Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Where's Walden?

An ugly illness that afflicts liberalism is:
  • ...the patronizing puritanical attitude of those who think that material prosperity is a dead end and that they know better than people who do seek prosperity.
  • This is the Luddite snobbishness that leads liberals to shut down opportunities for those in need, barring the trade that third world countries need for their economic improvement, and preaching self-destructive anti-materialistic nonsense that ends up hurting everyone in the service of allegedly higher goals
And the wellspring of much contemporary liberalism is the seminal work of Thoreau: much revered but seldom actually read by those who embrace his environmentalism and ideology.

Thoreau, whose name is invoked as part of the essential catechism of liberalism,
is thoroughly critiqued in this recent essay:
  • I thought I would delight in the eloquent prose of a journey of self-discovery and celebration of life.

  • Instead, it turns out to be ... pseudo-sophisticated claptrap; a merciless collection of false profundity and Puritanism.

  • Thoreau's ignorance of economics is absolute. His hostility to material prosperity and spiritual invocations to "simplify" are nothing more than the old asceticism of Savonarola transplanted into a quaint country cabin.

  • Not just ignorant, but ignorant in that colossally self-righteous way reserved only for youths.

  • He routinely utters the most sophomoric riddles and paradoxes designed to infect us with his reactionary preference for the allegedly more meaningful life of savages and rural villages, while ignoring the ravages of poverty, disease, illiteracy, ignorance, loneliness, monotony, hierarchy, and darkness that such a life actually represents.

  • There is no doubting that materialism can be a cause of spiritual emptiness and no doubt there are a lot of people who "starve for want of luxuries."

  • But it is always easy to regard another man's things as superficial and another man's pursuits as greedy, while one's own belongings have sentimental value and one's own pursuits are profound (or at least harmless indulgences).

  • It is even easier for self-righteous 30 year olds to regard older men with families as leading lives of desperation, while impressing themselves with the depth of their spiritual access.

Ecomyths persist and propagate not out of pure ignorance but from the imposition of dogma that is inherently ignorant is its composition and construction (e.g. see this manifestation which is a direct translation of Thoreau ideology in a contemporary setting).

Thoreau and Rachel Carson are emblematic of a presumptive moral superiority within contemporary environmentalism: their continued status as revolutionary icons underscores the intellectual poverty of environmentalism as an ideology of real change.