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McDougle 1 Kelsi McDougle Professor Fleischmann Arts & Humanities Foundation October 2013 The Spiritual Dangers Resulting from Materialism† Arthur Leopold’s work A Sand County Almanac recounts several observations regarding the relationship between the existence of humans and the presence of nature. Leopold frequently comments on the lack of respect humans demonstrate towards nature as a result of their materialism and ignorance. For example, Leopold speaks of “spiritual dangers” associated with habits such as purchasing food from the grocery store and relying on a furnace for heat. These tendencies prevent most humans from working alongside nature, resulting in both a lack of understanding and a distance between human life and that of nature. Leopold also discusses the irresponsibility associated with the race for more and better material goods as it diminishes nature. Leopold argues that the power associated with materialism reflects the hubris demonstrated throughout the human population. The spiritual dangers of not interacting with nature cause an artificial necessity for material goods, preventing humans from fulfilling their role of coexisting peacefully with nature. Leopold, at the start of A Sand County Almanac, states “there are two spiritual dangers in not owning a farm” (6). The first, he says, “is the danger of supposing breakfast comes from the grocery” and the second “that heat comes from the furnace” (6). While the majority of people know both the grocer and furnace are man-made mechanisms, Leopold raises the question of whether anyone, other than the farm owner, truly appreciates where breakfast and heat come from. The farmer works directly with and alongside nature, understanding its methods, tricks, McDougle 2 and rhythms. He reflects the original habits of man, dating back to the days before the dependency on material goods became severe. The man who does not own a farm, on the other hand, simply reaps the benefits of what the nature of the farm produces. He does not work with nature but instead represents the growing gap between mankind and nature his provider. This gap becomes a spiritual danger when people show little appreciation for nature, the true producer of their food and heat. The reason this ignorance becomes dangerous involves ethics. In the foreword, Leopold discusses the land in a sense that it “is to be loved and respected” and that this love and respect is “an extension of ethics” (viii-ix). When humans ignore the truth of the origins of their breakfasts or the truth of where the heat emanating from a furnace comes from, they disrespect nature thus behaving in unethical manners. Spiritually, when a person lacks respect and appreciation for something that provides for them, they do not fulfill their natural purpose as a human being on Earth. Humans are meant to be a part of nature, not a parasitic creature that lives off the land without giving back.As Leopold puts it, “our bigger-and-better society is now like a hypochondriac” (ix), having lost the ability to remain healthy. Humans’tunneled vision focused on material goods paired with a lack of appreciation for nature reduces awareness, resulting in less spiritual connection with nature and the original role of mankind. Humans often see nature as a presence, a thing only seen when one deliberately looks for it. Too often, mankind overlooks the necessity of nature to everyday life. Nature has been reduced to a site occasionally worth seeing when in reality it provides humans with the chance to fully live life on Earth.As Leopold relates to Thoreau, he says “In wilderness is the salvation of the world” (133). Wilderness encompasses the true workings of the world, contrasting with the direction the world heads in today. If humans were to defer to habits that reflect more of the wilderness rather than the society, their spiritual connections with nature would be stronger and the opportunity of McDougle 3 coexistence would be greater. Ultimately, the spiritual dangers of assuming food comes from the grocer and heat comes from the furnace results from humans falling out of touch with their true purpose on Earth and in turn losing the concept of their role in the community dictated by nature. While showing a lack of appreciation and understanding of nature spiritually corrupts humans, the wish for both “more and better” material goods also diminishes proper human progress and prevents nature from performing at its full potential. Material goods found in society usually originate in nature. For example, the plastic making up a Gatorade bottle begins as oil, a fossil fuel found in nature (Freudenrich) and then mankind alters it to become something of material possession, in this case a bottle. With “more and better” material goods comes more deriving from and diminishing of nature. Today’s definition of progress puts nature even farther in the background as material goods take the forefront. Leopold writes in 1948 that at this stage “nothing could be more salutary . . . than a little healthy contempt for a plethora of material blessings” (ix). The greed surrounding more material goods creates detrimental effects on nature. Along the lines of spiritual dangers, humans
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