Walden, or, Life in the Woods / Civil Disobedience

Walden, or, Life in the Woods / Civil DisobedienceSo as part of my reading challenge for this year (mislabeled as being done in 2016, not 2017), I'm rereading books 'everyone' loves (everyone being just a general consensus, not literally everyone) and which I hated / didn't like / was unmoved the first time I read it.

This March's book was Walden.

1. I don't know when I first read this. I think it was in Grad School 1.0, but it might have been as an Undergrad 2.0. No idea.

2. Shameful admission, I don't think I ever read the entire book the first time. Which makes me think it was part of a survey class required of everyone in my department in Grad School. My guess is I was required to read the long first chapter (which happened to be the only chapter marked up at all in my copy with notes and underlines), along with a couple of Emerson Essays and "Schopenhauer as Educator" by Nietzsche in the week on Transcendental philosophy or thought. This makes sense in a way because my previous review (which is one of my more popular ones I have ever written at a whopping two lines) made a note of him living in his backyard. This isn't mentioned in the book itself and seems like the sort of fact that the cynical professor I had for this class would have said and imprinted on my brain. But it's also the sort of thing that a snarky professor I had in undergrad might have said, and I could see this book being used in the Philosophy of Utopias and Dystopias class he taught.

3. I found that I generally agree with Thoreau on more things than I thought I would. I'm not sure why my younger self didn't like this more than he did. Oh wait, I do know why, and that is...

4. I don't like Thoreau. As a person, I imagine wanting to punch Thoreau in the face. I'm sure my college self saw him as an old timey version of the hippies / Deadheads / Phish fans he went to school with and hated hated hated. Thoreau comes across as a fairly smug selfimportant twit. Everytime, I would find myself agreeing with him and finding myself enjoying the book he would go off on some tangent or write something that came across as insufferable.

5. I think I liked this book more than when I first read it (or at least read the first chapter (which in fairness is the meatiest part of the book)), but I'm still placing it in the three star area. I used to hate when people said this kind of thing about books, so I feel like a dick for saying it, but it was too long. There were parts that just went on and on way too much. Since it's a 'classic' and beloved by people I have to admit that the book must resonate with people, but I still feel like it could have been more powerful in its message if it had been honed down a bit.

I should have written this while the book was fresher in my mind. I'm sorta glad I reread it. I definitely appreciate it more than I did, but I still don't love it. It did make me want to try reading some Emerson again, and if I can figure out where in my stacks of books my copy of his complete essays is I'll probably givem them a read in the near future. Walden: I take issue with a wealthy man living in a shack for a period and pretending that living one mile from town and having his mother do his laundry qualifies him to advise mankind to "sell your clothes and keep your thoughts."

An experiment in simplicity, getting close to nature, I'm all for it. But when your experiment ends in a renewal of your previous lifestyle, how can you advise others to make changes that would leave them in the position permanently?
A Transcendentalist Classic On Social Responsibility And A Manifesto That Inspired Modern Protest Movements

Critical Of Thcentury America’s Booming Commercialism And Industrialism, Henry David Thoreau Moved To A Small Cabin In The Woods Of Concord, Massachusetts InWalden, The Account Of His Stay Near Walden Pond, Conveys At Once A Naturalist’s Wonder At The Commonplace And A Transcendentalist’s Yearning For Spiritual Truth And Selfreliance But Thoreau’s Embrace Of Solitude And Simplicity Did Not Entail A Withdrawal From Social And Political Matters Civil Disobedience, Also Included In This Volume, Expresses His Antislavery And Antiwar Sentiments, And Has Influenced Resistance Movements Worldwide Both Give Rewarding Insight Into A Freeminded, Principled And Idiosyncratic Life This book alerted me to the fickleness of my own opinions.

At first it all seemed rather nice "the majority of men live lives of quiet desperation" and all that. But then I found out about the doughnuts.

Apparently every so often Thoreau would walk down the road to the nearby town where his Mum lived and she would treat him to doughnuts. Thoreau in Walden doesn't mention the doughnuts, instead detailing the amount of beans he grew but for me the doughnuts torpedo the project in three ways.

Firstly in crude calorific terms, secondly by underlining how Thoreau's experiment in independence is possible only within the context of his dependence on society both in the sense of the goods that the wider society produced and in the sense of social interaction, thirdly it presents his conversation with the passing Irishman and his family in a different lightwhat Thoreau shows us inadvertently is not the contrast between life in the woods and life as a wage slave but the contrast between a life of being born into privilege, in which one has the personal connections that allows one to live on someone else's land and eat doughnuts without have to earn the money to buy them, and not having privilege in society. What Thoreau could do was impossible for the Irishman and his family who he looks down on.

To clarify slightly (view spoiler)

How many a man has dated a new era in his life from the reading of a book!

This month, two hundred years ago, Henry David Thoreau made his way into the world. Thus it seemed like a good time to revisit his thorny classic, which filled me with such contradictory feelings the first time around.

This time, I was struck first by how current Thoreau’s book reads. A vegetarian before it was fashionable, or even respectable; a pioneer of nature writing and conservationism; a godfather of activism and protest; an author of lines that, even now, wouldn’t be out of place in any selfhelp book; and the originator of the “stuntbook”—doing something unusual and then writing about it—anticipating both performance art and reality television in his classic account of his life “in the woods.”

It is very easy to dislike Thoreau, or even to despise him. Thoreau took himself very seriously. He comes across as pretentious and magnificently condescending, while at the same time as naïve as a child. For all his practicality, he was astoundingly impractical. His insistence that everyone in Concord learn enough Latin and Greek to read the classic texts is characteristic of him—a snobbish and pointless piece of advice, delivered with disdain. His authorial personality is so often prickly and misanthropic, rebuking the world at every turn, and this mood is never lightened by an easy humor. There is no Montaigne in this selfchronicler; instead, like Iago, he is nothing if not critical. You wonder if anything but loons and books ever pleased him. He was, in a word, a dour man.

The case against Thoreau is more serious than just his offputting authorial personality. The most common charge made against him is that of hypocrisy. His book purports to be the record of a bold experiment in living in the woods. He describes how he built his own house, grew his own beans, baked his own bread, and rhapsodizes about the solitude and isolation he created for himself. But in reality he was living just 20 minutes from his ancestral home, squatting on land lent to him by his friend Emerson, and receiving frequent and plentiful visitors. Apparently he went home weekly to get cookies from his mother, who also kindly delivered doughnuts and pies to our hero. It is not reported whether he ate his cookies and doughnuts with milk.

This is a damning fact, considering that Thoreau carefully documents all of his expenses and goes into excruciating detail as to his eating habits—without mentioning a single cookie. He gives the impression that he was a hermit on the very edge of society, living on the produce he created, savoring his lonely retreat from the world. And all this is recorded with the stated intention of showing that selfsufficiency is possible. But if Thoreau himself can bear neither a diet of pure beans nor the stark isolation of true life in the woods, his whole experiment is a sham. It is one thing for an ordinary citizen to be hypocritical; it is another thing for a moralizing philosopher who repeatedly stresses the necessity of living in accordance with one’s tenets.

The case against Thoreau goes ever further than this. For, if his practice didn’t align with his preaching, his preaching didn’t align with his preaching either. Walden is a baffling bundle of contradictions. Did Thoreau like the steam engines or hate them? He excoriates them one moment, and the next he goes into rhapsodies about the locomotive. He praises hunting as a way of bringing oneself closer with nature, and then he condemns all killing and eating of animals. Here he is enjoining us to ignore fantasies and pay close attention to reality: “If men would steadily observe realities only, and not allow themselves to be deluded, life, to compare it with such things as we know, would be like a fairy tale and the Arabian Nights’ Entertainment.” And here he is telling us to do the opposite: “If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be.”

The perplexing thing about this inconsistency is that Thoreau never admits to hesitation or doubt. He rattles off his opinions with the fervor of a zealot. And yet even his zealotry is inconsistent, for it was Thoreau who famously said “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured and far away.” This famous paean to selfdetermination is ensconced in a book filled with biting scorn for those who do not agree with Thoreau. In all likelihood, Thoreau himself was the least tolerant man in Concord. Considering both his inconsistency in action and speech, it is difficult to know what exactly Thoreau, who is always urging us, is actually urging us to do.

But I think that a strong case can be made for Thoreau, too—especially now. For Walden has aged remarkably well. If anything, Thoreau’s classic has become even more relevant in our harried age.

Thoreau flees to the woods because of a growing horror with every aspect of his contemporary society—the unjust government, the growing consumerism, the obsession with technology, the increasing specialization of labor, the absorption of all leisure by work, the constant petty conversation, the disregard of wild nature. The sources of this horror are, I think, in part mysterious to even himself, which might be one explanation for his inconsistency. He is like a boxer swinging wildly at an invisible enemy, or a doctor prescribing medicines for an unknown malady. But to be fair, we haven’t gotten much closer to solving the problems that Thoreau tried to tackle with such spirit.

For my part, I think Thoreau’s instincts are right, even when his diagnoses and his cures are wrong. His abhorrence of economic exchange, of interdependence, is an excellent example. Modern society obviously could not exist without exchange; the economy would collapse if we all chose to live like Thoreau advocates, and technological innovation would come to a standstill. Yet Thoreau’s abhorrence of intedependence is neither political nor economic, but moral. He recognized quite clearly, I think, that in a complex economy, we are enmeshed in processes that have moral implications. When we buy a product, for example, we don’t know who made it or how they were treated. When we patronize a shop, we don’t know what the owner does with our money. When we throw something away, we don’t know where it ends up.

Since the morality of any action is partly determined by its effects, and since many of those effects are hidden from view in a complex economy, to a certain extent we can’t even know the morality of our own life. This is why it was so inspiriting for Thoreau to build his own cabin and farm his own food; he could be sure of his “ethical footprint,” so to speak, and so could take full responsibility for his actions. Now, I don’t think Thoreau wanted to do this for the sake of others—he is extremely wary of dogooderism—but for himself, since we cannot live authentically if we cannot know the effects of our actions.

To borrow an idea from the philosopher John Lachs, this state of ignorance as to the sources and causes of our moral lives is one part of that modern alienation that Marxists have described. When jobs become highly specialized, we might not be completely sure about our own effects within the organization in which we work. I myself have been in that situation, churning out data to be used by unknown people for unknown ends. Everyone in a complex economy, even a commercial farmer, is in this situation. Thoreau's solution, isolating oneself in the woods, is I think undesirable—since it consists in dissolving society completely (which the misanthropic Thoreau might not have objected to)—but his experiment does at least help us to identify the causes of our “quiet desperation.”

Thoreau is also refreshing on the subject of work and leisure. The glorification of works carries with it the denigration of leisure, which Thoreau realized. When we consider only those activities as worthwhile that can make money for us, we spend our free hours in thoughtless relaxation or idling. And yet working, even if it is remunerative, is too often degrading—largely thanks to excessive specialization, which demands that we do the same thing over and over again, neglecting the full range of our capacities. Work consumes our time and energy and leaves us few moments for reflection and selfimprovement. And because we consider leisure only a respite from work—since free time doesn’t pay, it is not for serious exertion—we do not even use what moments we have to achieve perspective and to develop our latent potential.

Again, Thoreau’s prescription for excessive work—to squat on someone else’s land and farm only the bare minimum—is disappointing and (pardon the pun) unworkable. And his advice for how to spend one’s free time—reading ancient books in the original language—is, at the very least, limited. But once again, his thrashing responses at least point the way to the malady that ails us, and his deadly seriousness can remind us to take our free time seriously and not squander it.

Thoreau is perhaps most valuable for his insistence on the time and space to think. Often it seems that the modern world is a conspiracy to prevent thinking. We work until we’re bone tired, and spend our free time in endless, meaningless small talk. Thoreau said: “We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas; but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate.” Imagine if Thoreau could see us now, ceaselessly connected to each other with mobile telegraphs in our pockets, with scarcely anything more to say. The point, of course, is not that the telegraph is inherently bad—nor are smart phones for that matter—but that these things can easily become distractions, distractions in the existential sense, allowing idle chitchat to intrude into every corner of our lives.

News also comes in for abuse. Too often we read the news, not with a genuine desire to learn about the world or to help us change it, but out of habit, worrying about distant problems that seldom affect us and that, in any case, we seldom try to solve. Sure, it is easy to dismiss Thoreau when he makes such dogmatic pronouncements as “To a philosophers, all news, as it is called, is gossip, and they who edit and read it are old women over their tea.” Yet I know many for whom the news is an addiction, and consuming news is the full extent of their political engagement. (And I don’t think I’m any better in this regard.) Again, the point is not that we shouldn’t read the news, but that we should not let ourselves develop a false sense of urgency that prevents us from examining our own lives.

Thoreau demands space for genuine thought. But what is genuine thought? I think this is what Thoreau had in mind with his famous lines “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” Genuine thought, in other words, is thinking about the best way to live—what is deeply and lastingly important to us, and what is only temporarily or superficially important. I personally have found that even a week of relative isolation can be clarifying. It is amazing how fast anxieties and problems melt away when we remove ourselves from our usual environment. We spend so much time worrying about how to get things that we don’t stop to wonder if we really want them. It is easy, too easy, to accept goals and priorities from our environment without scrutiny.

I could go on, but I think you get the idea. Thoreau was reacting against problems of the modern world, problems that have only become more pervasive. His solution, which I find extremely unconvincing, is to reject society completely—and in practice, his solution is only viable for wellconnected, single men with no children. Thoreau achieves a kind of purity at the expense of advocating something that is totally nonviable for the vast majority of humanity. But reading his book was, for me, a clarifying and a rejuvenating experience—a reminder to consider the more important questions of life, and also a reminder that these questions can perhaps never be definitely answered.

You may disagree completely with me about the philosophical merit of Thoreau. But his skill as a writer is indisputable. This book is a magnificent monument of prose. Whether he is describing his beloved pond or narrating a battle of ants, his writing is clear, forceful, and direct; and his fingertips occasionally touch the sublime:
If you stand right fronting and face to face with a fact, you will see the sun glimmer on both its surfaces, as if it were a scimitar, and feel its sweet edge dividing you through the heart and marrow, and so you will happily conclude your mortal career. Be it life or death, we crave only reality.

Thoreau’s power as a writer, combined with his undeniable originality—anticipating all the things with which I opened this review, and more—will make this book last until Thoreau’s next centennial, even if sometimes he's an insufferable teenager. Walden is not for everyone. This is why it is so accurately and justifiably cherished by its admirers, and so ridiculously and criminally misunderstood by its detractors. The critics of Walden levy ad hominem after ad hominem against Thoreau, as if the utmost specifics of his experience detract from the purported "arguments" he puts forth about the absolute means everyone "must" live their lives. Clearly his meditations on cherishing solitude are false, because he did enjoy company every now and then; clearly he wasn't truly "cut loose" into the wilderness, as he had a safety net accurately called Emerson's backyard.

Walden is much simpler than that. It is not gonzo journalism; it is not stunt nonfiction. It is not protoKrakauer hullabaloo. All it is, plain and simple, is intellectual pursuit. This does not engage some people. It's introspective, thoughtful, and focused, which generally means it goes unread and derided by people who only have a cursory knowledge of the tale passed down generation by generation of mouthbreathing hillpeople in a tragic game of literary telephone.

But beyond the beautiful imagery and sophisticated metaphor and all those enchanted little things lies this notion of mindfulness; Thoreau succeeded in fulfilling this need to be surrounded by that which will keep one's mind alert. Thoreau ultimately needed an environment that broke the barriers of habit and allowed for his mind to enter a state of stimulated, unfettered wakefulness. These things tend to atrophy without ready labor or measured gratification.

Perhaps this is why I thought Walden so satisfying; it succeeds greatly as a treatise on depression. Whether or not it is Thoreau's intent is debatable, but my reading experience was enriched by how entrenched my sorrow is in habitual alienation and a constant sense of insufficient physical and mental exertion. Where is the product to which I am lending my services? How do I train myself to make a white fluorescent wall endlessly stimulating? Walden expanded several of my hypotheses with regard to depression in a positive way; it gave breadth to the soulsearching I regularly perform to monitor and assess my own sadness. The opportunities for expanding perspective and allowing for growth are multiple in Walden, and I admire a book for presenting those opportunities. One of the ways it did that was to espouse solitude, embrace simplicity, and not necessarily champion selfreliance, but find simpler yet deeper means of satisfaction in more antiquated notions of economy. Surely his devices will not work for everyone, but seeing his own efforts manifest themselves, by making something tangible and noteworthy, and lending himself over to the power of observation are all things I truly envied in him. The barriers that perhaps routine, modern gratitude, and an alarming sense of interdependence can place on happiness are almost too palpable now, and sadly, the means to attain Thoreau's level of immersion are almost lost. I do not think there is wilderness to speak of anymore. Perhaps depression is a means of my brain to beg me to lock into a longterm, serious, substantial issue, and solve it to the betterment of my own health and to the contentment of others; depression is certainly a means to enter a ruminative cycle of focused thought. Could that cycle be liberated if I found myself doing that serious, substantive work? Could it be liberated by finding the degree of stimulation Thoreau discovered in a nearly constant stream of unfiltered newness?

Enough about that; Thoreau is a romantic, and I don't believe so much that Walden is meant to be taken as a howto gospel or even a polemic. It is a personal experience captured, a journey taken and a journey ultimately discovered. There is little reason for it to be taken as more than that, and, as such, it is rife with beautifullycrafted aphorisms, insights that could benefit you depending on who you are, and it is walltowall equipped with very helpful and comforting insights to those of us struggling to make ways in the world as it stands now. It's a mental journey that can cure what ails you, if you're the kind of person for it, and believe me, my copy is riddled with underlines, and its margins covered with ink. This book was the perfect recommendation for myself.

(As a side note, I am only rating Walden, and am not incorporating the essay Civil Disobedience into this evaluation, which I have disregarded if only to emphasize that part of the text which I consider more essential.) A naturalist, a transcendentalist or an individualist?
Thoreau’s principles could be labelled with the previous statutory concepts and yet none of them would suffice to provide a full description of him. He struck me as a man who didn’t want to be restricted by category; he chose experience and common sense as modus operandi to lead a deliberate lifestyle and to reach his own conclusions without meaning to inculcate them on others.

Walden is the result of Thoreau’s minute observations that he compiled while he lived in a rustic shed near a lake in Concort, Massachusets. Full of all kind of practical detail, the book is more than a diary but less than a philosophical abstraction. It arises as a fragmented tapestry of the meditations of a man concerned about his surroundings and the society to which he belongs, even if he makes a conscious effort to disentangle from his contemporary fellowmen in order to think straight, in order to stablish priorities without the social distractions attached to community living.
The idea that shines brighter in Thoreau’s discourse is that actions should be faithful mirrors of belief, so he decided to act consequently and he cut back comfort to be more in charge of his simple, frugal life. Man lives in constant stimulation to consume above his real needs according to a general interest that doesn’t necessarily correlate to his own.
It’s important not to mistake Thoreau’s aversion to frivolity with unfounded rejection of modernity or technological progress by default. He professes that man can achieve spiritual and physical serenity by contemplation of the natural world, and redefine the notion of welfare, which shouldn’t imply accumulating wealth, but rather making use of it only when it is required.
Austerity, selfreliance and a clearly defined frame of values are essential to write one’s destiny without giving way to external pressures. Thoreau’s “original experiment” doesn’t aspire to preach or to impose a guideline to create a following. Instead, it invites to reflect about the principles that rule our lives and question whether we are investing our limited time on what is really essential.

Far from being a grumpy hermit, Thoreau sings the praises of a good conversation and basks in the company of those with inquisitive minds, dismissing the lulling tonality of generalized academic discourse. Poet, philosopher and fisherman share equal positions in Thoreau’s mental horizon because they all have a close relationship with nature and they don’t take its precious gifts for granted.
Walden is in fact a hymn to the natural rhythms and seasons, to the trees and vegetation that blooms and decays in perfect communion with the birds and fauna that populate the wilderness. The pond is the everpresent witness to Thoreau’s unusual moral firmness, to the authenticity of his resolutions, and sometimes overwhelming culture that is exquisitely balanced out with his surprising sensitivity. Ice melting into transparentblue water that later acquires a greenish tint when the spring sun hauls the earth finds the ideal recipient in Thoreau’s ideals of justice and beauty.

Personally, I might not fully agree with everything that Thoreau exposes in this work, his reasoning might end up being repetitive and it runs the risk of sounding a bit like postulating, but I can’t help but admire the man who knew how to include as much poetry in his life as life in literature and inspire future generations to fight for what they believe is right. Finding freedom from consumerism and opportunism in harmony with nature.

The principle of living in harmony with nature has been a topic for a long time until civilization alienated people from their original homeland. However, especially this opens up the possibility for introspection and reflection with the help of the simple life before apparently essential things like consumption, status and power lose their appeal.

Thoreau shows how a needless life can be filled with happiness and meaning by getting satisfaction from oneself, one's creativity and the people and nature around and not by the eternal hunt for the imposed, changing ideals of society. Such as "Go into the cave of the enemies and kill them all with a club, so that you can have fun in the hereafter with your comrades who have fallen in battle and massively amounts of willing women and whatever drug we allow you to consume."

Alternatively, "Learn stupidly from senseless, noncreatively applicable knowledge to make you highly specialized until up into old age." "Consume with accumulated capital and build up your righteous free time for ritualized buying decisions. "Neglect family and friends and ignore the state of the planet that is so friendly to allow you to live on it. "

Unfortunately, the utopian approaches have too often been negatively connoted and presented as impossible. After the dictate that such a world would not be possible. Wars are possible. Fiat money is no problem. But distributive justice with an education system that makes children responsible and happy citizens with environmental awareness? Better not.

Nonviolent education was another cornerstone of Thoreau's ideology. At a time when everyone was considered weak, who did not beat children to the bone until blood came out. According to standard doctrine, you had to form these empty shells with black pedagogy until they became, understandably, freaking lunatic religious extremists and fascists. Forcefully forge them like a glowing lump of metal with hammers without love to the instruments one needed to nourish the future generation with pain and cruelty.

This educational mentality could have had a not inconsiderable influence on inhumanity at all times, especially with extreme ideologies that gain more access when the majority of the population is from childhood on severely traumatized. When you do evil to innocent beings, teach cruelty and force them to lose all emotions to defend and protect themselves, you get the wished result.

The questioning of authorities was and is a stepchild of human behavior. Therefore, Thoreau warned that, even in democracies, one should never bow submissively to majority decisions without questioning them critically. He allowed people the right to protest against bad decisions and to not be forced into a silent consensus. In addition to a pioneer of environmental protection and nonviolent pedagogy, he can, therefore, be seen as an icon of the civil rights movement, passive resistance and civil disobedience.

His inspirational ideas have influenced icons of freedom movement over the centuries and in the explosive current world situation, they show their visionary power and the potential for the full development of humanist ideas. If everyone lived that way, sustainable existence and peaceful coexistence with nature would be easily possible. The satisfaction with the most essential and the inward turn, rather than longing for ephemeral, mundane consumerism.


A wiki walk can be as refreshing to the mind as a walk through nature in this completely overrated reallife outside books:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HenryD...

Emerson, Thoreau lived the life of simplicity he advocated in his writings. His two-year experience in a hut in Walden, on land owned by ❄ [EPUB] ✼ Walden, or, Life in the Woods / Civil Disobedience By Henry David Thoreau ➝ – Uc0.info


    3. I found that I generally agree with Thoreau on more things than I thought I would. I'm not sure why my younger self didn't like this more than he did. Oh wait, I do know why, and that is...

    4. I don't like Thoreau. As a person, I imagine wanting to punch Thoreau in the face. I'm sure my college self saw him as an old timey version of the hippies / Deadheads / Phish fans he went to school with and hated hated hated. Thoreau comes across as a fairly smug selfimportant twit. Everytime, I would find myself agreeing with him and finding myself enjoying the book he would go off on some tangent or write something that came across as insufferable.

    5. I think I liked this book more than when I first read it (or at least read the first chapter (which in fairness is the meatiest part of the book)), but I'm still placing it in the three star area. I used to hate when people said this kind of thing about books, so I feel like a dick for saying it, but it was too long. There were parts that just went on and on way too much. Since it's a 'classic' and beloved by people I have to admit that the book must resonate with people, but I still feel like it could have been more powerful in its message if it had been honed down a bit.

    I should have written this while the book was fresher in my mind. I'm sorta glad I reread it. I definitely appreciate it more than I did, but I still don't love it. It did make me want to try reading some Emerson again, and if I can figure out where in my stacks of books my copy of his complete essays is I'll probably givem them a read in the near future. Walden: I take issue with a wealthy man living in a shack for a period and pretending that living one mile from town and having his mother do his laundry qualifies him to advise mankind to "sell your clothes and keep your thoughts."

    An experiment in simplicity, getting close to nature, I'm all for it. But when your experiment ends in a renewal of your previous lifestyle, how can you advise others to make changes that would leave them in the position permanently?
    A Transcendentalist Classic On Social Responsibility And A Manifesto That Inspired Modern Protest Movements

    Critical Of Thcentury America’s Booming Commercialism And Industrialism, Henry David Thoreau Moved To A Small Cabin In The Woods Of Concord, Massachusetts InWalden, The Account Of His Stay Near Walden Pond, Conveys At Once A Naturalist’s Wonder At The Commonplace And A Transcendentalist’s Yearning For Spiritual Truth And Selfreliance But Thoreau’s Embrace Of Solitude And Simplicity Did Not Entail A Withdrawal From Social And Political Matters Civil Disobedience, Also Included In This Volume, Expresses His Antislavery And Antiwar Sentiments, And Has Influenced Resistance Movements Worldwide Both Give Rewarding Insight Into A Freeminded, Principled And Idiosyncratic Life This book alerted me to the fickleness of my own opinions.

    At first it all seemed rather nice "the majority of men live lives of quiet desperation" and all that. But then I found out about the doughnuts.

    Apparently every so often Thoreau would walk down the road to the nearby town where his Mum lived and she would treat him to doughnuts. Thoreau in Walden doesn't mention the doughnuts, instead detailing the amount of beans he grew but for me the doughnuts torpedo the project in three ways.

    Firstly in crude calorific terms, secondly by underlining how Thoreau's experiment in independence is possible only within the context of his dependence on society both in the sense of the goods that the wider society produced and in the sense of social interaction, thirdly it presents his conversation with the passing Irishman and his family in a different lightwhat Thoreau shows us inadvertently is not the contrast between life in the woods and life as a wage slave but the contrast between a life of being born into privilege, in which one has the personal connections that allows one to live on someone else's land and eat doughnuts without have to earn the money to buy them, and not having privilege in society. What Thoreau could do was impossible for the Irishman and his family who he looks down on.

    To clarify slightly
    (view spoiler)

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