Actually, Matt Stewart, you DO have “to be a Wendell Berry fundamentalist” to believe those who use social media are delusional


Matt Stewart, a graduate student at Syracuse University and a guy I call a friend, argues that Wendell Berry fans are betraying Berry by using social media.  Stewart has published this piece at The Front Porch Republic, a website with a social media presence.  Here is a taste of his piece, “Stop Talking About Wendell Berry on Twitter“:

Seeing quotations from Wendell Berry and advertisements for his work on Twitter is as jarring as imagining Burley Coulter spraying Jayber Crow from a Ski-Doo upon his return to Port William. A localist does not have to be a Wendell Berry fundamentalist to see that this is a problem. I will admit to dark visions of starting a fakeWendellBerry Twitter account and trolling anyone that posts about him on Twitter with Marshall McLuhan’s #YouKnowNothingOfMyWork!, but that seems counterproductive…

We don’t need another thinkpiece or Tweetstorm about how baleful is the world that Twitter abets, just as Berry didn’t need another study by the Department of Agriculture to know that industrial agriculture was going to be destructive. We do not need to weigh the pros and cons of Twitter with academic nuance. We localists, those of us who have at one time or many been moved to think and live differently based on our encounters with Wendell Berry, know in our bones that Twitter is not worth any more of our time. I will allow Twitter only one benefit: it is at times funny. But it is not the only platform that allows for jokes. We can even make jokes in person. I would gladly trade all the jokes I’ve heard and enjoyed on Twitter for a world without it, just as I would trade a world where our current president was still just a tabloid star for the cornucopia of satire that his presidency has bestowed as a free gift to the humor leaders of our world.

And then the kicker:

Berry allowed himself a chainsaw, chemical fertilizer, and a tractor on a temporary basis but also committed to feeling productively guilty about such compromises. Let’s allow ourselves the occasional blog, the web journal, and email, and also still commit to weaning ourselves off of them when we can afford to without shirking off too many honest obligations. Our contempt for the world, manifested by our itch to escape to the digital at nearly every moment, is entangling us enough as it is. Fasts won’t cut it. If Wendell Berry can pass on the opportunity to be nominated for a MacArthur Fellowship, we can risk our careers by forsaking Twitter and thinking of it with the contempt it deserves. Tell the publishers that you will not put “the invention of” in your subtitle and that you will not promote your book on Twitter. It is poisonous to our souls and our public, and no consequentialist reasoning can demonstrate otherwise unless you are deluding yourself and Berry’s work has meant nothing to you. 

I appreciate Matt’s convictions here.  But as someone who also appreciates Berry and someone who has also written for the Front Porch Republic (and The New Pantagruel), I find social media a wonderful outlet for the kind of “cosmopolitan rootedness” I wrote about in my first book, The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  I guess I will not be invited to any gatherings of Berry fundamentalists anytime soon.

2 thoughts on “Actually, Matt Stewart, you DO have “to be a Wendell Berry fundamentalist” to believe those who use social media are delusional

  1. 1. I don’t think it is strange to post about Berry on Twitter. I do it all the time. But perhaps I am being inconsistent. I would like to think more people know about Berry because people like me or Jeff Bilbro post about him. If I remember correctly, you wrote your M.A. thesis on conservative/agrarian ideas propagated on a website. The Front Porch Republic movement began on a disembodied website. You have used this site to promote your localism. Isn’t there something strange about that?

    2. I am still unclear why “life apart from Twitter” has any moral standing. Can you explain why someone needs to “testify” to a “life apart from Twitter?” Perhaps I don’t understand your moral argument. I have read Berry for a long, long time, but one of the reasons I have backed-off him a bit (only a bit) is because I have yet to see a Christian argument (which is important to me) in support of his extreme localism. Instead, I see a lot of nostalgia.

    3. My real qualm with your piece is that it is so binary. Either you are on board with Berry or you are not and it all depends on whether or not you tweet, blog, use Facebook, or have the phrase “invention” in the title of your book.

    4. Would Trump have been elected without Twitter? Yes.

    5. What is Berry’s Republic of Letters? Who is a part of it? Doesn’t “Republic of Letters” imply some degree of cosmopolitanism and interconnectedness beyond localism.


  2. Thanks for the post. To clarify the headline, I don’t think users of social media are delusional, I just think it’s strange to post about Wendell Berry on Twitter. Isn’t it? Am I missing something? If even the readers of Wendell Berry tweet regularly, who will stay off to testify to life apart from it? It is essential to think more about how deeply these tools shape our public conversation and our language and I think it’s also important to remember that there are alternatives.

    One more point: I don’t think there’s a road to the orange one without Twitter. Is that idea not worth some consideration? He is undoubtedly the most consequential user of Twitter with his 51.9M followers and I find that hard to debate. He’s the Twitter King. Trump’s success on Twitter has to imply something about the medium itself, though I do realize technology is not defined by its worst user.

    I’ll stick to Berry’s republic of letters.


Comments are closed.