He Said That? 9/3/17

From Henry David Thoreau, (1817–1862), American essayist, poet, philosopher, abolitionist, naturalist, tax resister, development critic, surveyor, and historian, Walden (1854):

Our inventions are wont to be pretty toys, which distract our attention from serious things. They are but improved means to an unimproved end, an end which it was already but too easy to arrive at; as railroads lead to Boston or New York. 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.

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3 responses to “He Said That? 9/3/17

  1. OTOH, P.J. O’Rourke, in All the Trouble in the World (1994) said:

    William Rose Benét, scholar, essayist, and founder of the Saturday Review, defined primitivism as

    a persistent tendency in European literature, art. and thought since the 18th century . . . to attribute superior virtue to primitive, non-European civilizations . . . Later primitivism expanded to include among the objects of its enthusiasm the violent, the crude, undeveloped, ignorant, naïve, non-intellectual or sub-intelligent of any kind, such as peasants, children. and idiots.

    It’s interesting how many of these words – other than “violent” – apply to Henry David Thoreau. Montaigne was a naff and Rousseau, a screwball. But it’s Thoreau who’s actually taught in our schools. And it is into the wet, dense muck of Walden that Roderick Nash, Edward Abbey, John Davis, Christopher Manes, and the party of ten loud women have dipped their wicks.

    Thoreau took the bad ideas and worse ideals of the primitivists, added the pitiful self-obsession of the romantics, and mixed all of this into transcendentalism, that stew of bossy Brahmin spiritual hubris.

    The transcendentalists were much devoted to taking the most ordinary thoughts and ideas and investing them with preposterous spiritual gravity. They saw the divine in everything, even in long, boring lectures about how everything is divine. Any random peek into the essays of Ralph Waldo Emerson will show you the method by which “Don’t Litter” has been turned into an entire secular religion.

    In 1845 the twenty-eight-year-old Thoreau (having failed to read Rousseau closely enough) built himself a little cabin near Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts. The land was owned by Emerson and was about as far out of town as the average modern driving range.

    Thoreau frequently went to dinners and parties in Concord, and, according to his list of household expenses in Walden, he sent his laundry out to be done. Thoreau lived in his shack for two years devoting his time to being full of baloney:

    l had three pieces of limestone on my desk, but l was terrified to find that they required to be dusted daily, when the furniture of my mind was all undusted still, and I threw them out the window in disgust.

    l have always been regretting that l was not as wise as the day l was born.

    Or maybe he was on drugs:

    My head is hands and feet.

    We have here the worst sort of person, the sanctimonious beatnik. Thoreau is the progenitor of the American hipster arrogance we’ve been enduring for the past century and a half. And he is the source of the loathsome self-righteousness that turns every kid who’s ever thought “a tree is better looking than a parking lot” into Saint Paul of the Recycling Bin

    But l have since learned that trade curses everything it handles; and though you trade in messages from Heaven, the whole curse of trade attaches to the business.

    Our inventions are wot to be pretty toys. which distract our attention from serious things . . . 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.

    The New Hollander goes naked with impunity, while the European shivers in his clothes. ls it impossible to combine the hardiness of these savages with the intellectualness of the civilized man? [Thoreau died of TB.]

    All of the above is from the first hundred odd pages of Walden and I defy any thinking adult without an airsickness bag to go further.

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    • I think the only quibble I have with your comment is, “Thoreau is the progenitor of the American hipster arrogance we’ve been enduring for the past century and a half.” I would change the “the” in front of progenitor to an “a.” Thanks for steering us clear of Walden; it’s never been on my list. I put up the quote because the “nothing important to communicate” caught my feeling about much of which is on Facebook, and I had earlier posted an article on Facebook.

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      • . . . “nothing important to communicate” caught my feeling about much of which is on Facebook . . .
        Understood. [sigh of relief] I didn’t want to think you’d gone Luddite on us. 😉

        All the Trouble in the World is also very much worth reading. It contains one of my favorite PJ one-liners:

        I stopped for fuel at a small garage in Dippoldiswalde and there encountered the most un-German thing imaginable. The restroom was dirty.

        The East German political system, like the Dippoldiswalde septic system which survives it, didn’t work. Getting a mass of people to labor, will-they, nil-they, towards abstract goals for the sake of people in the mass doesn’t work. It can be done temporarily in dire emergencies such as last-minute decoration of the gym for the prom or during famines or when Nazis invade. Even the Soviet Union worked while Nazis were invading it. But on the morning after V-E day, the proletariat was sloshed on the job again, Stalin was back to killing people, and the peasants were hiding their pigs.

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