one from being counted among the dirt people, I found myself dealing with a mathematical impossibility. Yet, unwilling to give up my quest to find dirt people, I decided I should ask more questions…
How are dirt people fundamentally and visibly different from cloud people? Perhaps, dirt people just work for cloud people but they live completely different and do not depend on cloud people in any other way. Surely, they grow all their own food, make their own clothes, educate their own kids, and live simply without running water or electricity between their fence lines. Wouldn’t dirt people refuse to shop at Wal-Mart, eat at fast food restaurants, participate in the systems and support large corporations that destroy our small businesses, globalize our local economy and sabotage our individual and community health? I thought if I drove through town that I would spot them waging a war against the parasitic businesses that dominate our rural communities and make billions off our degeneracy and our dependence on degeneracy?
Though I looked and looked, I couldn’t find enough people to prove that 2/3 of people in Giles County, or anywhere in America, are dirt people. And, if there are no dirt people, then are we to assume there are no cloud people. But if we pretend for a moment that there are dirt people and cloud people, then the data shows that most people are fed, clothed, educated and employed by cloud people. Thus, really challenging the calculations and definitions laid forth in this Letter to the Editor.
Obviously, I could have stopped here but I thought it wouldn’t be fair to prove someone has poor mathematical skills and not take seriously his philosophical and sometimes spiritual argument. So, I decided to go one step further to filter his logic through what he claims all dirt people presume “objective reality and the myriad of natural and scientific laws.”
Thankfully, I can speak directly to this writer since he understands and uses straightforward language. My hope is to use his logic to prove that when people are weighed in this man’s or God’s balance… there are no dirt people or cloud people but it is just “us people” and on a day to day basis, we aren’t living any different from each other.
I confidently say this based on the most obvious and biggest issue of our day- diet-related disease and sickness. Observing this most visible way in which we demonstrate what we believe, it would prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the mass majority of us aren’t dirt people or cloud people but we are consumers, and as consumers, we have produced EPIDEMICS of diet-related disease and sickness.
In fact, 88% of “us people” have some form of diet-related disease and sickness and we are suffering from epidemics of loneliness, depression, addiction, suicide, disconnection and division. And it is “us people” in Tennessee and Giles County who have even higher rates of diet-related disease in youth and adults than the rest of the country.
With objective reality staring us in the face, can “us people” say that we are “waring against our flaws,” living anywhere with an understanding of natural or scientific laws or demonstrating thrift, scale, or moderation, when 88% of Americans are suffering from diet-related sickness and disease. Do we not “celebrate degeneracy” when eat junk, drink soft drinks, and refuse to eat fruit and vegetables ever single day, 365 days a year, year after year and decade after decade?
Are we to think that if 2/3 of people were actually living between their fence lines and pursuing virtue that we would have produced an epidemic of diet-related sickness and disease. Consequently, looking at just our physical health alone, the mass majority of us would find it hard to prove that we are daily, weekly, monthly and yearly pursuing what is “good, true and beautiful.” Rather, our epidemics of diet-related disease and sickness would testify to quite the opposite and to how much our day is dedicated to consuming in ways that do not nourish our spirits, hearts, minds and bodies.
Wouldn’t it be reasonable and straightforward to ask, “How does an epidemic like this happen if we were taking personal responsibility to live and eat in a way that not only honors and respects natural law and scientific law, but also obeys God’s law?”
Looking beyond just the causes of diet-related disease and sickness, let us examine how we have responded to this epidemic? But, of course, we have demanded the government and the medical industry to save us from ourselves by providing life saving treatments and by spreading those cost (2.7 trillion) to all of us (socialism) to provide affordable health care.
By all accounts, it seems like we aren’t just struggling with things like laziness, pride and envy but with idolatry and murder. I mean, who among us doesn’t demand our right to consume how we want, when we want, where we want and what we want, even when we know that what we are consuming is killing us. Remember that diet-related disease and sickness are the top killers in America and in Giles County.
If we really stepped back and looked at who is killing us and who is destroying our world, then we must confess “We are the man.” We are the ones participating in a consumer economy that draws no distinctions between people. Because in this economy, we are all consumers and we are marketed and sold the same food, the same entertainment, the same ideas of success and the same consumer lifestyles. We have collectively accepted and condoned the same consumer-determined disease and sicknesses. We have permitted the same sins of gluttony, entitlement, ignorance and arrogance. Don’t believe me, then read C.S.Lewis’s Screwtape Letters, The Bible or any number of essays by Wendell Berry.
Mt. Stowe said that dirt people live within the constraints of God’s Law. As I was pondering this and his remarks on Marxism, I remembered an excerpt in Thomas Merton’s Seeds of Contemplation.
A MAN cannot be a perfect Christian—that is, a saint—unless he is also a communist. This means that he must either absolutely give up all right to possess anything at all, or else only use what he himself needs, of the goods that belong to him, and administer the rest for other men and for the poor: and in his determination of what he needs he must be governed to a great extent by the gravity of the needs of others.
But you will say it is practically impossible for a rich man to put into practice this clear teaching of Scripture and Catholic tradition. You are right. And there is nothing new in that. Christ told everybody the same thing long ago when He said it was easier for a camel to get through the eye of a needle than it was for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.
If Christians had lived up to the Church’s teaching about property and poverty there would never have been any occasion for the spurious communism of the Marxists and all the rest—whose communism starts out by denying other men the right to own property.
There is only one true doctrine about property rights, and that is taught by Catholic tradition. Those rights exist and cannot be denied, but they imply an obligation which, if it were put into practice without hypocrisy, self-deception and subterfuge, would mean that most Christians would be living with something like the communism of the first Apostles: “For neither was there any one needy among them. For as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the price of the things they sold, and laid it down before the feet of the Apostles. And distribution was made to every one according as he had need.”
No one denied those men the right to own land, or to keep what they owned, or to sell it and give away their money. Yet that right implied an obligation to satisfy the needs of others as well as their own, and brought with it the privilege of doing so in a manner that was beyond the strict letter of any law and which could go as far as a charity that was heroic.
If you have money, consider that perhaps the only reason God allowed it to fall into your hands was in order that you might find joy and perfection by giving it all away.
IT is easy enough to tell the poor to accept their poverty as God’s will when you yourself have warm clothes and plenty of food and medical care and a roof over your head and no worry about the rent. But if you want them to believe you—try to share some of their poverty and see if you can accept it as God’s will yourself!
The way I see it and in my own humble opinion, I don’t think any of us should be drawing lines of comparison and certainly not Christians, when none of us are loving God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength and loving our neighbors as ourselves. And, I think we have to be especially careful when we uplift any man-made rules, laws, rights and reasons that stand in complete contradiction to the teachings of The Way, The Truth and The Life.
Perhaps, more than ever, it is time that we all-especially me- got back to living out what we say we believe instead of writing about it. It’s like Thoreau said, “If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.”
So, I leave you with someone who Truth moves through to “pierce so deep as to separate soul and spirit, both joints and marrows.” As I have learned, it is best just to quote witnesses of truth like Wendell Berry than to plagiarize or regurgitate what he has so clearly written and lived out.
“But most of the most important laws for the conduct of human life probably are religious in origin – laws such as these: Be merciful, be forgiving, love your neighbors, be hospitable to strangers, be kind to other creatures, take care of the helpless, love your enemies. We must, in short, love and care for one another and the other creatures. We are allowed to make no exceptions. Every person’s obligation toward the Creation is summed up in two words from Genesis 2:15: ‘Keep it.’
It is impossible, I believe, to make a neat thing of this set of instructions. It is impossible to disentangle its various obligations into a list of discrete items. Selfishness, or even ‘enlightened self-interest,’ cannot find a place to poke in its awl. One’s obligation to oneself cannot be isolated from one’s obligation to everything else. The whole thing is balanced on the verb to love. Love for oneself finds its only efficacy in love for everything else. Even loving one’s enemy has become a strategy of self-love as the technology of death has grown greater. And this the terrorists have discovered and have accepted: the death of your enemy is your own death. The whole network of interdependence and obligation is a neatly set trap. Love does not let us escape from it; it turns the trap itself into the means and fact of our only freedom.” Wendell Berry