Imagination and Affection

In his 2012 lecture “It All Turns on Affection,” Wendell Berry said:

For humans to have a responsible relationship to the world, they must imagine their places in it. . . . As imagination enables sympathy, sympathy enables affection. And it is in affection that we find the possibility of a neighborly, kind, and conserving economy.

So much of our economy is structured to stifle imagination. Whether for simple convenience or more complicated motives, food in plastic containers — at any price point — is not designed to help us imagine our relationship to the farms and farmers who produced it.

It’s easy to beat up on people who get their groceries at the corner store. But how well can “knowledge workers” imagine their place in the world as they move from offices to jets to car-shares to cafés?

Maybe that, too, is by design, and maybe it’s not. But knowledge and energy without imagination and affection have historically done real damage to real people and places.