Sunday, January 24, 2010

Thoreau Goes "Walking"

The thing I found so intriguing about the Thoreau piece is the challenge to conventional wisdom. Like any great thinker, Thoreau encourages his reader to discard orthodoxy. When everyone else in the world is saying, “Look at this modern world! Look at how much better your life is because of all of these wonderful inventions and innovations!” Thoreau is saying, “But, look at how much needless complication now exists. Human beings can live much simpler lives and find just as much, if not more, contentment.” As a person who respects science and the scientific method, I tend to find myself marveling at the great discoveries and advancements of the Scientific Age. Cures for lethal diseases have saved the lives of millions, but so, too, has the philosophy of healthy living. The internet has been a phenomenal communications tool that has brought the world closer together, but it has also been corrosive and destructive. In Thoreau’s time, the mill and the canal and railroad were the advancements that turned the world upside-down. It was exactly because the world was turned upside-down that worried Thoreau. He had no need for well-built roads (those were for the horse and buggy). He had no need for the railroad and canal (those were for the frivolous tourist).He had no need for the mill (that was for the robber-baron). Thoreau wanted the world to challenge conventional thought. He wanted everyone to see that the hum and buzz of industry was a sacrilege to the beauty of the natural world. While readers may not find any Marxist leanings in his writing, it is probably not a great leap to imagine that Thoreau saw that the new technologies of his day served to benefit a very small and privileged few. Mainly his focus is on the natural world and man’s compulsion to “improve” it. Thoreau does not believe it can be improved. Perhaps we can take steps to prolong our lives and marginally improve our comfort and health, but the planet cannot be bettered. Thoreau invites his reader to take a long stroll, “a saunter,” and find this out for him- or herself.

No comments:

Post a Comment