Wendell Berry on Sales Resistance

I have heard Wendell Berry (one of our greatest essayists, poets and thinkers) described as a "crank." Well, here's to cranks! Found this essay online this morning. Merry Christmas.


We live in a time when technologies and ideas (often the same thing) are adopted in response not to need but to advertising, salesmanship, and fashion.

Salesmen and saleswomen now hover about us as persistently as angels, intent on "doing us good" according to instructions set forth by persons educated at great public expense in the arts of greed and prevarication.

The first duty of writers who wish to be of any use even to themselves is to resist the language, the ideas, and the categories of this ubiquitous sales talk, no matter from whose mouth it issues. But, then, this is also the first duty of everybody else. Nobody who is awake accepts the favors of these hawkers of guaranteed satisfactions, these escape artists, these institutional and commercial fanatics, whether politically correct or politically incorrect. Nobody who understands the history of justice or of the imagination (largely the same history) wants to be treated as a member of a category.

I am more and more impressed by the generality of the assumption that human lives are properly to be invented by an academic-corporate-governmental elite and then either sold to their passive and choiceless recipients or doled out to them in the manner of welfare payments. Any necessary thinking—so the assumption goes—will be done by certified smart people in offices, laboratories, boardrooms, and other high places and then will be handed down to supposedly unsmart people in low places—who will also be expected to do whatever actual work cannot be done cheaper by machines.

Such a society, whose members are expected to think and do and provide nothing for themselves, will necessarily give a high place to salesmanship. For such a society cannot help but encourage the growth of a kind of priesthood of men and women who know exactly what you need and who just happen to have it for you, attractively packaged and at a price no competitor can beat. If you wish to be among the beautiful, then you must buy the right fashions (there are no cheap fashions) and the right automobile (not cheap either). if you want to be counted as one of the intelligent, then you must shop for the right education (not cheap but also not difficult).