Coming Conferences

  • ISEE 2012 Conference – Ecological Economics and Rio+20: Challenges and Contributions for a Green Economy

– Deadline for submission of session & paper abstracts & Deadline for submission of abstract & full paper (for those seeking funding) EXTENDED TO 22 November 2011

15 December 2011 – Author notification

2 March 2012 – Deadline for payment of registration fee online, to ensure inclusion of abstract in conference brochure

29 May – 1 June 2012 – ISEE2012 Conference

  • Event: Third international conference on degrowth for ecological sustainability and social equityDate and Place:19-23 September 2012, Venice, Italy (Europe

    The Great Transition: Degrowth as a passage of civilization

    Degrowth is today not only an invitation to abandon the obsession with growth and the collective imagination based on unlimited growth, but also the most comprehensive effort to deal with the major phase of discontinuity our civilization is facing. Issues as climate change and ecological crisis, the struggle for social and environmental justice, the looting of resources, peak oil and energy crisis, all accompanied by the growing dependence on technology and a huge crisis of social ties remind us the vastness of the challenge that awaits us. We are asked nothing less than to begin a journey of conversion and transformation of material and cultural foundations of the so-called “developed” societies.

    This path involves the re-signification of the very idea of welfare or well-living, the reconstruction on a basis of justice and interdependence of the “north-south” relationship and the redefinition of a pact of solidarity between generations. A change putting on our agenda topics and issues apparently very different – work, income, consumption, waste, energy, technology, mobility, education, citizenship – but actually inextricably linked.

    A project of degrowth exempt from all reductionism, economic ecological or political, can be proposed only through comparison and discussion that pay attention to connections, interactions, transversal linking, with a strong cross-disciplinary look capable of holding together natural and social sciences. We will also pay particular attention to the different dimensions tied to the participation to the Conference and to conviviality, from travel arrangements to the sharing of food, from the time together to all forms of exchange.

    Conference themes

    The organizers have identified three key areas to which reports and speeches are invited to adhere to. By attributing a specific topic to each day, we aim to address discussion to make possible a coherent and organized confrontation. Thus, the first day will begin with an introduction that provides the framework of the debate, then each day will be devoted to a specific matter.

    The three key areas are the following:

    1. Commons: Degrowth and transition to fair and sustainable models of ownership, management, protection, sharing and enjoyment of goods and resources.
    2. Work: Degrowth and transition to fair and creative models of production, work, social security and welfare beyond Post-Fordism, the logic of temporary employment and the welfare crisis.
    3. Democracy: Degrowth and transition of democratic institutions to shared, decentralized, environmentally and inter-generationally responsible models.

    The conference program, the registration form, and other useful information will be available on the website http://www.venezia2012.it/en/)

Subversion

A. − Vx, littér. Bouleversement. L’autre [système géologique] enseigne que tout va en se perfectionnant à mesure que l’équilibre s’établit, après l’époque d’une subversion universelle (Maine de Biran, Journal, 1816, p. 166).
B. − Action de bouleverser, de détruire les institutions, les principes, de renverser l’ordre établi. Synon. renversement, révolution, sédition; anton. modération, conformisme. Subversion d’un État, d’un gouvernement, des lois, de la société; entreprise, menaces de subversion; pousser (qqn) à la subversion. L’excès des impôts conduit à la subversion de la justice, à la détérioration de la morale, à la destruction de la liberté individuelle (Constant, Princ. pol., 1815, p. 124). [Jusqu’aux grands héritiers du romantisme] ceux qui avaient prétendu agir sur l’événement et sur l’homme, en Occident au moins, l’avaient fait au nom de règles rationnelles. Le surréalisme au contraire, après Rimbaud, a voulu trouver dans la démence et la subversion une règle de construction (Camus, Homme rév., 1951, p. 107).
Prononc. et Orth.: [sybvεʀsjɔ̃]. Att. ds Ac. dep. 1718. Étymol. et Hist. a) Fin xiie s. terme biblique « renversement, trouble » (Sermons St Bernard, 116, 3 ds T.-L.); b) 1462-68 « rébellion » (Jean Le Fèvre de St Rémy, Chronique, éd. F. Morand, t. 1, p. 97); c) 1653 subversion des lois (Vaugelas, Q.C., X, ds Littré). Empr. au b. lat. subversio « renversement, destruction (au propre et au fig.) », iie-iiie s., v. Forc. Fréq. abs. littér.: 49.

Ecological economics recognises the interconnections and interdependence of the economic, biophysical and social worlds, and focuses on the human economy both as a social system and a system embodied in the bio-physical universe. Reflecting on the identity of ecological economics, the 9th conference of the European Society will investigate how ecological economics can broaden the available range of methods and tools for policy support, and increase its relevance for the real-world problems.

In this regard, ESEE 2011 has two main objectives:

  1. To create a platform for discussion of theories, methodologies and practices already existing in the field and assess what has been achieved so far.
  2. To explore the full potential of ecological economics in dealing with policy issues, both in theory and in practice.

Author : Mildred Gustack Delambre

E-mail : nova.oikos@gmail.com

Abstract :

The most widespread definition of an eco-village seems to be the one of Robert Gilman (1991) who proposes four essential characteristics : “a human-scale and full-featured settlement (food, leisure, social life, education, business, residence), in which human activities are harmlessly integrated into the natural world (principle of ecology) in a way that is supportive of healthy human development and can be successfully continued into the indefinite future”.

Another main concept for understanding the purpose of this paper is the community of practice concept, that Lave & Wenger (1991) describe as “a group of people who share an interest, a craft, and/or a profession”. According to the authors, the group can evolve naturally due to the member’s common interest in a particular domain or area, or it can be created specifically with the goal of gaining knowledge related to their field. They affirm that it is through the process of sharing information and experiences with the group that the members learn from each other, and have an opportunity to develop themselves personally and professionally.

Taken as a process, the Degrowth movement seems to require some peculiar mediation tools. In order to analyze the sustainable communities of practice and eco-villages as mediation tools for Degrowth process and its performances towards society, we position this phenomenon as a contesting initiative for the dominant model of development, based on the economics growth and human spoilage.

Constituting a recent collective action strategy, typical of the modern post-industrial society, we assume that this movement isn’t an end in itself, but a mean to question and to propose alternatives to the current social and economic development scenario in which we live at the moment. This phenomenon demonstrates a return to the natural necessities of humans – such as the social links, the sharing, the habitation and healthy diets – darkened by the “northern” lifestyle and its contemporary consumption culture highly dependent on petroleum exploitation.

The present paper is a reflection of an empirical and theoretical study (Gustack Delambre, 2009) within four French associations2 working for the mediation of environmental and human friendly techniques, lifestyles and development, based on balanced levels of production and consumption. The objective of this work is also to identify the stakes in the mediation of an alternative model of development through the practices and projects led by these kinds of associations and communities. It is expected to make a rapport between the eco-villages practices and the cognitive paths of social learning; to assess the efficiency of communities of practice in this process; to explore their function as a link-builder between society and the environmentalist values and to identify challenges and possibilities for these mediating structures.

KEYWORDS : Eco-village, Communities of Practice, Social Learning, Mediation, Economic Degrowth

1Prepared for the Scientific committee of the 2nd Conference on Economic Degrowth for Ecological Sustainability and Social Equity – Barcelona , 26 – 29 March/2010
2Brin de Paille – Association Française de Permaculture (89160), Association et Revue Passerelle &Co (71190), Coopérative Cravirola / Association Cultures du Maquis (34210), Eco-centre ECOlonie (88260)

“L’enfant, elle, a environ six semaines. […]
Les temps qu’elle vivra seront les pires de l’histoire. Elle verra au moins deux guerres dites mondiales et leurs séquelles ainsi que d’autres conflits se rallumant çà et là, guerres nationales et guerres civiles, guerres de classes et guerres de races, et même, sur un ou deux points du monde, par un anachronisme qui prouve que rien ne finit, guerres de religions, chacune ayant en soi assez d’étincelles pour provoquer la conflagration qui emportera tout. La torture, qu’on croyait reléguée dans un pittoresque Moyen Âge, reviendra une réalité ; la pullulation de l’humanité dévalorisera l’homme. Des moyens de communication massifs au service d’intérêts plus ou moins camouflés déverseront sur le monde, avec des visions et des bruits fantômes, un opium du peuple plus insidieux qu’aucune religion n’a jamais été accusée d’en répandre. Une fausse abondance, dissimulant la croissante érosion des ressources, dispensera des nourritures de plus en plus frelatées et des divertissements de plus en plus grégaires, panem et circenses de sociétés qui se croient libres. La vitesse annulant les distances annulera aussi la différence entre les lieux, traînant partout les pèlerins du plaisir vers les mêmes sons et lumières factices, les mêmes monuments aussi menacés de nos jours que les éléphants et les balaines, un Parthénon qui s’éffrite et qu’on se propose de mettre sous verre, une cathédrale de Strasbourg corrodée, une Giralda sous un ciel qui n’est plus bleu, une Venise pourrie par les résidus chimiques. Des cetaines d’espèces animales qui avaient réussi à survivre depuis la jeunesse du monde seront en quelques années anéanties pour des motifs de lucre et brutalité ; l’homme arrachera ses propres poumons, les grandes forêts vertes. L’eau, l’air et la protectrice couche d’ozone, prodiges quasi uniques qui ont permis la vie sur la terre, seront souillés et gaspillés. à certaines époques, assure-t-on, Siva danse sur le monde, bolissant les formes. Ce qui danse aujourd’hui sut le monde est la sottise, la violence, et l’avidité de l’homme.”

Margueritte Yourcenar – Archives du Nord, III, Editions Gallimard, 1977.

Personnalisme & Décroissance

A partir des années 30, le personnalisme est devenu un mouvement intellectuel de réaction à la crise économique profonde de cette décennie, que la jeunesse intellectuelle française percevait comme une crise de civilisation plutôt que comme une crise essentiellement économique.

L’individu, c’est ce qui, en bout de piste, apparaît comme le rejeton des tendances aliénantes du monde moderne. C’est celui qui a sacrifié sa dimension spirituelle et son potentiel d’énergies créatrices et de liberté, au profit d’un idéal petit-bourgeois qui ne vise qu’au bien-être.

Pour Emmanuel Mounier « l’individu, c’est la dissolution de la personne dans la matière. (…) Dispersion, avarice, voilà les deux marques de l’individualité. » Aussi, la personne ne peut croître « qu’en se purifiant de l’individu qui est en elle » [5]. Autant la notion d’individu veut exprimer la faillite de notre société occidentale que met en relief la crise économique des années trente, autant celle de personne renferme «comme une absence, un besoin, une tâche et une tension continuellement créatrice»[6]. Contre le gigantisme des mécanismes sociaux, politiques et économiques qui président aux destinées des hommes; contre l’idéalisme et le rationalisme abstraits qui ont détaché l’homme de la nature et de ses communautés immédiates, tous les mouvements de la jeunesse française se rejoignent en une même aspiration: celle de renouer avec ce qu’ils appellent l’homme «concret» pour en faire un être responsable, c’est-à-dire capable «de réponse»[7]. Cette opposition entre individu et personne, assez répandue au début des années trente, est donc à la fois un jugement sur la situation et un projet pour la modifier qui pourrait se formuler de la manière suivante: le bourgeois, cet être incapable d’élévation spirituelle a, par ses visées égoïstes, inversé l’ordre des valeurs mettant ainsi en péril les possibilités d’épanouissement de la personne humaine et de la civilisation occidentale, pour mettre un terme à la crise de notre civilisation, la transformation des structures sociales et économiques doit inévitablement s’accompagner d’une révolution spirituelle. Dès 1927, Jacques Maritain soutenait cette Primauté du spirituel. À sa suite,des revues comme la Jeune Droite, l’Ordre Nouveau et Esprit reprendront cette exigence. Ainsi, en mars 1931, l’un des premiers manifestes de l’Ordre Nouveau lançait ce slogan promit à un succès durable: «Spirituel d’abord, économique, ensuite, politique à leur service». Emmanuel Mounier écrira quelques temps plus tard: «Le spirituel commande le politique et l’économique. L’esprit doit garder l’initiative et la maîtrise de ses buts, qui vont à l’homme par-dessus l’homme, et non au bien-être»

Les grandes idées du personnalisme [modifier]

Face à ce qu’ils percevaient comme une « crise de civilisation », ces jeunes intellectuels présentaient, malgré certaines divergences, un « front commun » :

  • Le refus du libéralisme : les personnalistes se posaient en rupture avec le « désordre établi », c’est à dire la subversion des valeurs humanistes héritées de la raison grecque, du judaïsme et du christianisme, que leur semblaient, particulièrement durant la crise des années 30, représenter les institutions capitalistes et parlementaires d’une société libérale et individualiste, dont les fondements institutionnels leur paraissaient aussi fragiles et « inhumains » que les fondements culturels en proie à un « matérialisme » et un « nihilisme » destructeurs.
  • Le refus du marxisme et du fascisme : les personnalistes refusaient parallèlement les tentatives « étatistes » de réponse « totale » du communisme ou du fascisme, précisément pour ce qu’elles broyaient l’individu, niaient la primauté de la personne.
  • Les solutions : les personnalistes avaient l’ambition, pour remédier à cette « crise de l’homme au XXe siècle », de susciter une « révolution spirituelle », transformant simultanément les choses et les hommes, qui devait trouver son inspiration philosophique dans une conception « personnaliste » de l’homme et de ses rapports avec la nature et la société, et se traduire par la construction d’un « ordre nouveau », au-delà de l’individualisme et du collectivisme, orienté vers une organisation « fédéraliste », « personnaliste et communautaire » des rapports sociaux.

Thucydide (460-400aC)

“Il est dans la nature de l’homme d’opprimer ceux qui cèdent et de respecter ceux qui résistent.”

“Un homme qui ne se mêle pas de politique mérite de passer, non pour un citoyen paisible, mais pour un citoyen inutile.”

Just read it on the train coming from Paris to Toulouse. For me this is a very pamphleteer speech about work, that myself would (and probably will, in this blog) write about. As I am not doing it, yet, here goes some nice quotes to think about:

“A strange delusion possesses the working classes of the nations where capitalist civilization holds its sway. This delusion drags in its train the individual and social woes which for two centuries have tortured sad humanity. This delusion is the love of work, the furious passion for work, pushed even to the exhaustion of the vital force of the individual and his progeny. Instead of opposing this mental aberration, the priests, the economists and the moralists have cast a sacred halo over work.”

About Children’s work : “And the children? Twelve hours of work for children! Not all […] could have invented a vice more degrading to the intelligence of the children, more corrupting of their instincts, more destructive of their organism than work in the vitiated atmosphere of the capitalist factory.”

“What a miserable abortion of the revolutionary principles of the bourgeoisie! What woeful gifts from its god Progress! The philanthropists hail as benefactors of humanity those who having done nothing to become rich, give work to the poor. Far better were it to scatter pestilence and to poison the springs than to erect a capitalist factory in the midst of a rural population. Introduce factory work, and farewell joy, health and liberty; farewell to all that makes life beautiful and worth living.”

“And the economists go on repeating to the laborers, “Work, to increase social wealth”, and nevertheless an economist, Destutt de Tracy, answers: “It is in poor nations that people are comfortable, in rich nations they are ordinarily poor”

“Because, lending ear to the fallacious words of the economists, the proletarians have given themselves up body and soul to the vice of work; they precipitate the whole of society into these industrial crises of over-production which convulse the social organism.”

“But what do we see? In proportion as the machine is improved and performs man’s work with an ever increasing rapidity and exactness, the laborer, instead of prolonging his former rest times, redoubles his ardor, as if he wished to rival the machine. O, absurd and murderous competition!”

“since the quantity of work required by society is necessarily limited by consumption and by the supply of raw materials, why devour in six months the work of a whole year; why not distribute it uniformly over the twelve months and force every workingman to content himself with six or five hours a day throughout the year”

*Search for Degrowth party’s propositions in Europeens Elections

About Romans : “All the citizens by right lived at the expense of the treasury without being constrained to provide for their living by any of the sordid arts (thus, they designated the trades), which rightfully belonged to slaves.”

PS : Anyone can read the book (text) in one and half hour… suggestion : read it while in the bus or metro, going to work….

The book available in english : http://www.marxists.org/archive/lafargue/1883/lazy/index.htm

Le livre disponible en français : http://fr.wikisource.org/wiki/Le_Droit_%C3%A0_la_paresse_%281880%29

Walden (1854 – Henri David Thoreau)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Walden (first published as Walden; or, Life in the Woods) is an American book written by noted Transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau. The work is part personal declaration of independence, social experiment, voyage of spiritual discovery, satire, and manual for self reliance.

Published in 1854, it details Thoreau’s experiences over the course of two years in a cabin he built near Walden Pond, amidst woodland owned by his friend and mentor Ralph Waldo Emerson, near Concord, Massachusetts.

Thoreau did not intend to live as a hermit, for he received visitors regularly, and returned their visits. Rather, he hoped to isolate himself from society to gain a more objective understanding of it. Simple living and self-sufficiency were Thoreau’s other goals, and the whole project was inspired by transcendentalist philosophy, a central theme of the American Romantic Period. As Thoreau made clear in his book, his cabin was not in wilderness but at the edge of town, about two miles (3 km) from his family home.

Synopsis

Economy: In this first and longest chapter, Thoreau outlines his project: a two-year, two-month, and two-day stay at a cozy, “tightly shingled and plastered,” English-style 10′ x 15′ cottage in the woods near Walden Pond.[2] He does this, he says, to illustrate the spiritual benefits of a simplified lifestyle. He easily supplies the four necessities of life (food, shelter, clothing, and fuel) with the help of family and friends, particularly his mother, his best friend, and Mr. and Mrs. Ralph Waldo Emerson. The latter provided Thoreau with a work exchange — he could build a small house and plant a garden if he cleared some land on the woodlot and did other chores while there.[2] Thoreau meticulously records his expenditures and earnings, demonstrating his understanding of “economy,” as he builds his house and buys and grows food. For a home and freedom, he spent a mere $28.12 1/2, in 1845. At the end of this chapter, Thoreau inserts a poem, “The Pretensions of Poverty,” by seventeenth-century English poet Thomas Carew. The poem criticizes those who think that their poverty gives them unearned moral and intellectual superiority.

Where I Lived, and What I Lived For: After playing with the idea of buying a farm, Thoreau describes his house’s location. Then he explains that he took up his abode at Walden Woods so as to “live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” Although he criticizes the dedication of his neighbours to working, he himself is quite busy at Walden — building and maintaining his house, raising thousands of bean plants and other vegetables, making bread, clearing land, chopping wood, making repairs for the Emersons, going into town, and writing every day. His time at Walden was his most productive as a writer.

Reading: Thoreau discusses the benefits of classical literature (preferably in the original Greek or Latin), and bemoans the lack of sophistication in Concord, evident in the popularity of unsophisticated literature. He also loved to read books by world travellers. He yearns for a utopian time when each New England village supports “wise men” to educate and thereby ennoble the population.

Sounds: Thoreau opens this chapter by warning against relying too much on literature as a means of transcendence. Instead, one should experience life for oneself. Thus, after describing his house’s beautiful natural surroundings and his casual housekeeping habits, Thoreau goes on to criticize the train whistle that interrupts his reverie. To him, the railroad symbolizes the destruction of the pastoral way of life. Following is a description of the sounds audible from his cabin: the church bells ringing, carriages rattling and rumbling, cows lowing, whip-poor-wills singing, owls hooting, frogs croaking, and cockerels crowing.

Solitude: Thoreau rhapsodies about the beneficial effects of living solitary and close to nature. He claims to love being alone, saying “I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude.”

Visitors: Thoreau writes about the visitors to his house. Among the 25 or 30 visitors is a young French-Canadian wood chopper, Alec Therien, whom Thoreau idealizes as approaching the ideal man, and a runaway slave, whom Thoreau helps on his journey to freedom in Canada.

The Bean-Field: Thoreau relates his efforts to cultivate 2.5 acres (10,000 m2) of beans. He plants in June and spends his summer mornings weeding the field with a hoe. He sells most of the crop, and his small profit of $8.71 covers his needs that were not provided by friends and family.

The Village: Thoreau visits the small town of Concord every day or two to hear the news, which he finds “as refreshing in its way as the rustle of the leaves.” Nevertheless, he fondly but rather contemptuously compares Concord to a gopher colony. In late summer, he is arrested for refusing to pay federal taxes, but is released the next day. He explains that he refuses to pay taxes to a government that supports slavery.

The Ponds: In autumn, Thoreau discusses the countryside and writes down his observations about the geography of Walden Pond and its neighbors: Flint’s Pond (or Sandy Pond), White Pond, and Goose Pond. Although Flint’s is the largest, Thoreau’s favourites are Walden and White ponds, which he says are lovelier than diamonds.

Baker Farm: While on an afternoon ramble in the woods, Thoreau gets caught in a rainstorm and takes shelter in the dirty, dismal hut of John Field, a penniless but hard-working Irish farmhand, and his wife and children. Thoreau urges Field to live a simple but independent and fulfilling life in the woods, thereby freeing himself of employers and creditors. But the Irishman won’t give up his aspirations of luxury and the quest for the American dream.

Higher Laws: Thoreau discusses whether hunting wild animals and eating meat is good. He concludes that the primitive, animal side of humans drives them to kill and eat animals, and that a person who transcends this propensity is superior to those who don’t. (Thoreau eats fish and occasionally salt pork and woodchuck.)[2] In addition to vegetarianism, he lauds chastity, work, and teetotalism. He also recognizes that Indians need to hunt and kill moose for survival in “The Maine Woods,” and ate moose on a trip to Maine while he was living at Walden.[2] Here is a list of the laws that he mentions:

  • One must love that of the wild just as much as one loves that of the good.
  • What men already know instinctively is true humanity.
  • The hunter is the greatest friend of the animal which is hunted.
  • No human older than an adolescent would wantonly murder any creature which reveres its own life as much as the killer.
  • If the day and the night make one joyful, one is successful.
  • The highest form of self-restraint is when one can subsist not on other animals, but of plants and crops cultivated from the earth.

Brute Neighbors: Thoreau briefly discusses the many wild animals that are his neighbors at Walden. A description of the nesting habits of partridges is followed by a fascinating account of a massive battle between red and black ants. Three of the combatants he takes into his cabin and examines under a microscope as the black ant kills the two smaller red ones. Later, Thoreau takes his boat and tries to follow a teasing loon about the pond. He also collects animal specimens and ships them to Harvard College for study.

House-Warming: After picking November berries in the woods, Thoreau adds a chimney, and finally plasters the walls of his sturdy house to stave off the cold of the oncoming winter. He also lays in a good supply of firewood, and expresses affection for wood and fire.

Former Inhabitants; and Winter Visitors: Thoreau relates the stories of people who formerly lived in the vicinity of Walden Pond. Then he talks about a few of the visitors he receives during the winter: a farmer, a woodchopper, and his best friend, the poet Ellery Channing.

Winter Animals: Thoreau amuses himself by watching wildlife during the winter. He relates his observations of owls, hares, red squirrels, mice, and various birds as they hunt, sing, and eat the scraps and corn he put out for them. He also describes a fox hunt that passes by.

The Pond in Winter: Thoreau describes Walden Pond as it appears during the winter. He claims to have sounded its depths and located an underground outlet. Then he recounts how 100 laborers came to cut great blocks of ice from the pond, the ice to be shipped to the Carolinas.

Spring: As spring arrives, Walden and the other ponds melt with stentorian thundering and rumbling. Thoreau enjoys watching the thaw, and grows ecstatic as he witnesses the green rebirth of nature. He watches the geese winging their way north, and a hawk playing by itself in the sky. As nature is reborn, the narrator implies, so is he. He departs Walden on September 6, 1847.

Conclusion: This final chapter is more passionate and urgent than its predecessors. In it, he criticizes conformity: “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.” By doing so, men may find happiness and self-fulfillment.

“I do not say that John or Jonathan will realize all this; but such is the character of that morrow which mere lapse of time can never make to dawn. The light which puts out our eyes is darkness to us. Only that day dawns to which we are awake. There is more day to dawn. The sun is but a morning star.”

Background

Thoreau’s intention during his time at Walden Pond was “to conduct an experiment: Could he survive, possibly even thrive, by stripping away all superfluous luxuries, living a plain, simple life in radically reduced conditions?”[4] He thought of it as an experiment in “home economics”. Although Thoreau went to Walden to escape what he considered, “over-civilization”, and in search of the “raw” and “savage delight” of the wilderness, he also spent considerable amounts of his time reading and writing.

Thoreau spent nearly four times as long on the Walden manuscript as he actually spent at the cabin. He went through eight different drafts over the course of almost ten years.[4] Walden was a moderate success when it was first published in 1854. It sold well and was received favourably among reviewers.

After Walden’s publication, Thoreau saw his time at Walden as nothing more than an experiment. He never took seriously “the idea that he could truly isolate himself from others.”[5] Without resolution, Thoreau used “his retreat to the woods as a way of framing a reflection on both what ails men and women in their contemporary condition what what might provide relief.”[6]

Themes

Walden emphasizes the importance of solitude, contemplation, and closeness to nature in transcending the “desperate” existence that, he argues, is the lot of most people. The book is not a traditional autobiography, but combines autobiography with a social critique of contemporary Western culture’s consumerist and materialist attitudes and its distance from and destruction of nature. That the book is not simply a criticism of society, but also an attempt to engage creatively with the better aspects of contemporary culture, is suggested both by Thoreau’s proximity to Concord society and by his admiration for classical literature. There are signs of ambiguity, or an attempt to see an alternative side of something common.

Thoreau regarded his sojourn at Walden as an experiment with a threefold purpose. First, he was escaping the dehumanizing effects of the Industrial Revolution by returning to a simpler, agrarian lifestyle. Second, he was simplifying his life and reducing his expenditures, increasing the amount of leisure time in which he could work on his writings (most of A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers was written at Walden). Much of the book is devoted to stirring up awareness of how one’s life is lived, materially and otherwise, and how one might choose to live it more deliberately. Third, he was putting into practice the Transcendentalist belief that one can best “transcend” normality and experience the Ideal, or the Divine, through nature.

Critical response

American poet Robert Frost wrote of Thoreau, “In one book … he surpasses everything we have had in America.”[7]

Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson judged Thoreau’s endorsement of living alone in natural simplicity, apart from modern society, to be a mark of effeminacy, calling it “womanish solicitude; for there is something unmanly, something almost dastardly” about the lifestyle.[8]

Poet John Greenleaf Whittier criticized what he perceived as the message in Walden that man should lower himself to the level of a woodchuck and walk on four legs. He said: “Thoreau’s Walden is a capital reading, but very wicked and heathenish… After all, for me, I prefer walking on two legs”.[9]

Degrowth Aphorisms

“Maximize well-being while minimizing consumption” (Schumacher, E. F. (1973). Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered)