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Andy Campbell John D.

Domine Samantha Donovan Gabe Clarke Skyler Estrada Krysta Bryant AP English, 6th period 12/02/13 Transcendentalist Essay - Thoreau

Throughout history, the question of whether technology is a force for good or bad has been a recurring one. One such occurrence of noteworthy impact was transcendentalism. Transcendentalism was a profoundly influential American philosophical and intellectual movement in the early nineteenth century that stressed the triumph of emotion over reason, and the ability of people to “transcend” their sensory systems to establish a deeper sense of living. Among its most prominent writers was Henry David Thoreau, who summarized his life and beliefs in 1854 book, Walden. One of Thoreau’s strongest beliefs was that technology was detrimental to society, in that it blinded one’s ability to sense their world on a deeper level, and that it inhibited true inner fulfillment in life. However, can one honestly feel that technology has not benefitted them in some way? Science, reason and logic have undeniably improved the quality of lives everywhere, and have greatly advanced our understanding of our place in the universe. Most can respect Thoreau’s opinions and his justification for having them, but it is clear that such thinking is irrelevant and unhealthy to modern society today. Perhaps technology should be seen not as an inhibitor of inner fulfillment, but a tool to help reach it. It is unsurprising that Thoreau had such strong opinions on technology. Living in an era of rapid industrialization, technology was driven to the forefront of national issues. The drastic

were "playing God. because it falls so clearly in line with so many other obviously silly claims. then mellowing as they come to accept it and realize the world is not coming to an end. telephones. televisions. not wheels. who was so quick to denounce technology as an unnatural evil. All vocal opponents of technology follow a familiar pattern of immediate protest.destruction of previous ways of life was understandably upsetting to some. . This argument rests on the assumption that human innovation has essentially no value. Hardly anything significant has been invented that no segment of the population has denounced as evil: trains. in their attempt to expand their power through technology. Familiarity dissipates fear. Our country was founded upon enlightenment ideals. or computers. Thoreau. But this argument is easily demolished. and that improving on nature is egotistical. which stressed the importance of rational thought and creativity. as seen in the recent controversies over human cloning or stem cell research. so aren't bicycles evil? If we were to abandon all of the "unnatural" practices from our lives. was quick to denounce the evils of progress. Not even medicine has been spared this abuse. and frightening to others. Nature gives us feet. Such arguments still come up today. However. A common argument that Thoreau and others had was that people. What most opponents of technology don't realize is that their supposedly moral objections are preventing moral progress. like many others. this hasty reaction should come as nothing of a surprise. and rest on the most effective tool of human control ever invented: fear of God. This is the reasoning of the Dark Ages. Most of these arguments are religious. we would be shivering in caves eating uncooked leaves and bugs. automobiles. despite its obvious benefits to the human condition." and intruding into territory that could only bring the rage of its creator. would probably feel differently if he realized his beloved pen and paper were products of human ingenuity. Thoreau.

give people an illusion of increased freedom. Perhaps Thoreau was reluctant to travel because he feared what he might find. of the change in popular mindset brought by train travel. Those who travel a lot. Such close-minded stubbornness has no place in our society. He sees it as a false example of social progress. planes. having been exposed to a variety of cultures. when travel has become such a dominant role in lifestyles. such thinking has no place in modern society. However. Being exposed to all the diversity the world has to offer helps us to be more well-informed citizens. but in fact enslave us. claiming that “We do not ride on the railroad. Thoreau is skeptical. have been shown to have higher life expectancies and higher intelligences than those who do not (Getsinger). as well. Indeed. It moves people from one point to another faster. like all technological improvements. or perhaps more relevant to modern society. . He feels it is far better to go ponder life in a little corner of the woods for years than to commute from place to place unreflectively. It also helps us eliminate barriers between cultures. He believes trains. Thoreau is stubbornly skeptical of the idea that any outward improvement of life can bring the inner peace and contentment he so unrelentingly craves. which was a symbol of the wonders of technological achievement. have allowed for a more interconnected world with faster communication than ever before.Advancements in medicine have led to safer and longer lives. He had established a world view so firmly engraved in his mind that he wouldn’t know what to do if confronted with something that threatened it. but Thoreau has little use for travel anyway. since one must obey the strict timetables and schedules of trains. it rides upon us”. One clear illustration of Thoreau’s resistance to progress is his issue of the train. Only ignorant delusions stand in the way. leading to less prejudice and less violence. Trains.

Furthermore. and not the way that we would like it to be. But history has shown us that individuals who actively participate in society and are exposed to a greater variety of cultures .A noteworthy view of Thoreau. This can best be seen in “To him whose elastic and vigorous thought keeps pace with the sun. has allowed us to express our ideas and learn of other’s like never before by making all of the world’s information easily accessible to anyone for free. Besides the obvious psychological drawbacks to limited social interaction. This is wrong in many ways. and thus achieve inner fulfillment. Morning is when I am awake and there is a dawn in me. Isolating oneself from society discourages the sharing and transfer of ideas. for example. It matters not what the clocks say or the attitudes and labors of men. then technology is an instrument to help us reach this goal. and one that is most typical of transcendentalist doctrine. The internet. is his rejection of reason and logic in favor of emotion. If the ultimate goal in life is to be able to engage as deeply as possible with the miracle of human consciousness. this also undermines the human spirit. Thoreau also mocks the pettiness of reading news. This argument is becoming increasingly irrelevant to our modern age. Thoreau repeatedly discusses the need to disconnect oneself from civilization in order to connect oneself to nature. It is far better to accept the world for how it is. with reason and logic triumphing over emotion. the day is a perpetual morning. and every great achievement in human history was the result of collaboration between individuals.” While is it admirable that Thoreau would advocate self-expression. for he claims all news shrinks to insignificance in light of our spiritual reality. Those who linger to these outdated ideas only hinder the growth of society. Scientific advancement has rendered most philosophies void. it is dangerous to think this way.

In order to be a truly productive citizen that fulfills the terms of the social contract. and are increasingly impractical in our age. Keeping up to date with current developments in the world not only broadens one’s perspective to the bigger picture. for it makes the assumption that hum ans and “manmade” items are not a part of the natural world. one cannot simply isolate him or herself in nature and remain ignorant to the outside world. Thoreau’s highly idealistic and philosophical ramblings boast grand asserti ons without merit. is an industrial city so different from say. How then. and Thoreau can provide no evidence to support them. a beaver’s dam? Thoreau makes bold assertions that imply only he has gained insight into the deeper meaning of life. often assuming nature feels and hurts the way he does. Another problem with Thoreau’s views is his highly romanticized view of nature. This view has faults. The burden of proof rests on those who make such bold claims. For example. He claims that industrial society masks the important and “worthy” aspects of life. as surely people will all have differing opinions as to what they regard as worthy of their attention. Additionally. perhaps in an effort to make themselves feel special. Thoreau personalizes nature too much by emphasizing is human characteristics. some religions have claimed that nature was created just for humans. He wants to think that nature is a loving place. Such viewpoints promote ignorance and are would be highly detrimental to our modern society. Humans are simply animals that have evolved a much more sophisticated cerebral cortex. he discusses the wildlife around his farm as if they symbolize a closer intimacy with the natural world. In the vast arrogance of human history. but also serves as a humbling experience.tend to flourish. perhaps in his hubristic desire to feel significant and . But surely this is a highly subjective opinion. This reveals more about himself than it does nature. while everyone else remains blind.

By doing so. In reality. Leave it better than you found it. but indifferent. Use reason to accept the world as it is. nature is neither benign nor hostile. the positive consequences have greatly outweighed them. Technology has provided us with far more enriching and leisurely lives than what could have been held in the past. future generations will look back at them as though they contributed nothing. Make a difference in the world. While one might feel as though they achieved a great deal with their spiritual awakening in the woods. Give your children a better life than you had.connected to the universe. and change is necessary for betterment of society. one must ensure that the process of doing so does not disrupt society at the expense of progress. you will lead a life far more fulfilling than what any religion or "transcendentalist" doctrine could offer. While it is certainly important to seek inner fulfillment in one’s own life. In light of the overwhelming benefits that technology has been show to bring us. and anyone who denies this is acting hypocritical. and not what you would like it to be. it is clear that Thoreau’s transcendentalist views are neither relevant nor beneficial to our modern age. and incapable of emotion. Come to terms with the truth and find happiness. . Although there are definitely negative consequences of technological progress. opposition to change prevents progress. for they have undoubtedly befitted from technology as well. We must embrace technology rather than fear it.

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