At the far end of town where the Grickle-grass grows ….
From The Lorax by Dr. Seuss
Those who know and know that they know – they are the wise – follow them.
Those who know but don’t know that they know – they are misguided – enlighten them.
Those who don’t know and know they don’t know – they are students – guide them.
Those who don’t know and don’t know they don’t know – they are fools – avoid them.
In our last blog we had the opportunity to communicate with my friend [who still wishes to remain anonymous], who had just returned from the secret, Mystical Island in the Mediterranean visited centuries ago by Odysseys on his Odyssey. It is the place where the gods and philosophers share their thoughts with visitors. We discussed my friend’s dialogue with Galileo.
My friend advised me that soon after his meeting with Galileo he returned to the Island. I was pleased to learn that he had a conversation with William O. Douglas, the longest serving judge on our Supreme Court and a strong advocate of First Amendment Freedoms. Justice Douglas arrived at the Secret Island in 1980. The Justice and my friend discussed The Lorax, Dr. Seuss’s 1971 book, which became a CBS “Cat-in-the Hat” production in 1972 and Universal Picture’s 3D box-office sensation in 2012.
My friend turned on his tape recorder so I could listen to their conversation, which I have reproduced below:
Friend: Your musings in your 1960 book, My Wilderness:
“It struck me that man sometimes seems to try to crowd everything but himself out of the universe. Yet he cannot live a full life from the products of his own creation. He needs a measure of wilderness, so that he can relax in the environment God made for him. He needs life around him in order to experience the true measure of living. Then only can he get a full sense of the glory of the universe.”
… reminded me of Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax, when all the Truffula Trees were chopped down by the Once-ler. His crowding out nature started, as Dr. Seuss wrote, with but one tree, “no cause for alarm.” And then the chopping became Once-ler’s business, he invented his Super-Ax-Hacker, and – wham – the trees were gone!
Douglas: That was Thoreau’s concern when he said, “In the wilderness is the preservation of the world.” Even in my time, I knew, when I wrote:
“The wilderness areas are essential to our long-term welfare.”
Friend: The Lorax and Once-ler had an argument about that. The Once-ler wouldn’t stop chopping, and he shouted at the Lorax,
“Well, I have my rights, sir, and I’m telling you, I intend to go on doing just what I do! And for your information, you Lorax, I’m figuring on biggering and biggering!”
The Once-ler’s arguments with the Lorax reminds me of those demanding we get rid of our Federal lands and our National Parks and our waters – privatize them, frack them – and don’t worry too much about pollution; just use ’em up!
Douglas: I faced up to this sort of thing in My Wilderness. In my day people like Once-ler complained about removing natural resources from the wealth of our nation by “locking it up in the wilderness.” I was concerned when I wrote:
“I thought of the solitude of those places and the sacred quality of the undisturbed wilderness. An attempt to put dollar signs on these natural wonders is, I thought, a mark of our submission to the fleshpots, of our great decline. We deal with values no dollars can measure. This is a matter of the spirit beyond the expertise of appraisers of property.”
Friend: Today we know our cause goes beyond the spirit of the wilderness so essential to our emotional health – we know that nature’s resources are finite and their destruction changes the balance of nature, adverse to our climate, biodiversity we need for the earth’s systems, and our health. But, how right you were – you wouldn’t be very popular today in some circles.
It’s like we’ve returned to the “McCarthy days” – you remember Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy – he found a communist in every corner, particularly in Hollywood. But the communists aren’t the bad guys today; the bad guys are the environmentalists. Green is the new Red!
No sooner had Universal Pictures come out with its 3D version of The Lorax, then Lou Dobbs, on Fox News, accused Universal Pictures of spreading “indoctrination paranoia” that brainwashes kids into hating capitalism. Dobbs broadcast:
“Now, an “Unmentionable” — a story you won’t hear anywhere in the liberal national media, or nearly all of the national liberal media. Hollywood is once again trying to indoctrinate our children. Two new films out this year, plainly with an agenda, plainly demonizing the so-called “1 percent” and espousing the virtue of green-energy policies, come what may.”
Douglas: I was concerned about that sort of thing in 1958 when I wrote in The Right of the People.
“Dissatisfaction with existing social, economic, political, and moral conditions can normally be more eloquently expressed in a movie than in a scholarly polemic. … “
Friend: A few years ago, climate change science deniers created the metaphor “Climategate,” using some email exchanges among scientists to “prove” climate change was a “hoax.” When he talks about climate change, “hoax” has become the battle cry of America’s President. A lot of people are confused about what is right and what is true.
Douglas: Freedom is not for the Light-Hearted or the Uninformed. I also wrote in The Rights of the People:
“Constitutional provisions sometimes have given little protection. This is particularly true where great numbers of the people have forgotten the values which those provisions are designed to protect and their leaders have failed to refresh their recollection. … The unorthodox becomes suspect; the nonconformist is clouded with suspicion like a subversive. We have forced our scientists to lead guarded lives. …
“Everywhere authority has resented discussion as hostile to its own sovereign rights. A great risk to any age is the tyranny of the majority. Freedom of expression is the weapon of the minority to win over the majority or temper the policies of those in power. The philosophy of the First Amendment is that man must have full freedom to search the world and the universe for the answers to the puzzles of life. …”
“The spirit of inquiry must be allowed to dominate the schools and universities. Universities should not be transformed as in Nazi Germany into loud speakers for men with political power.”
Friend: As true today as when you penned those words in 1958. Wasn’t it James Madison who wrote, “A people who mean to be their own Governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives?”
Douglas: Yes! And so true!
Friend: The Lorax gives us a powerful, necessary message about our responsibilities. Dr. Seuss’s widow, Audrey Stone Geisel, responded to Dobbs:
“I think any and all talk about the environment cannot be written off as propaganda. [The Lorax], both book and film, has a message for its young readers. I think its very much there and it really should be. I don’t see that as political, especially, but I suppose it is because everything is political in some way or other. [Our environment is] one of the most essential things that we have and we should treasure it.”
Douglas: I closed The Right of the People with a quote from Pericles:
“We regard a man who takes no interest in public affairs not as a harmless but as a useless character.”
Friend: Unfortunately, in our 2016 Presidential election, the President was elected by a vote of 26 percent of the people. Too many people stayed home, too many took no part in the election. About 50% of the people who could have voted stayed home and didn’t vote!
When people don’t care enough, the extremes are happy – they win the vote! That’s what happened in 2016.
Dr. Seuss clearly saw that caring for our environment is up to us. It’s our responsibility. The Lorax left a pile of rocks with Once-ler with one word carved into the stone: Unless! Finally, the Once-ler, once one who didn’t know and didn’t know he didn’t know, understood:
“But now,” says the Once-ler, “Now that you’re here, the word of the Lorax seems perfectly clear. Unless someone like you cares a whole lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”
Douglas: That’s what makes our Democracy work! Care a whole lot. Do a whole lot.
Friend: Justice Douglas, thanks! You’ve been a great help!
Unsure about your “Do a Whole Lot “role?
Send us your questions.
We will have more to say about this in future blogs.