Hopes Edge + Frances Moore Lappe + Thoreau + Michael Pollan + McCandless

From Environmentalalex’s personal cargo

My notes and exploration of Hope’s Edge and how it differs or relates to the views of Thoreau, Michael Pollan and McCandless.

Hopes Edge

(a) How is Lappe’s worldview similar to/different from Pollan’s?) What is “social ecology”? Pollan does not get into world issues like Francis Moore Lappe. Is this understanding that human social problems and environmental problems stem from the same origin and are connected.

(b) Why will producing more food not solve the problem of world hunger? (Norman Borlaug, nobel prize winning economist, died recently. His whole life was devoted to produce more food in order to feed hungry people. Thus he was a big proponent of exporting industrial ag worldwide. The big corporations researching GMO’s, like Monsanto, also make this claim. Lappe thinks this whole project is misguided. Why? (You might begin by looking at bottom p. 5, top p. 6; p. 138–41; p. 163–4) Producing more food will not solve world hunger because the excess/surplus food produced will be consumed by the rich and not trickled down to the poor. More chemicals, bigger farms and more technology will not help to deliver food to poorer countries and it will also cause alienation. There is more than enough food to feed us all. Feeding grains to animals to produce meat while others starve is not a efficient or healthy system. The overconsumption of the richer countries will also cause obesity and a negative relationship with food as well as other externalities. More food by itself will not end hunger. Using pesticides and GMO’s will not create a greater and better crop yield. New technologies purchased to help 3rd world countries grow crops would segregate poor people even more and put the people who can afford it in debt from loans.

The colonial mindset to FML is the mindset that the country you occupy is inferior. In terms of their culture, food, religion and people. In the book FML states that ‘underdevelop’ meaning the process by which the minority of the world is transformed and degraded from the majority.

(d) Hope’s Edge is primarily about solutions — you ought to be able to choose a few of those and to briefly outline them.

(e) The points made on p. 205 concerning coffee. Development agencies advised Latin American coffee farmers to use technology, pesticides, and chemical inputs. Through this process they also cut the overhanging trees for better sunlight which was narrow sited and caused the soil to be degraded, ecosystems to be destroyed and the farmers went into debt and experienced degraded health from pesticides. The answer is to allow the farmers to get the price they deserve for their yields they already achieve.

(f) FM Lappe sometimes puts her main concern as “lack of democracy” (eg. see p. 17, 18–20.) What does this mean, exactly? How does this illustrate one of her main differences from Pollan? Democracy thrives on diversity of buying and selling goods. Lack of democracy is when one company (with human rights) controls most of the resources, production or consumption with no input from the public who are the ones that bear the consequences. We believe that they know better and let them decide our futures. We should reshape democracy and discover our voices to embody the larger world around us. We need to see regular people developing their power. **

(f) Some people think a main cause of world hunger, and of environmental problems, is overpopulation. What is demographic transition, and how does it fit in with the whole social ecology agenda? Poverty causes environmental problems, so there is a direct connection. Demographic Transition: people think that overpopulation causes environmental problems.

(g) Hope’s Edge is about experiments in solving problems concerning wealth inequalities, plus third world development, plus ecological problems. You should be able to outline a few of these experiments.

a. Food alliance label, encouraging fair trade and protecting workers

b. Consumer power in labeling products and their impact with ‘green labels’

c. Landless Workers Movement, shaping the development of communities.

Wilderness mysticism

Leopold aside, this issue first came up in Pollan’s book. Pollan suggests two ways to overcome alienation from food. The first was in the context of Joel Salatin: get to know your farmer, and so on. The second was in the context of hunting and gathering. It’s this second topic that I want you to think about here.

Why, for Pollan, is hunting/ gathering important? (The answer isn’t just “in order to overcome alienation from food,” because we can do that through buying locally, getting to know our farmer, etc.) Specifically, you ought to look at the beginning of ch. 19 on gathering, especially at the paragraphs at the bottom of p. 365 to the top of p. 366 where he compares gathering with gardening. Also look at the chapter on hunting, especially p. 343–4 where Pollan is discussing the philosopher Ortega y Gasset.

Ortega distinguishes the hunter from the tourist in nature. How/why?

a. Gardening is an experience and a way to be in nature. Gratifying human needs and desires. Feeling accomplished when you produce food and ownership towards it.

b. The tourist in nature achieves no immersion or connection with nature and only sees a landscape. A tourist is a spectator and has expectation and is unable to get outside of himself and history.

c. The hunter sees everything as interconnected and acknowledges it and has a sense of things and understanding. Sees everything and its function and relationship. We can go back to the feeling of history through hunting which is a prehistoric act. Brings you back to immediacy, spirituality, sense of time through seasonality. Try to associate those behaviors into our modern lifestyle. We briefly discussed Thoreau’s celebration of nature, and interestingly a lot of what Thoreau has to say is similar to what Pollan has to say.


Here are some things to think about:

Why does Thoreau want to eat a raw woodchuck? Connects him with his wild side.

Why does he like to walk past a dead horse? What does he say in that paragraph about the dead horse, and what does it all mean?

Why does he think everyone should learn to hunt (though we should outgrow it later)? He thinks its an important experience and connection to nature to have, but once you have experienced and learned it, became aware of it, that you can now move on.

b) What is his attitude toward technology and/or material progress?

1. Thoreau was anti-technology and had a harsh and negative view towards the railway system, gives people the illusion of heightened freedom.

2. Threatens natural harmony.

3. Resistance to progress

4. Living in a culture fascinated by the idea of progress represented by technological, economic, and territorial advances, Thoreau is skeptical of the idea that any outward improvement of life can bring the inner peace and contentment he craves

5. Illusion of controlling destiny

6. real progress of the mind and soul is being forgotten

c) If Thoreau was asked to testify in front of a congressional committee and give arguments for wilderness preservation, what sorts of things might he say?

1. The best life to live is the one in close proximity to nature.

2. civilization is valuable but you should be half wild and half civilized

3. being in nature is a direct experience

4. forms a spiritual bond with nature and understanding, good to expose yourself to it and immerse yourself in nature and the wild McCandless

a) Think of some ways McCandless is similar to Thoreau. He doesn’t feel free until he has nothing. They were both educated. Both experienced wildness. Thoreau believed in voluntary poverty and simplicity and non comformity which you can see in chris. He also believed in nature mysticism where the best life is the life living in close proximity to nature.

b) What was McCandless trying to accomplish? (In his letter to Ronald Franz, how does McCandless’ describe his philosophy toward life?) We all live in conditions where we are unhappy and that we should just choose to live another way. We are conditioned to a life of security and conformity. To be adventurous. Each day a new horizon. Develop a helter-skelter lifestyle.

c) McCandless is accused of arrogance, and of disrespect for nature. Apparently Krakauer disagrees with this criticism. First, what is the criticism? The criticisms of chris Second, how do you think Krakauer would defend McCandless from this criticism?

Chris doesn’t want to live a life of security and wants a direct experience with nature. He wanted experience and did not bring a lot of stuff b/c it would hinder his experience. He was prepared to do dangerous things and knew the risk he was taking. McCandless was prepared mentally and experienced. Bringing more gear would have made him safer but it would miss the point of what he was trying to do. When thinking about this question, you might specifically think about what Krakauer says about those Irish monks called the papar. He compares Chris to the Iris monks who just sailed the ocean not looking for a particular destination or knowing where they were going. They wanted an experience, adventure and to settle where people were not and to be with nature. Hunger of the spirit. Also, consider chapters 8 and 9 from the book.

In chapter 8, Krakauer explores the Alaska “bush casualty stereotype.” The bush sterotype is that people go into the wild without thinking, with arrogance and disrespect for the land. At the end of the chapter, he says (more or less): “McCandless wasn’t like that.” Then in chapter 9 Krakauer discusses the case of Everett Ruess. Krakauer says, “McCandless was more like this.” Ok, so what is it that McCandless wasn’t like, and what is it that he was like? Chris is similar to Ruess in that because of their fascination of wilderness led them to a deadly experience. How danger and appeal of the wild lured the young men, a goal that cost them their life.

Neoprimitivism Shepard

a) You ought to be able to explain his overall project. What does “coming home to the Pleistocene” refer to? This refers to going back to our older and primitive ways of living. The further away from it we get the less mentally, spiritually, and ecologically healthy we are. The solution is to try to incorporate as many features of Pleistocene we can for example ecologically, socially, spiritually and implement this behavior in our modern lives.

b) What are some of the ways he thinks prehistoric hunter/gatherers differed politically, socially, spiritually and so on from sedentary farmers?

c) Why does he begin the book with the sentence, “History is not a chronicle but a Hebrew invention…” What’s that all about? (You might remember a similar issue coming up in Lynn White’s essay.) A way to view history as an invention. We explore our commonsense notion of time, historical narrative and sense of history. What is time? Does it exist? Is it a figment of our culture? We maximize our interests when we plan for a future. The more absorbed with the future a person is the more obsessed with death they will be also. Indians and other cultures similar have viewed time with a different sense. They usually followed astronomical signs, the seasons and phases of the stars, planets and moons. Break historical consciousness.

d) If Shepard was in front of that same congressional committee along with Thoreau, how do you think he would justify wilderness preservation? (Look at his chapter “Wildness and Wilderrness.”) That industrialism is a key factor to environmental problems and in fact runs deeper to our roots of first inactive lifestyle.

e) You should know a handful of examples from his last chapter of characteristics that he claims are built into our genome. You should also know what he means by “ontogeny,” and be able to give a few examples. Ontogeny is the origin of the development of an organism. An example would be the apple. The apple originally was from the middle east and was able to adapt to us and produce things that appealed to us such as a sweet taste and potential to make cider.

f) I’m not going to ask anything about that Bostrom/Sandburg essay (remember, they are the posthumanists), unless it’s along these lines: One reason I wanted you to read that essay was so that we could compare their worldview to the worldview of Shepard. The posthumanists think we can improve the human being, but so far in all my reading of their literature I have come across no references to how we can improve human psychology. Also a related issue: I pointed out that the posthumanists identify themselves with the Enlightenment, and a chief figure in the Enlightenment is John Locke, who thought we are born with “blank slate minds.” What might Shepard say about that? Shepard thinks that 2 million years of evolutionary history has given us a template-not a biological determinist-and a range of human behavior-the more you go outside and away from our history, the less healthy you live.

Tue, Feb 12, 2013 Permanent link

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Originally published at spacecollective.org.

Program Manager @ Google. I write stories around: Design, Community, Product, Sustainability, Philosophy, Work, Career.

Program Manager @ Google. I write stories around: Design, Community, Product, Sustainability, Philosophy, Work, Career.