My Kind of Ecotourism

Thursday, September 09, 2010

If you're in the Northeast, Tom Bowden of ARI has a great day trip for you: the Thomas Edison National Historical Park. After pointing to an article about the park in the Wall Street Journal, Bowden notes that admission will be free for a day in a couple of weeks, on September 25, and again on November 11. Taking a look at the park's web site, I was mildly startled by something about the opening of its welcome message:

Imagine your day ending at sunset. Life without music, motion pictures, radio. Life without light itself. Our modern lives began at the turn of the century in West Orange, New Jersey. ...
I, for one, am certainly thankful for "our modern lives," but how many times have you heard the content of the first two sentences of the above, slightly altered, and delivered with a sneer as an indictment of our civilization by some hippie? While there's plenty to be said for enjoying the great outdoors, am no worshiper of untamed nature any more than untamed nature would suffer my existence for very long. In fact, man's tool of survival is his mind, which he must use to understand nature, and thereby command it to meet his needs. If we don't do exactly this, we die.

Without Edison, the environment I have to live in would be far less suitable for sustaining or enjoying my life as a rational animal. The whole idea of ecotourism, with its focus on worshiping "unspoiled" nature is a farcical condemnation of what makes us human, an onerous substitution of unearned guilt for relaxation, and an ironic homage to environmental conditions that would threaten our own species with extinction.

I see a trip to this park as the diametric opposite of "ecotourism," and, as such, one of the best possible opportunities there is to partake in real ecotourism, in which we celebrate our ability to improve the conditions around us. I particularly look forward to the day I can get to do the next best thing to meeting this great man -- seeing where he worked, particularly his magnificent library:
Most fascinating of all, however, is the main laboratory building, containing Edison's three-story paneled library. Here you really feel the presence of the man, smiling benignly in his rumpled suit and comfortably insulated from the noise of machinery and colleagues by his partial deafness. His 10,000 scientific volumes, furnishings, paintings and numerous tributes are just as he left them--his roll-top desk open to reveal pigeonholes crammed with notes and jottings. In a corner alcove is the cot where he took the famous catnaps that enabled him to work long days into his mid-80s.
At times, just the prospect of going to a place that isn't saturated with anti-industrial propaganda sounds fantastic, but this goes well beyond simple relief. This is a chance to bask in the glow of a more benevolent time, to see what genius is like, and to see that people can generally embrace rational values enough to appreciate greatness.

As someone who values the many wonders and conveniences of modern civilization and fights to uphold those values, such a trip reminds me of something my favorite author once said: "Anyone who fights for the future, lives in it today."

-- CAV


Anonymous said...

I really like that description of Edison in the latter quote. The rumpled suit, massive volume of scientific writings, busy looking desk with crammed notes and jottings, and his catnaps and "benign smile" all serve as evidence of a furiously active, purposeful, focused mind leisurely at work.

It aligns perfectly with this wonderful photo of him with Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone (Edison is in the middle), from Edison's Wikipedia page:

Gus Van Horn said...

That's a great picture. Thanks for mentioning it.

Inspector said...

I certainly like your sentiment, but I'm not a fan of attempts to "take back" the terms of environmentalism. Environmentalism is so completely evil that it should burn, and all its terminology with it. Something about saying "real ecotourism" just rubs me the wrong way, as if one were to say "real lebensraum" or "real Reich."

I know you're just making a point, and a good one, but... still. Environmentalism is just that bad.

Gus Van Horn said...

Rest assured that I'm ONLY making a point. I don't plan on calling anything actually worthwhile "ecotourism" on a regular basis.

Inspector said...

Excellent. And it is a good point that you're making.

Then, I suppose I am also just making a point. :)