It seems like nowadays all I hear about is how the country is heading in the wrong direction. Wendell Berry, a writer, philosopher, farmer and father of the locally grown food movement, has been saying this far before it became fashionable. Since the 1970s Berry has written unceasingly about how an unhealthy culture is at the root of most of our world’s problems – everything from our growing isolation to global warming. To Berry, a healthy culture is a sort of fabric that is connected by many threads made up of ideas and practices. He sees that these connecting threads have been severed in the industrial and technological age. It is this breaking apart of the fabric of our culture that causes Berry to call this “the age of divorce”, where “things that belong together have been taken apart. And you can't put it all back together again.”
One severed connection in our culture that Berry has written extensively about is the connection of our economy to our homes and local communities. Once the home and the local community were the center of all economic activity, where people and families depended on one another to survive, support and entertain themselves. These were the places of production and consumption. In our modern world, the home is merely a place where we consume things, the office is where we produce things. Our local communities and neighbors play an increasingly small role in our lives in the age of Amazon.com delivering our groceries.
Berry links this severing of the connection between our economy from the home to the tearing of another connection – marriage. Berry sees the culture of marriage as relying on the home being the center of production, a place where couples work toward a common goal and have a common project. With the severing of the economy from the home, there is less common purpose and goals in marriage, and the institution of marriage might now be treated as a joint recreational venture between individuals. Likewise, the loss of the local communities as the center of our economy has torn apart the connections neighbors have to one another and their neighborhoods, contributing to the isolation many of us feel today.
Berry rejects resignation as a response. He advises us all to take a realistic, pragmatic approach:
“What you do is the only thing that you can do: you take two things that ought to be together and you put them back together. Two things, not all things! That's the way the work has to go.”
Berry counsels people to make our homes places of production, so that couples and families can share common goals, aims and satisfactions. This can be as simple as cooking together at home and gardening together. We can also revive our local communities by making them centers of production by buying locally grown foods and goods.
If you believe that we are truly living in the “age of divorce”, you might feel as compelled as I do to put things together again. This is the reason why I enjoy helping people and families facing divorce. Divorce is a shattering experience, and helping people lessen the negative impact is rewarding work. But I don’t view this as merely helping my client. Indirectly, I know that I am helping to restore people, children and families to their community, which helps to restore the health of our community. In the age of divorce, it’s my way of putting two things back together again.