The Unsettling of America

by Wendell Berry, published 31 years ago:

‘It is no doubt impossible to live without thought of the future; hope and vision can live nowhere else. But the only possible guarantee of the future is responsible behavior in the present. When supposed future needs are used to justify misbehavior in the present, as is the tendency with us, then we are both perverting the present and diminishing the future. But the most prolific source of justification for exploitive behavior has been the future. The exploitive mind characteristically puts itself in charge of the future. The future is a time that cannot conceivably be reached except by industrial progress and economic growth. The future, so full of material blessings, is nevertheless threatened with dire shortages of food, energy, and security unless we exploit the earth even more “freely,” with greater speed and less caution. The obvious paradoxes in all this–that we are using up future necessities in order to make a more abundant future; that final loss has been made a calculated strategy of annual gain–have so far been understood to no great effect. The great convenience of the future as a context of behavior is that nobody knows anything about it. No rational person can see how using up the topsoil or the fossil fuels as quickly as possible can provide greater security for the future; but if enough wealth and power can conjure up the audacity so say that it can, then sheer fantasy is given the force of truth; the future becomes reckonable as the past has never been. It is as if the future is a newly discovered continent which the corporations are colonizing. They have made “redskins” of our descendants, holding them subject to alien values, while their land is plundered of anything that can be shipped home and sold.’