Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Nouveau Thoreauvians

I read an article the other day about a modern day Thoreau movement that has been pulling many eco-guilt ridden liberals into its grasp. The writer seemed to feel that anyone unfortunate enough to be so influenced by such a movement was mis-guided at best and, well, lame at worst. Those who have had some success getting the message of the movement out are individuals who have had the nerve to write best-selling books with titles like No Impact Man, Goodbye My Subaru and Farm City. I think what may be so frightening about this for the author is what has been so frightening about every other movement the world has ever known; that there are groups of people calling for large-scale change. The common ground for these books is change; specifically change of lifestyle as an attempt to sway public opinion and saving the planet from imminent demise. We can debate the imminent demise part until Bush plants a peace garden in his yard but it is difficult to deny claims that something is happening to our planet right now. If we only have eyes to see.
Those who attempted these life-style downsizings were sneeringly referred to as "Nouveau Thoreauvians" and criticized for daring to express their discontent with the ways things are. The most snide comments were set aside for when the individual exhibited any sign of a disconnect with our culture and took solid, and possibly messy, action by doing things like eschewing toilet paper. The author seemed to feel that the attempts to create less waste, localize their eating, drive less and just plain analyzing what the heck it is they are doing with their lives on a daily basis was pointless. He even referred to Thoreau as some sort of slacker who lived on the largess of others. While it may be true that Thoreau lived on borrowed land and was largely supported by his family and friends, it is also true that what he engaged in was a fantastically successful experiment in personal analysis and scaling down. It wasn't just a mental exercise aimed at the paparazzi of the time. To be sure, Thoreau wasn't faced with choosing paper TP over torn rags and all the baggage associated with that particular choice but that is part of my point! The fact that there are individuals out there even considering this! Even thinking about the fact that toilet paper comes from trees, extrapolating beyond themselves and their own heinies that need to be wiped to the billions of heinies in need of wiping and the vast numbers of forests being cut down for this very purpose, well, this just boggles the mind! Does it not follow that these thoughtful individuals are to be, well, admired?
It is difficult for me to understand what was on the author's mind when he began his critical rant of people looking at how their daily personal choices impact those around them and deciding that they might need to re-think or even to alter those choices. For the good. For the good of themselves and others. What is it, exactly, that frightens someone about drastic measures taken with the idea that what we do now actually does have some effect on the future? Is it a deep cynicism born from despair over ever making a difference in this world? Or is it, as I suspect, a disdain possessed by the most cerebral among us for those who are perceived to be idealists.
My children listen to a song called Living In A Bubble by a band, cryptically named, Eiffel 65. Aptly, it's a techno, mechanistic, dance tune and the lyrics are nearly indecipherable under all the electronic drumming and voice machine gadgetry. Except for this: "we live in a bubble baby, a bubble's not reality, you gotta have a look outside..." When I read the article, published in a highly respected, uber-urban weekly, I immediately thought of that song. Who lives in this bubble? Those of us trying to understand what's what? Trying to figure out what is happening around us, to translate the signs and hieroglyphics of unfolding events and responding with our hearts and bodies? Or those who sit in chrome and steel buildings tall enough to take flight, perched on concrete paths? Who is really worthy of criticism here? Those who are deeply, thoughtfully attempting to change the world for the better? Or those who put their Ivy League papers on the wall and declare themselves World Critic For Life, Defender Of All That Is Shallow? I think that the world is in desperate need of the former, those among us who see that there are untold numbers of problems that need fixing and get out there to actually try to fix them, taking real, physical action. Including, perhaps, ditching the TP.

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