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Another philosophical episode this week, featuring a range of reflections from the wise on what life has taught them, and how (and why) the world has changed since their youth. Our main readings are books by Wendell Berry, John Taylor Gatto and Henry David Thoreau.
We begin with "Transcendental Striptease", a short talk by Professor Ann Woodlief, a commentary on her favorite work, Henry David Thoreau's Walden. We then resume out reading of Walden, where we left of in episode 644. Thoreau 'strips' reality down to try to discover its true nature, mercilessly exposing the tenuous nature of the connection that most adults have to reality. He regrets that he is not as wise as the day he was born.
Next we hear a reading of chapter 4 of The Unsettling Of America, of which we read chapter 1 in episode 585. This chapter, "The Agricultural Crisis as a Crisis of Culture", Wendell Berry recalls the America of his boyhood in Kentucky. This sets the stage for a comparison of old style family farming with modern agribusiness. The chapter is full of enlightening connections between culture and agriculture, from the loss of personal morals as indendent and skilled farmers were replaced by subserviant salary men to the false dichotomy between persuing quantity and persuing quality -- in fact, as Berry notes, the very skills needed to pursue excellence in farming are the ones which are also needed to ensure quantity, and exactly those which the modern oil-dependent, chemical-soaked agribusiness model threatens to eradicate.
We conclude the first hour with a reading from John Taylor Gatto's Underground History of American Education. Just as Berry summarises several decades of change in agriculture, so Gatto recalls with affection and sensitivity the characters and places of his boyhood as a contrast with the childhood which so many modern children are served up as a part of the modern regime of standardised test driven, forced schooling.
We begin our second hour with another affectionate recollection of a friend from a bygone era, The Saw-Playing Musician by Utah Phillips. Next we start reading Sounds, chapter 4 of Walden, in which Thoreau effectively champions the cause of what might be called 'laziness', evocatively describing his well hours of reflection in the woods, steeped in the Nature which was the source of his transcendental insights.
Next we return to Gatto's boyhood in 1940s USA. His child's perspective of the tumultuous events going on around him helps us understand how he became possessed of such an outstanding mind. Gatto details that day in early 3rd grade, when he experienced "the greatest intellectual event of [his] life". To conclude we start out on chapter 5 of Thoreau's insights, culminating in his casting doubt on the idea of the idea of what Charles Eisenstein refers to as "the illusion of the discrete and separate self".