Posted by: Philip Carr-Gomm | May 3, 2009

Resistance is Fertile

If a man walks in the woods for love of them half of each day, he is in danger of being regarded as a loafer. But if he spends his days as a speculator, shearing off those woods and making the earth bald before her time, he is deemed an industrious and enterprising citizen.

Henry David Thoreau


Responses

  1. Woah, cool quote! I love Thoreau!

  2. Love that quote. I’d used it for quite awhile on my “signatures” for different applications.

  3. Loafer and proud!! Isn’t it strange how the word ‘work’ is so often perceived as being positive, regardless of what that work is or the impact it has? To not ‘work’ is seen as lazy, and yet I am with Winnie the Pooh on this one:

    ‘Sometimes, if you stand on the bottom rail of a bridge and lean over to watch the river slipping slowly away beneath you, you will suddenly know everything there is to be known.’

    Thoreau knew a thing or two about such productive ‘loafing’, and about the link between our attitudes to work and our relationship, or lack of, with nature.

    His quote brings to mind one by William Blake:
    ‘The tree that moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way.’

    And also Aldo Leopold:
    ‘When we see land as community to which we belong we may begin to use it with love and respect’.

    Thoreau could see well enough what impact the ‘industrious and enterprising’ were going to have on human life and the natural world. I know lots of friends whose energy, life and enthusiam is currently being sucked dry by the demands of their work – it’s crazy to think what imbalance there is in many people’s lives between the work that they do and the moments that they have to reconnect, to simply be. I know far too many who actually feel guilty when they are doing ‘nothing’ , as if all activity were inherently positive and productive. Life is about contrast – having those Winnie the Pooh moments is so important to our health and wellbeing, and also to being able to feel our intimate connection to nature, our place in her community. Without this – what are we? If the work we do destroys community, connection to nature, our environment, our relationship with self and others, whats is its point and purpose? If work does nothing to support the above, our time would undoubtably be better spent ‘loafing’ in the woods with Thoreau.

  4. Yes indeed Maria! A wonderful chap called Conrad Schmidt has launched the ‘Work Less’ political party in Canada. A few years ago (when he started it, many people probably thought it was just a joke…but how sensible it seems now in this world devastated by too many people working too hard! Here’s an excerpt from the book I’m writing about him:
    While the TreeSpirit project is very much a localised affair, based on the work of one photographer in the San Francisco Bay area, the World Naked Bike Ride is an international event that has been taking place every year since 2003. Originally the brain-child of Canadian political activist Conrad Schmidt, the event now occurs in over seventy locations in twenty countries. Schmidt is the founder of the ‘Work Less Party of British Columbia’ – a political party whose slogan is ‘Work Less, Consume Less, Live More,’ and whose aim is to encourage people to reduce their consumption, and be more environmentally and socially conscious. Rather than consuming, people are encouraged to spend their time on creative endeavours, spiritual exploration and sport, and to give more time to their family, friends, and local community.
    While the Work Less Party has failed to gain a seat in parliament, the World Naked Bike Ride took off as soon as Schmidt launched it in the same year he founded his party. In June in the northern hemisphere and March in the southern, cyclists in Sydney, Paris, New York, London, Munich and dozens of other cities, create a party atmosphere as they set off to protest against ‘indecent exposure to cars’ and oil dependency. A key to the enormous success of this event lies in its synergistic fusion of goals and activities. In addition to it being a protest, it is also billed as an opportunity to ‘celebrate the power and individuality of our bodies and the many benefits of a car-free lifestyle’ , so that the atmosphere created is one of fun and of a summer party rather than one of ‘manning the barricades’ in a spirit of defiance and rebellion. In addition the event is seen not just as a protest against the one activity of driving, but as a way of promoting and encouraging positive activities and concepts: bicycle transportation, renewable energy, recreation, walk-able communities, and environmentally-responsible, sustainable solutions to living in the 21st century.
    With a decentralised organisation that makes full use of the internet and allows anyone to organise and participate in a ride, the events create the opportunity for participation by a wide-range of people who are interested in sustainable living, political protest, street theatre, streaking, and clothing-optional recreation. The dress code is deliberately open with the motto being ‘Bare as You Dare’ and many events also now feature pre-ride parties in parks with live bands, body painting, and installation art.
    The use of nakedness to gain the attention of the media and politicians has come a long way from its use in Conrad Schmidt’s own state of British Columbia forty and more years ago by the spirit-wrestlers from Russia. . .

  5. ‘Work Less, Consume less, Live more’ – sounds like a wonderful idea to me. The naked bike ride rings a bell (no pun intended!) – have you posted about this before?. In fact, wasn’t there an event in Brighton last year or did I dream that? It’s a lovely idea. I think one of the biggest challenges with weaning people off the car is a psychological one. Cars have been sold as ‘lifestyle’; we have been encouraged to perceive of them as extentions of our personality – the con that the car you drive says something about the person you are. Cars have been sold like clothes or accessories, big metal masks that present an image of us to the world. We have been encouraged to invest emotionally in them, which is part of why people feel so reluctant to let them go. There was a wonderful programme on TV years ago – the name I forget now – which dealt with a group of people’s individual relationships with their own cars. It was fascinating because it illustrated just how much the car is entangled with our sense, or lack, of self. What’s great about the naked bike ride is that it literally strips all that away, to reveal the real us; someone who doesn’t need to buy into the consumer illusion; whose sense of self is not dependant on what it consumes.

    His political aims sound incredibly sane. The whole work thing is such an important issue. There is something rather beautiful in Luther’s idea that work was a form of worship – somehow I think it has got incredibly distorted along the way. It’s awful to think that for many people work is a means to survive, something they are forced to endure and not something that fulfills them or expresses their talents and gifts. We all have something valuable to offer the world and our communities; perhaps not all of us want our passion to be our work but having done some pretty mind-numbing jobs, I can’t think why not. Again, it’s all about changing the values we have around work; understanding why we have these values as a culture and asking the ultimately crucial question ‘Do these values serve us and our communities?’.

    Coming full circle back to Thoreau, he understood that the shackles were ultimately ours to release; the tightest binds being those of our own minds -that the seeds for change were rooted in own inner emancipation:

    ‘But worst of all when you are the slave driver of yourself…the slave and prisoner of his own opinion of himself, a fame won by his own deeds. Public opinion is a weak tyrant compared with our own private opinion. What a man thinks of himself, that it is which determines or rather indicates his fate.’ I think we all need our own inner ‘Walden’…an outer one would be nice too!


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