Transcendentalism Nature & Simplicity

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Transcendentalism Nature & Simplicity

  • Voluntary Simplicity as a Cure for American Consumerism

Warm Up:

  • What insight did you gain from our discussion yesterday? Give 2 examples of something you learned.
  • What did you think about the discussion format from yesterday…did you like that better than whole group? Why?

Warm Up

  • 1. Write on the board something specific that gives you a sense of place.
  • Turn and talk with a partner explaining to them your sense of place!
  • 2. Do you believe you are Transcendental based on the tenets we have discovered? Can you be? (do this in writing or talking! It is up to you !)
  • We will discuss before we begin!

Unit Objectives

  • Continue to answer our unit’s essential question: What defines America and Americans?
    • Compare transcendentalist ideas about nature with ours.
    • Compare transcendentalist ideal of simplicity with contemporary America.
    • Enhance our reading comprehension skills with our transcendentalist texts.


  • Major tenets/ Ideas
    • Nature
    • Universal Soul
    • Here & Now
    • Nonconformity
    • Self-reliance
    • Simplicity

What is Affluenza?

  • Af-flu-en-za = Affluence + Influenza n. 1. a painful, contagious, socially transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety and waste resulting from the dogged pursuit of more.
  • 2. The bloated, sluggish and unfulfilled feeling that results from efforts to keep up with the Joneses.
  • 3. An unsustainable addiction to economic growth.

1. Which of the following is comparable to the size of a typical three-car garage?

  • a. a basketball court
  • b. a McDonald's restaurant
  • c. an "RV" (recreational vehicle)
  • d. the average home in the 1950s.
  • Answer: d. Many of today's three-car garages occupy 900 square feet, just about the average size of an entire home in the 1950s. Many people use the extra garage space to store things they own and seldom use. Often we hear that Americans have lost ground economically and have less purchasing power. But Americans are buying more luxurious items, partly by working more and going deeply into debt. The homes they live in and the cars they drive today are often bigger and more technologically advanced than those purchased by their parents.

2. The percentage of Americans calling themselves "very happy" reached its highest point in what year?

  • a. 1957
  • b. 1967
  • c. 1977
  • d. 1987

Answer: a. The number of "very happy" people peaked in 1957, and has remained fairly stable or declined ever since. Even though we consume twice as much as we did in the 1950s, people were just as happy when they had less.

  • Answer: a. The number of "very happy" people peaked in 1957, and has remained fairly stable or declined ever since. Even though we consume twice as much as we did in the 1950s, people were just as happy when they had less.

3. How much of an average American's lifetime will be spent (on average) watching television commercials?

  • a. 6 months
  • b. 3 months
  • c. 1 year
  • d. 1.5 years

Answer: c. In contrast, Americans on average spend only 40 minutes a week playing with their children, and members of working couples talk with one another on average only 12 minutes a day.

  • Answer: c. In contrast, Americans on average spend only 40 minutes a week playing with their children, and members of working couples talk with one another on average only 12 minutes a day.

4. True or false? Americans carry $1 billion in personal debt, not including real estate and mortgages.

  • Answer: False. Americans carry $1 trillion in personal debt, approximately $4,000 for every man, woman and child, not including real estate and mortgages. On average, Americans save only 4 percent of their income, in contrast to the Japanese, who save an average of 16 percent.

5. Which activity did more Americans do in 1996?

  • a. graduate from college
  • b. declare bankruptcy
  • Answer: b. In 1996, more than 1 million Americans declared bankruptcy, three times as many as in 1986. Americans have more than 1 billion credit cards, and less than one-third of credit card holders pay off their balances each month.

6. In the industrialized world, where is the U.S. ranked in terms of its income equality between the rich and the poor? (First being the most income-equal.)

  • a. 1st
  • b. 5th
  • c. 12th
  • d. 22nd
  • Answer: d. The income disparity between the rich and the poor is greatest in the United States.

7. The world's 358 billionaires together possess as much money as the poorest _____ of the world's population?

  • a. 15 percent
  • b. 30 percent
  • c. 50 percent
  • d. 76 percent
  • Answer: c. Nearly 50 percent. The world's 358 billionaires' combined assets roughly equal the assets of the world's poorest 2.5 billion people.

8. Since 1950, Americans alone have used more resources than:

  • a. the Romans at the height of the Roman Empire
  • b. the Chinese throughout their entire history
  • c. the combined Third World populations
  • d. all of the above
  • Answer: All of the above. Since 1950, Americans alone have used more resources than everyone who ever lived before them. Each American individual uses up 20 tons of basic raw materials annually. Americans throw away 7 million cars a year, 2 million plastic bottles an hour and enough aluminum cans annually to make six thousand DC-10 airplanes.

9. Americans' total yearly waste would fill a convoy of garbage trucks long enough to:

  • a. wrap around the Earth six times
  • b. reach half-way to the moon
  • c. connect the North and South Poles
  • d. build a bridge between North America and China
  • Answer: a. and b. Even though Americans comprise only five percent of the world's population, in 1996 we used nearly a third of its resources and produced almost half of its hazardous waste. The average North American consumes five times as much as an average Mexican, 10 times as much as an average Chinese and 30 times as much as the average person in India.

10. Of the Americans who voluntarily cut back their consumption, what percent said (in 1995) that they are happier as a result?

  • a. 29 percent
  • b. 42 percent
  • c. 97 percent
  • d. 86 percent
  • Answer: d. Eighty-six percent of Americans who voluntarily cut back their consumption feel happier as a result. Only 9 percent said they were less happy. In 1996, 5 percent of the "baby boom" generation reported practicing a strong form of voluntary simplicity. By the year 2000, some predict this number will rise to 15 percent.

Warm Up

  • Write down the associations you make with the word self-reliance:definitions, examples, synonyms. How does self-reliance differ from selfishness or self-centeredness?


  • Thoreau believed in living the simple life, in reducing one’s worries, problems, and concerns to as few as possible. He believed in living in the present and being fully immersed in the moment.

Thoreau said:

  • “Live each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influences of each.”
  • “Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify.”

Conversation Questions

  • Paring down: If you had to go off to the woods for two years and could only bring 12 items, which items would you select? Why?

Warm up:

  • Take out your list (green paper)
  • Pass it back once, last person bring it forward…
  • Pass it to the right, or to the other side of the room (last row people)
  • Pass it back again.
  • Once we have stopped our cycle, take a few minutes to review the list and mark each item as transcendental or anti-transcendental. Consider using a check mark for trans and a circle for non. Write one reason why you think each is anti-trans.(what does this item inspire/insist upon?)
  • a) Once you have finished post the list somewhere in the room. b) how do you compare...was there anything on the list you observed that you wish you would have thought of?

Thoreau’s Walden Trip

  • In 1854, at age 28, Thoreau decided to downgrade. He went off into the woods in Concord, Massachusetts in an effort to find the real point of life. He lived there for over two years. Here are the only things he brought on his trip:
  • 1 axe
  • 2 knives
  • 1 fork
  • 3 plates
  • 1 cup
  • 1 spoon
  • a jug for oil
  • a jug for molasses
  • 1 lamp

While you read…

  • You must take notes to track your own thinking and to show an understanding of the texts implicit and explicit message
  • Consider this: How does each author define/construct their vision about a specific transcendental ideal? How does Walden relate to Self-Reliance?
  • Take notes on (but not limited to)
      • Key points
      • Interesting quotes
      • Thoughts on humanity/life
      • Simplicity/self-reliance

Warm up:

  • A. Write a quote from either Emerson or Thoreau that can be seen as the major point for either essay.
  • B. Then, explain…what does this quote mean (what is the author trying to say)? and what other aspects of Transcendentalism can be connected to this quote?

Class discussion

  • Focus Question: How do the ideas of self-reliance correlate with those of living simply? (How does “Walden” relate to “Self-Reliance”?)
  • Use the discussion handout and your notebooks to be a part of this discussion.
  • Try and share out your thinking to help you develop as a thinker and to help your peers gain insight on something they had not thought of.
  • You will be writing a response to these readings…so pay attention, be present, and participate!

Writing Questions

  • Option 1
  • How does “affluenza” hinder the ideals/way of living presented by the authors? Use two examples from Emerson and Thoreau to support your thinking on this topic. (You need to identify the way of living each author describes and synthesize to create a new idea about how affluenza affects that.)
  • Option 2
  • Compare and contrast the definitions/parameters of simplicity and self-reliance from the perspective of Emerson, Thoreau, and the affluent population. Provide three examples to support your thinking on this topic.
  • Option 3
  • How can the concepts you have read and discussed be related back to Affluenza? How can individuals overcome the tensions with society that make it harder to live deliberately? Be specific using examples from the texts to discuss your understanding of this disease and the possible cure.
  • (HINT: You are bringing together your understanding of the text and synthesizing the concepts into a new way of thinking)

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