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Of two minds on Berry. (Letters to the Editor).

I believe that Wendell Berry ("Two Minds," November issue) has a false conception of the human mind. He sets up "the Rational Mind" and "the Sympathetic Mind" as parallel and competing forms of intelligence. But, in fact, what he calls "the Sympathetic Mind" is that part of our minds that determines our goals and aspirations. "The Rational Mind" seeks effective means for achieving goals. I generally agree with Berry's "small is beautiful" vision of how the world ought to be and how we ought to live. But falsehood and confusion sabotage any effort to achieve our dreams. True science will always be subversive of absolutist thinking.
Dale Berry
Grants, New Mexico


Thanks for the wonderful magazine. It's so good to see an alternative point of view to the mainstream zombie press. However, I must take issue with Berry's "Two Minds."

What Berry is attacking is really the rationalizing mind, not "the Rational Mind." I believe I have a rational mind and that sympathy and empathy are very rational emotions. The truly rational mind understands that we are all in this together and that cooperation, compassion, and empathy not only lead to the best achievements of humanity, but that they also make us happier.
Robert W. Corr
Tiverton, Rhode Island


I agree that claims for disinterested scientific progress should be approached with great skepticism, but Berry not only failed to make his case in nine (!) pages, he was offensively hypocritical: None of his examples favoring "the Sympathetic Mind" stands up to the critical scrutiny he asks us to apply to rationalism.

Berry's barely restrained religious impulse must be partly to blame for his lazy style. It is not being overly rational to ask for more than his unsupported assertions regarding a religious basis for humane conduct or the alleged value of an ancient need for "prayer and propitiation." If "the Rational Mind" is to blame for a couple centuries of environmental destruction, then Berry's devout "Sympathetic Mind" must bear at least some responsibility for the previous millennia of sectarian war, misogyny, and mental and physical enslavement, not to mention the violent acts of religious (sympathetic?) fundamentalists just last year.
Roger Lindsay
Minneapolis, Minnesota


Berry says he is defending "the Sympathetic Mind" but he is arguing against a straw man. In a country governed by born-again Christians, where smoke-and-mirrors displays pass for public discourse, I think Berry would do well to aim his critical eye at the dark side of sympathy, rather than at the scattered, frustrated, and sometimes aggravated forces of reason.
John Bergstrom
Boston, Massachusetts


Thank you for printing Berry's beautiful essay, and for printing it as long as it was. Many an editor would have cut him off long before The Progressive did. Please pass along my thanks to the writer. He wrote a great thing.
Katherine Watt
North Plainfield, New Jersey


I teach college writing. Had Berry submitted his "Two Minds" as a 102 analytical essay, I would have given it a mere C--not because Berry cannot write but because he cannot reason.

Berry makes the common, embarrassing mistake of confusing reason with rationalizing, which--unlike reason--is used for dishonest, self-serving purposes. He also sets up a fictitious distinction between "the Rational Mind" and "the Sympathetic Mind." He then proceeds to argue that relying only on "the Rational Mind" is responsible for our political and environmental problems and that it is "the official mind of science, industry, and government." This is not just nonsense, it is, dangerous rant.

Science is driven by reason, the only verifiable method of investigation that we know of. Government is driven by a desire for control and power, while industry (particularly American-style industry) is driven by an uncontrollable desire for profit. White House hawks and Fortune 500 CEOs can rationalize anything they want, but this does not mean they can reason well.

Corporate fraud and political crimes are the result of rationalizing, not of reasoning.

Berry, who used to rave about the supposed virtues of country living, is now ranting about religion, spirituality, and "the Sympathetic Mind." He talks about "our ancient need for thanksgiving, prayer, and propitiation"--as if prayer and propitiation have ever been answered. As the humanitarians from the Freedom from Religion Foundation say, "Nothing fails like prayer."

And how strangely and untypically bad The Progressives decision was to devote almost 20 percent of the November issue to the mystical effusions of a once-fine writer who has now succumbed to superstition and nonsense.
Kaz Dziamka, Editor
The American Rationalist
Albuquerque, New Mexico
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Publication:The Progressive
Date:Dec 1, 2002
Words:751
Previous Article:History is a dance of life.
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