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Prologue - A Letter To Thoreau 
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Post Prologue - A Letter To Thoreau
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Chris


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Mon Nov 01, 2004 8:04 pm
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Post Re: Prologue - A Letter To Thoreau
Has anyone read Walden? Wilson is tempting me to read it with his beautiful letter to Thoreau. I've located an online version of the book, for anyone interested in reading it too.

Walden - by Henry David Thoreau

Chris




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Tue Nov 02, 2004 1:56 am
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Post Re: Prologue - A Letter To Thoreau
A little about Thoreau...

Henry David Thoreau was born on July 12, 1817, in the village of Concord, Massachusetts. Under the influence of his brother John, an amateur ornithologist, he developed an early interest in nature and spent much of his youth exploring the town's ponds and woods.
Thoreau began his formal education at Concord Academy and continued his studies at Harvard College, which emphasized the classics. An avid reader and notetaker, Thoreau was interested in subjects as diverse as Greek mythology and English ballads.

While Thoreau attended Harvard, Ralph Waldo Emerson moved to Concord to begin his career as a writer and lecturer. Thoreau admired Emerson's 1836 essay, "Nature," which advanced the then-unique idea that each individual should seek a spiritually fulfilling relationship with the natural world.

After graduating from Harvard in 1837, Thoreau returned to Concord, where he taught school, improved and expanded his family's pencilmaking business, and engaged in carpentry, stonemasonry and gardening. He began his lifelong friendship and association with Emerson, who introduced him to other writers and nonconformist thinkers who were making Concord the center of new ideas. Among them were Bronson Alcott, Ellery Channing, Margaret Fuller and Nathaniel Hawthorne.

Emerson, who valued Thoreau's practical talents and companionship, invited him to live in the Emerson household. Grief brought them closer together. The Emersons' first son died just two weeks after the death of Thoreau's beloved older brother. Three years later Thoreau, still suffering from this loss, wanted to live in the woods and embark on a career as a writer. When Emerson offered him the use of a newly purchased woodlot at Walden Pond, Thoreau gladly accepted.

Walden Pond was surrounded by one of the few remaining woodlands in a heavily farmed area. In March of 1845, Thoreau began planning and building his one-room house. On July 4 of that year, he took up residence at Walden. He studied natural history, gardened, wrote in his journal, read, and drafted his first book, A week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, about an 1839 trip with his brother. He also made the first accurate survey of the pond. By no means a hermit, he frequently walked to the village, entertained visitors at his house, and hired himself out as a surveyor.
In September of 1847, Thoreau completed his experiment in simplicity and became "a sojourner in civilized life again." Walden, the book that describes his experiences at the pond, was published in 1854.

Thoreau and Emerson agreed that the vacant house should not remain on the site. Thoreau gave the house to Emerson, who sold it to his gardener. Two years later two farmers bought it and moved it to the other side of Concord, where they used it to store grain. In 1868, they dismantled it for scrap lumber and put the roof on an outbuilding.

After his Walden experience, Thoreau plied his skills as a surveyor and pencilmaker to earn what little money he needed for the things that he could not "grow or make or do without." He spent his free time walking, studying and writing. He also lectured at the Concord Lyceum and elsewhere in New England, and once traveled as far as Philadelphia.

Thoreau became increasingly involved with the social and political issues of his time. He often spoke out against economic injustice and slavery. With other members of his family, Thoreau helped runaway slaves escape to freedom in Canada. His 1849 essay, "Civil Disobedience," eventually brought him international recognition.

On May 6, 1862, at the age of 44, the "self-appointed inspector of snowstorms and rainstorms" died after a prolonged struggle with tuberculosis. He is buried on Authors' Ridge at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord.


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Post Re: Prologue - A Letter To Thoreau
Wilson's very personal letter to Thoreau begins as a wonderful journey through the history of one of America's great natural and personal treasures; and ends with a Prophetic challenge regarding the devastation of the planet and life as we know it.

As he describes it,
Quote:
"the race is on between the technoscientific forces that are destroying the living environment and those that can be harnessed to save it. We are inside a bottleneck of overpopulation and wasteful consumption. If the race is won, humanity can emerge in far better condition than when it entered, and with most of the diveristy of life still in tact.


We are indeed in a desparate situation, and a new global land ethic is needed- which is really why he wrote this letter to Thoreau in the first place: to thank him for setting the wheels in motion with his Waldensian wisdom:

Quote:
Nature is ours to explore forever; it is our crucible and refuge; it is our natural home; it is all these things, Save it, you said: in wildness is the preservation of the world.


And from this Thoreuvian spur and challenge Wilson is working to find a land ethic able to guide us through the bottleneck. One that is based upon the best our intelligence and learning can develop, tapping the treasures of science and technology. He also reminds us that we will be wise to listen to the heart, and then act with rational intention and all the tools we can bring to bear on this collossal threat facing all of us.

With genuine prophetic foreboding, he warns us:

Quote:
The living world is dying; the natural economy is crumbling beneath our busy feet. We have been too self-absorbed to forsee the long-term consequences of our actions, and we will suffer a terrible loss unless we shake off the delusions and move quickly to a solution. Science and technology led us to this bottleneck. Now science and technology must help us find our way through and out.


Some questions I have for the rest of the book:

1. What is the wisdom of the heart he encourages us to pay heed to?

2. Could the crumbling "natural economy" have any relation to our expanding "global economy" of corporate capitalism?

3. What changes must take place in science and technolgoy (admittedly the source of our deadly bottleneck) in order that the terrible crises we face are not simply reproduced?

Edited by: Dissident Heart at: 11/22/04 5:20 pm



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Post Re: Prologue - A Letter To Thoreau
I don't think science is necessarily the culprit, but the consumer system in which no one person is accountable for the damage done by the mass. As Voltaire said, "No snowflake in an avalanche feels responsible." A person with great technological power may actually be more likely to show responsibility than people who merely add a drop in the bucket to a widespread form of insanity and rationalize it by saying "I'm just one person and I don't do that much of the damage by myself".

At the point where the consequences of mass behavior become inescapable, I do think we'll develop a sense of accountability. It's just a matter of how miserable life has to get for everyone before everyone realizes their behavior has consequences for future generations.

Michael




Thu Dec 02, 2004 9:49 pm
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Post Re: Prologue - A Letter To Thoreau
3. What changes must take place in science and technolgoy (admittedly the source of our deadly bottleneck) in order that the terrible crises we face are not simply reproduced?

I think that the change must be to increase research into future technologies. The letter even hints that this is a solution.

A parallel concern is that we mechanical human beings are never face to face with the consequences of the future. We need something to happen which will shove the entire thing in our collective faces so we must act. I really wish that this would not be the way, but we all know that the majority of people just don't care. It's sad.

EDIT - If you throw a frog into hot water, he will immediately jump out. But if you throw a frog into cold water, then slowly heat it to a boil, the frog will be cooked alive.

Edited by: Interbane at: 12/3/04 11:37 am



Fri Dec 03, 2004 11:35 am
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Post Re: Prologue - A Letter To Thoreau
Michael: I don't think science is necessarily the culprit, but the consumer system in which no one person is accountable for the damage done by the mass.

One of the things I am finding most refreshing about this book is Wilson's willingness to hold Science and Scientists accountable for the mess we are in. He is speaking as a lifelong lover and practitioner of Science, and one of history's most prolific and influential Scientific minds: his criticism is important, even if it may turn out to be ineffective in turning the tide. It may very well be, as he points out in the book, that even if we radically changed our attitudes, habits and relationship to the Biosphere right now- and endorsed all of the principles of his universal environmental ethic- that it would still be too late. Our water, soil, vegetation, air and varieities of species life will be far too damaged to recover.

Science has a share in the blame here, as does politics, kinship relations, religion, and economics- which is the point you are making.

Michael: A person with great technological power may actually be more likely to show responsibility than people who merely add a drop in the bucket to a widespread form of insanity and rationalize it by saying "I'm just one person and I don't do that much of the damage by myself".

I'm not certain that this will be the case, nor can I be sure it won't be. I do agree that an economic system that creates a mass of alienated, disenfranchised, apathetic, and helpless consumers is no solution to the Biosphericide we are all facing; on the contrary, such an economic system can only produce greater disregard and dislocation for those who feel trapped within its largely impersonal and collosal walls.

But, I think it is more than simply "I don't do that much damage"...and is more accurately stated, "There isn't a damned thing I can do about it anyway". Thus, the rationalization that hides personal responsibility is more of an attempt to escape feeling hopeless and helpless in the face of an economic structure we neither understand nor can fathom to fix.







Mon Dec 13, 2004 6:34 pm
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