"The Length of Our Vision": Thoreau, Berry, and Sustainability
Gibbs, Jared Andrew
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The past several years have seen increased awareness of environmental degradation, climate change, and energy concernsâ and with good reason; addressing the problem of sustainability is vital if American culture is to both persist and thrive. Because this issue affects all aspects of our lives, it can easily seem overwhelming, encouraging the belief that solutions to these problems lie beyond the scope of individual action. This study seeks to identify legitimate personal responses one can make to issues of sustainability. I approach this subject with an eye toward answering a simple series of questions: Where are we?; How did we get here?; Where are we going?; Is that where we want to go? I briefly investigate the history of the idea of progress, focusing especially on our cultureâ s fascination with and embrace of technological progress. Following this investigation, I examine two works that offer critiques of progress: Thoreauâ s classic text, Walden, and Wendell Berryâ s, The Unsettling of America. These texts are chosen for a few reasons. First, a clear tradition of critical inquiry can be traced from Thoreau to Berry. Second, the historical distance between these authors makes a comparison of their work particularly illuminating. Though they are citizens of the same country, speak the same language, and ask similar questions, each author writes in response to different worldsâ Thoreauâ s just beginning to embrace industrial capitalism and technological progress, and Berryâ s very much the product of that embrace. Most importantly, however, both authors focus on individual action and responsibility.
- Masters Theses