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Thursday, October 21, 2021
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Olbrich Botanical Gardens, August 2021

The absence of transcendentalism in a world deaf to its dying shrieks

What would a silent world sound like? Perhaps a world void of any form of communication, shackled by empty words, numb from stillness, dismantled from literature. Or perchance a world whose ears are simply deaf to the voices of those in need. 

Both universes reflect our current reality as we become deaf to the world’s devastating global issues.

This past July, the world experienced the hottest month in history. In multiple parts of the world, such as in Turkey, rampant wildfires devastated the country for days on end, taking the lives of civilians and brave firefighters. The uncontrollable blazes have already taken eight lives, displaced thousands of residents and torn through acres of vegetation. Across the Mediterranean, the intense heatwave has escalated into colossal mayhem — emerging rampant wildfires are tearing through Greece, Italy and parts of North Africa.

All of this devastation is fueled by climate change, which further devastates the environment by releasing immense tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the air. 

In the United States, fires have pervaded the West Coast, setting Davis, California, aflame. The pollution caused by fires nationwide has degraded the air quality in several cities in the United States, even in Madison, Wisconsin. 

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources issued advisories to the public, explaining that fine particle pollution could restrict people from participating in long-term activities outdoors. Coupled with the suffocating pollution, Wisconsin has also seen an increase of around 2.0 degrees Fahrenheit due to global warming and national wildfires.   

For these reasons, the world direly needs to open its ears to the potency of language and the revolutionary prowess of activism through the simple act of speaking up. Borrowing from 19th-century literature, modern-day society can benefit tremendously from the philosophy of transcendentalism — a belief that underscores the divinity of nature and its connection to humans, serving as a potential eyeopener for the public. 

Transcendentalism could also serve as a potential solution to a myriad of contemporary problems. This ideology shows the importance of nature, individualism and nonconformity.

Transcendentalist figures such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau and Walt Whitman go on to elucidate this idea of universal connectivity by insinuating that we are not only connected to each other, but to nature as well. 

For example, in the sixth section “Song of Myself,” Whitman describes grass as a child, saying “Or I guess the grass is itself a child, the produced babe of the vegetation.” As such, Whitman formulates nature as a holy entity that sees no discrimination and no inequality. In essence, nature is embodied as something humane and communicative to allow the reader to be linked to it — even more than that, to transcend past the physical constraints of the body and be bound to nature. 

Chiefly, it is this patronizing language towards nature that seems to be foreign to modern rhetoric; a rhetoric that has allowed tactlessness to kill off all forms of environmental vivacity with the rapid increase of hurricanes, such as hurricane Harvey and the overflow of the Mississippi River.

Accordingly, natural disasters have instigated people against climate change in a movement now titled “Global Climate Strike.” Concurrently, such circumstances have pushed newer generations to realize the importance of language. 

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To illustrate, there has been a 12% increase in poetry being consumed by millennials as of 2019. Correspondingly, the sight of people reaching out to poetry, books and language at a time of critical change demonstrates the urgency of such writers, like Whitman and other transcendentalists. 

Ultimately, all transcendental literature reinforces the idea of protecting nature for the sake of continuity. In light of this, nature is regarded as a sacramental figure that must be protected, and with more people reaching out to language and poetry, they are again able to hear the euphonious hum of nature calling to them for help.

It seems as though the divinity of individualism resembles that of nature, and thus, should be treated with equal weight. By the same token, individualism, much like the value of nature, has subsided to uncomfortable lows. 

In the current age of technology and marketing, people are bombarded with advertisements on a daily basis. To emphasize this, media advertising spending was estimated at 240.7 billion U.S. dollars in 2019, up from 223.7 billion

On a larger scale, this means that there is a steady rise in advertising, or better yet, manipulation, to force people towards materialism and consumerism. Simultaneously, individualistic innovations appear to be in decline. While we are in an age of technology where everyone can voice their opinions, how many of those opinions can be considered those of an individual, rather than of simply the masses?

Transcendentalist writing demonstrates the true force of language. This, in turn, inspires people to not be passively shaped by the world, but to actively shape it. It instills a level of responsibility within readers: it’s time to break the silence. 

Abdullah Marei is a junior studying psychology. Do you agree that transcendentalism is the key to raising climate change activism? Send all comments to opinion@dailycardinal.com. 

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