Friday, August 05, 2022

the wisdom of feet.

My trip to Walden Pond lead me to do some reading of Thoreau's "Paradise  (To Be) Regained" in which he reviewed a book (at Emerson's suggestion) written by John Adolphus Etzler, a German engineer who proposed a scheme through which men would no longer have to do diddly squat. Etzler in his book, The Paradise within Reach of All Men, without Labour by powers of Nature and Machinery (Pittsburgh, 1833), proposed a utopian scheme in which the sun, the tides and wind would be harnessed to do all things, much the same way engineers are proposing now. Thoreau found a few things wanting in Etzler's scheme and it's best to read it yourself, as you can do here: not just for a view of modern times through an earlier lens but for additional insight into the thoughtful mind of an American visionary.

I puzzled over this from Thoreau's essay:

"What says Veeshnoo Sarma? He whose mind is at ease is possessed of all riches. Is it not the same to one whose foot is enclosed in a shoe, as if the whole surface of the earth were covered with leather?"

Do we put our minds at ease by limiting our experience of nature and of life? And is such "ease" a richness or an erasure of riches? Etzler's scheme was proposed to eliminate work, when work is a richness of life, and to propose the mind at ease as possession of riches, is to ignore the richness of the mind at work, fulfilling its true purpose.

This last spring some of my students at the Clear Spring School began abandoning foot wear, choosing to go barefoot instead, just as I and my sisters and friends did when living in the south. At winter's end, off went the shoes and we began to "toughen our feet," so that we could walk on rocks and hot pavement without feeling too much pain from the effects of engagement in the real surface of things.

At Walden Pond, my daughter took off her shoes to "get her feet wet" a symbolic thing that implies getting more deeply into the reality that surrounds us. Th photo shows one of many places along the shore of Walden Pond provided to do so. Etzler, finding a few investors in his utopian scheme led them to build colonies in South America, getting their feet wet as they died of tropical diseases and starvation. Etzler survived but disappeared from public record. Thoreau's reflections on Etzler remain informative as technocrats try to make things easy just as Etzler proposed in 1833.

Make, fix and create...

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