Wendell Berry on Technology, Futurology, and Sustainability

The following essay was originally written as an assignment for my First Year Writing Seminar, Engaging Nature.  If you are interested in reading more of Wendell Berry’s writing, refer to the citation at the end of the essay.


Wendell Berry discusses “technological progress” several times throughout his essay, “Feminism, the Body, and the Machine.”  He is very critical of modern technology, and is convinced that as technology becomes more advanced, humans are losing their connection with the earth.  Thus, Berry argues, though we suppose that our technological progress will facilitate the lives of future generations, we are actually inadvertently threatening their welfare by separating them from nature.  In the following excerpt, he explains why he takes issue with technological progress:

The higher aims of “technological progress” are money and ease.  And this exalted greed for money and ease is disguised and justified by an obscure, cultish faith in “the future.”  We do as we do, we say, “for the sake of the future” or “to make a better future for our children.”  How we can hope to make a good future by doing badly in the present, we do not say.  We cannot think about the future, of course, for the future does not exist:  the existence of the future is an article of faith.  We can be assured only that, if there is to be a future, the good of it is already implicit in the good things of the present.  We do not need to plan or devise a “world of the future”; if we take care of the world of the present, the future will have received full justice from us.  A good future is implicit in the soils, forests, grasslands, marshes, deserts, mountains, rivers, lakes, and oceans that we have now, and in the good things of human culture that we have now; the only valid “futurology” available to us is to take care of those things.

Berry provides a strong argument for the concept of sustainability.  I found Berry’s words particularly interesting because he basically presents an expanded version of Furman’s definition of sustainability:  “. . . meeting humanity’s present needs while enhancing the ability of future generations to meet their needs.”

I think that Berry would agree that instead of “the higher aims of ‘technological progress’ [being] money and ease,” we should focus on how technology could be used as a major component of sustainability.  In a world with an exploding population, such technologies will soon be crucial for the maintenance and preservation of the earth’s resources.  Though Berry tends to criticize technology, I believe that such technology will allow us to take care of the earth and satisfy our own needs without jeopardizing the availability of resources for future generations.  If we can do this, in Berry’s words, “the future will have received full justice from us.”


Berry, Wendell.  The Art of the Commonplace:  The Agrarian Essays of Wendell Berry.  Ed. Norman Wirzba.  Berkeley:  Counterpoint, 2002.  Print.

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