Which rural values?

By March 23, 2013

EDITOR: In the title of the article this morning, the writer describes Defend Rural American as an organization that “defends mining rights and rural values.” But which rural values, exactly, does this organization defend? The writer doesn’t say; and a Google search for the phrase “rural values” on turns up no hits.

Wendell Berry, the Kentucky farmer, essayist, and poet, is widely regarded as a defender of certain kinds of rural values: tight-knit families, neighbors helping neighbors, thrift, a reverence for the wisdom of tradition (without falling into thoughtless dogmatism), a belief that some things are more important than money, and the responsibility humans have as stewards of the land. In his essay “Nature as Measure,” and many other places, he calls for “a conscious and careful recognition of the interdependence between ourselves and the nature,” arguing that a healthy community requires a healthy environment requires a healthy community.

Berry can’t claim to have a monopoly on rural values, of course. There are other sets of values that have been held in rural communities in our country for a very long time. There is the value that nature is nothing more than a set of resources, to be extracted as quickly as possible in order to produce as much wealth as possible. (But wealth for whom?) There is the value that greed is good, and the best farmer, rancher, or miner is the one who produces the most, regardless of the environmental or social costs.

There is hostility towards “city folks” (“flatlanders,” as we call them in El Dorado County), seeing them as competitors and enemies rather than potential collaborators. Often there is a shade of racism, as worries about “Central Bankers” slide into worries about “the Rothschilds” and then anti-Semitism.

I’m still not sure which rural values Defend Rural America upholds. But I worry that they’re not my rural values. And if they’re not, then just what kind of rural communities is Defend Rural America defending?


South Bend, Ind.

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