Declaration on Soil

By Groeneveld, Sigmar; Hoinacki, Lee et al. | Whole Earth, Spring 1999 | Go to article overview

Declaration on Soil


Groeneveld, Sigmar, Hoinacki, Lee, Illich, Ivan, Whole Earth


The ecological discourse on planet earth, global hunger, threats to life, urges us to look down at the soil, humbly. We stand on soil, not on earth. From soil we come, and to the soil we bequeath our excrements and remains. And yet soil--its cultivation and our bondage to it--is remarkably absent from those things clarified in our western tradition.

We search below our feet because our generation has lost its grounding in both soil and virtue. By virtue, we mean that shape, order, and direction of action informed by tradition, bounded by place, and qualified by choices made within the habitual reach of the actor; we mean practice mutually recognized as being good within a shared local culture which enhances the memories of a place.

We note that such virtue is traditionally found in labor, craft, dwelling, and suffering supported, not by abstract earth, environment, or energy system, but by the particular soil these very actions have enriched with their traces. And yet, in spite of this ultimate bond between soil and being, soil and the good, philosophy has not brought forth the concepts which would allow us to relate virtue to common soil, something vastly different from managing behavior on a shared planet.

We were torn from the bonds to soil--the connections which limited action, making practical virtue possible--when modernization insulated us from plain dirt, from toil, flesh, soil, and grave. The economy into which we have been absorbed--some, willy-nilly, some at great cost--transforms people into interchangeable morsels of population, ruled by the laws of scarcity. …

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