Wednesday, February 01, 2006

The Transcendentalists

(by Michèle Angélique)
GenderEvolve can be compared to the Transcendentalists (tran·scen·den·tal·ists), a progressive literary group in the 1800's whose influential writings during the period 1840-44 led to emancipation of the slaves and achievement of significant rights for women. Similarly, 160+ years later, we at GenderEvolve are writing collaboratively with the goal of influencing the social emancipation of Transgendered people, and achievement of true equality for all feminine beings. The Transcendentalists advocated equality, human rights, social acceptance, and expanding human consciousness, just as we do at GenderEvolve.

Although mostly comprised of men, the Transcendentalists also held the belief in the "spiritual eminence of women" because they highly valued the traits of empathy, introspection, emotions, sympathy, compassion, all deemed to be strengths of the feminine. Similarly, the GenderEvolve group is comprised primarily of male-to-female (M2F) transgendered, and we all hold femininity in the utmost regard. The Transcendentalists were non-religious, and yet, they had spiritual liberty. They shared a cornucopia of religious views because they agreed on the premise that all humans (regardless of gender, race, religion or creed) are made of God/Divinity, and that no human is superior to any another. Similarly, GenderEvolve is an open-minded forum of progressive thinkers who believe in the equality of all people, and the right to choose ones own beliefs and self-expression without judgement.

The commonalities between GenderEvolve and the Transcendentalists are numerous, and it is inspiring to see the impact this small group had on society, just by writing collaboratively as we are doing. Here is a bit of background on this remarkable group of transcendental literary freedom-fighters, whose example we would do well to follow.

Transcendentalism was a philosophical and literary movement which originated among a small group of prominent intellectuals in New England from about 1836 to 1860, which resulted in evolutionary new ideas in literature, religion, culture and philosophy. The movement advocated an ideal spiritual state that 'transcends' the physical and empirical, a state which can only be realized through self-introspection. They shared the belief that divinity is immanent in each person, and in nature. They embraced the premise that individual intuition is the highest source of knowledge, which led to an optimistic emphasis on individualism, self-reliance, and freedom. The transcendentalists went about creating literature, essays, novels, philosophy, poetry, and other writing that were clearly different from anything elsewhere.

Transcendentalists became involved in social reform movements, especially anti-slavery and women's rights. They believed that at the level of the human soul, all people had access to divine inspiration and sought and loved freedom and knowledge and truth. Women and African-descended slaves were human beings who deserved more ability to become educated, to fulfill their human potential (in a twentieth-century phrase), to be fully human.

The Enlightenment had come to new rational conclusions about the natural world, mostly based on experimentation and logical thinking. The pendulum was swinging, and a more Romantic way of thinking -- less rational, more intuitive, more in touch with the senses -- was coming into vogue. The Harvard-educated Emerson and others began to read Hindu and Buddhist scriptures, and examine their own religious assumptions against these scriptures. In their perspective, a loving God would not have led so much of humanity astray; there must be truth in these scriptures, too. Truth, if it agreed with an individual's intuition of truth, must be indeed truth.

Theodore Parker wrote, “Woman I have always regarded as the equal of man—more nicely speaking, the equivalent of man; superior in some things, inferior in some others; inferior in the lower qualities, in bulk of body and bulk of brain; superior in the higher and nicer qualities—in the moral power of conscience, the loving power of affection, the religious power of the soul; equal on the whole, and of course entitled to just the same rights as man; the same rights of mind, body and estate; the same domestic, social, ecclesiastical, and political rights as man, and only kept from the enjoyment of these by might, not right; yet herself destined one day to acquire them all.”

The movement derived some of its basic idealistic concepts from romantic German philosophy, notably that of Immanuel Kant, and from such English authors as Carlyle, Coleridge, and Wordsworth combined with mystical aspects influenced by Indian and Chinese religious teachings. The ideas of transcendentalism were most eloquently expressed by Ralph Waldo Emerson in such essays as “Nature” (1836), “Self-Reliance,” and “The Over-Soul” (both 1841), and by Henry David Thoreau in his book Walden (1854). The movement began with the occasional meetings of a group of friends in Boston and Concord to discuss philosophy, literature, and religion. Besides Emerson and Thoreau, its most famous members, the club included F. H. Hedge, George Ripley, Bronson Alcott, Margaret Fuller, Theodore Parker, and others. Primarily a movement seeking a new spiritual and intellectual vitality, transcendentalism had a great impact on American literature, not only on the writings of the group’s members, but on such diverse authors as Hawthorne, Melville, and Whitman.

Prominent Transcendentalists with birth and death dates:

* 1792 Thaddeus Stevens (1868)
* 1793 Sam Houston (1863)
* 1795 Dred Scott (1858)
* 1797 Sojourner Truth (1883)
* 1800 John Brown (1859)
* 1800 Nat Turner (1831)
* 1801 Brigham Young (1877)
* 1803 Ralph Waldo Emerson (1882)
* 1805 Joseph Smith, Jr. (1844)
* 1805 William Lloyd Garrison (1879)
* 1807 Robert E. Lee (1870)
* 1807 Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1882)
* 1808 Jefferson Davis (1889)
* 1809 Edgar Allan Poe (1849)
* 1810 P.T. Barnum (1891)
* 1811 Harriet Beecher Stowe (1896)
* 1813 John C. Frémont (1890)
* 1815 Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1902)
* 1817 Frederick Douglas (1895)
* 1817 Henry David Thoreau (1862)
* 1819 Walt Whitman (1892)
* c. 1820 Harriet Tubman (1913)
* 1820 William Tecumseh Sherman (1891)
* 1820 Susan B. Anthony (1906)
* 1821 Mary Baker Eddy (1910)

The Transcendentalists had five U.S. Presidents:
* 1795 James K. Polk, 1845-1849 (1849)
* 1800 Millard Fillmore, 1850-1853 (1874)
* 1804 Franklin Pierce, 1853-1857 (1869)
* 1808 Andrew Johnson, 1865-1869 (1875)
* 1809 Abraham Lincoln, 1861-1865 (1865)

Sample cultural endowments of the Transcendentalists include the following:
* The Liberator, William Lloyd Garrison
* Walden, "Civil Disobedience", Henry D. Thoreau
* Gettysburg Address, Abraham Lincoln
* Encyclopaedia Americana, Francis Lieber
* Leaves of Grass, Walt Whitman
* The Transcendentalist, Ralph W. Emerson
* The Raven, Edgar Allan Poe
* "The Battle Hymn of the Republic", (song, Julia Ward Howe)
* The Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith, Jr.
* The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne
* The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government, Jefferson Davis



Arianne said...

Major kudos darling and thank you so much for enlighting us once more.

I see the parallel as a question about where we see ourselves in this cooperative effort if we are to take example of this group of visionaries. Are we to evolve trying to fit our little selfish selves in this rather static world or should we be more "transcendentalist" and try to fit the world to OUR needs instead, working proactively to shape it, change it to make us feel better in it? Could it be a bit of both? I dunno...
Whatever the answers here, this is a documented testimonial that what we are trying to do could very well have positve change toward our mutual goal.

One difference that I saw was that these transcendentalist were neither women (in any majority anyway) nor slaves, yet they worked relentlessly at advocating positive development toward equality in these matters. Would a group of woman or slaves gotten the same print position or the same sympathetic ear in these trying times? Maybe, maybe not. I rather not speculate. Our time and issues are certainly different and I see a transgenderist in a much better position advocating any change in today's debate anyway.

This is true food for thought and hopefully the first installment of your visionary skills in this powerful correlation.

With love,