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Henry David Thoreau

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Henry David Thoreau

Postby ShowJumpingRabbit » Wed May 16, 2018 5:38 am

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Re: Henry David Thoreau

Postby anathegram » Thu May 17, 2018 8:50 am

Thoreau probably qualifies for some kind of PD, anyway. I think the introduction of this article makes a good case, especially those journal entries. The author lost me a bit when he started using the Billboard 100 as evidence of… something.

Wikipedia's criticism section on him has some good bits:
Wikipedia wrote:Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson judged Thoreau's endorsement of living alone and apart from modern society in natural simplicity to be a mark of "unmanly" effeminacy and "womanish solitude".

Women and their solitude! :roll:
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Re: Henry David Thoreau

Postby muaddib » Thu May 17, 2018 4:33 pm

I'm a big fan of Thoreau. I'm not sure if it was this presentation or something similar, but I've read articles before about whether he had a personality disorder.

I think it's tricky to just label Thoreau as a schizoid though. He does superficially have a lot of "symptoms," but it's hard to entirely separate them from his political and philosophical programme (except maybe for being a lifelong bachelor after the marriage proposal incident).

It kind of gets to something that keeps coming up on the forum though. I mean, if you just take anything published in the DSM as gospel, the psychologists can pathologize anything they want. At what point do you just admit that the guy saying, "Hey, I don't want to live in a village of self-righteous hypocrites and become a wage-laborer just to help Polk invade Mexico," might be right?
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Re: Henry David Thoreau

Postby ShowJumpingRabbit » Sat May 19, 2018 5:14 am

anathegram wrote:The author lost me a bit when he started using the Billboard 100 as evidence of… something.


When did he do that ?

anathegram wrote:Women and their solitude!


It's a weird comment,especially coming from Stevenson ...

muaddib wrote:At what point do you just admit that the guy saying, "Hey, I don't want to live in a village of self-righteous hypocrites and become a wage-laborer just to help Polk invade Mexico," might be right?


I respect some of his views, and find him brave in expressing them outwardly at the time. I believe possible to have similar views as him without condescension (although condescension doesn't indicate a disorder): finding people wrong but still loving them. But depending on the topic, I find his radicalism either visionary or problematic, depending on the topic, I find him either radically right or troubled.
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Re: Henry David Thoreau

Postby muaddib » Sat May 19, 2018 6:41 pm

ShowJumpingRabbit wrote:
anathegram wrote:The author lost me a bit when he started using the Billboard 100 as evidence of… something.

When did he do that ?

It was the paragraph that suddenly brought up the Alessia Cara song. What's weird is that I swear I've seen that paragraph in a totally different essay (could someone be plagiarizing somebody? tsk-tsk)

ShowJumpingRabbit wrote:
muaddib wrote:At what point do you just admit that the guy saying, "Hey, I don't want to live in a village of self-righteous hypocrites and become a wage-laborer just to help Polk invade Mexico," might be right?

I respect some of his views, and find him brave in expressing them outwardly at the time. I believe possible to have similar views as him without condescension (although condescension doesn't indicate a disorder): finding people wrong but still loving them. But depending on the topic, I find his radicalism either visionary or problematic, depending on the topic, I find him either radically right or troubled.

Well, I think the essay makes good points but it also leaves some really important things out, things that jump out right at you in Thoreau's actual writing. And I think that some of them do entirely change how you have to interpret / evaluate him.

Probably the main one off the top of my head is that he pretty much explicitly declares himself an unofficial Hindu on several occasions. IIRC, every time he quotes the Bible, he's either doing it mockingly or at least ironically to imply people are hypocrites, but the guy had a serious hard-on for the Vedas and Upanishads. So if you try to apply Christian moral judgments to him (or assuming you're from the West, just commonly assumed ones), you'll probably wind up disapproving of him a lot.

He starts making a lot more sense if you relate his actions to Hindu concepts though. His disdain for slavery, the Mexican-American War, and even eating meat can all be seen as expressions of ahimsa, whereas he honestly might of seen John Brown as a sort of American Arjuna, who commits violence out of pure duty and self-sacrifice rather than selfishness.

Another thing is that in all his criticisms of other people, he never really suggests that he's "smarter" or "better" than others, only that fate has somehow made him "freer". His condescension almost always revolves around how others' actions are futile or motivated out of illusions too. Even the way he spent his early adulthood making several attempts (however awkward) at a conventional life before going his own way resembles transitioning from the Vedic life-stage of householder to forest-dweller.
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Re: Henry David Thoreau

Postby ShowJumpingRabbit » Wed May 23, 2018 5:38 am

muaddib wrote:It was the paragraph that suddenly brought up the Alessia Cara song.


Oh yeah, ok.

muaddib wrote:What's weird is that I swear I've seen that paragraph in a totally different essay (could someone be plagiarizing somebody? tsk-tsk)


Here maybe ? https://manifestamagazine.com/2016/02/01/oh-god-why-am-i-here-alessia-cara-and-the-normalization-of-social-anxiety/

muaddib wrote:Probably the main one off the top of my head is that he pretty much explicitly declares himself an unofficial Hindu on several occasions. IIRC, every time he quotes the Bible, he's either doing it mockingly or at least ironically to imply people are hypocrites, but the guy had a serious hard-on for the Vedas and Upanishads. So if you try to apply Christian moral judgments to him (or assuming you're from the West, just commonly assumed ones), you'll probably wind up disapproving of him a lot.

He starts making a lot more sense if you relate his actions to Hindu concepts though. His disdain for slavery, the Mexican-American War, and even eating meat can all be seen as expressions of ahimsa, whereas he honestly might of seen John Brown as a sort of American Arjuna, who commits violence out of pure duty and self-sacrifice rather than selfishness.

...
And I think that some of them do entirely change how you have to interpret / evaluate him.


I didn't know that and, under this light, his attraction to Hinduism makes sense. But the faith/type of spirituality he embraced can't help justify some of his choices.

Another thing is that in all his criticisms of other people, he never really suggests that he's "smarter" or "better" than others, only that fate has somehow made him "freer".


Same difference: he knows, they don't.

His condescension almost always revolves around how others' actions are futile or motivated out of illusions too.


How freer must have he been ? In which ways ? Is he not also running away from himself in some ways ?
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Re: Henry David Thoreau

Postby muaddib » Wed May 23, 2018 4:40 pm

ShowJumpingRabbit wrote:
muaddib wrote:What's weird is that I swear I've seen that paragraph in a totally different essay (could someone be plagiarizing somebody? tsk-tsk)

Here maybe ? https://manifestamagazine.com/2016/02/01/oh-god-why-am-i-here-alessia-cara-and-the-normalization-of-social-anxiety/

Could be, though that doesn't look like the same wording. Maybe I just remembered the awkward attempt to shoehorn pop culture into things.... but it is a pretty good song (and relatively subversive for pop):



ShowJumpingRabbit wrote:I didn't know that and, under this light, his attraction to Hinduism makes sense. But the faith/type of spirituality he embraced can't help justify some of his choices.

Well, I don't think he necessarily used it to specifically justify anything, but if you want to understand how he was thinking, it's crucial. I'd say Hindu philosophy and the destruction of slavery are the two things that are never far from the surface in any of his philosophical and political works.

ShowJumpingRabbit wrote:
muaddib wrote:Another thing is that in all his criticisms of other people, he never really suggests that he's "smarter" or "better" than others, only that fate has somehow made him "freer".

Same difference: he knows, they don't.

I think there is a difference though: Do you pride yourself on having earned your own position or sort of accept it as a gift / duty from fate? If you read Thoreau, however much criticism he heaps on others, when he discusses himself, he sounds more like Socrates refusing to disobey his daemon than someone resting on his laurels. I think where people get hung up is that his daemon told him to reject the Protestant work-ethic and obsession with economic activity that many people take as an unquestioned good.

If your criticism is that he'd even presume to know what others don't, I'd honestly feel like that expectation is more dangerous than any sort of condescension. At the very least, I think it implies that value judgments and knowledge are effectively impossible beyond whatever the community already believes. If you take it all the way, then it makes even scientific progress impossible; the only way knowledge and values could improve for one group is being conquered by another.

War would be the only dialectic. And as crazy as it may sound at first, you could say it's no coincidence that when the average American dismissed people like Thoreau as offish curmudgeons and idealists, a war is exactly what we wound up with.

ShowJumpingRabbit wrote:
muaddib wrote:His condescension almost always revolves around how others' actions are futile or motivated out of illusions too.

How freer must have he been?

This is one more thing where he was straight-up following the Upanishads:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moksha

ShowJumpingRabbit wrote:In which ways?

Essentially, while he didn't just come out and say it explicitly (he was living in Concord, Mass. and not India after all), he didn't let the worldly concerns of his neighbors and instincts control his life:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maya_(religion)

ShowJumpingRabbit wrote:Is he not also running away from himself in some ways?

Now that I think is the interesting question and where the article you linked to has a lot of good insights. I personally feel it's a bit of yes and no, depending on what you think the self really is (and yet again, don't ignore that the Hindus have their own ideas about that):
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C4%80tman_(Hinduism)

The one thing that is clear from his own words is that Thoreau saw himself as searching for himself, which would match up with the Hindu concept. However, if you read enough about him and connect the dots in his writing, he definitely was conflicted about other people. So I think your article brings up a lot of good points about how he would distance himself from society, but even then, like the article suggests, I don't think he just fled whole-heartedly. I think he recognized his social maladjustment was a problem and he did struggle with it throughout his life.

TL/DR: Despite some tangents about Alessia Cara, the article brings up a lot of good points, but I think you really have to read him and a little about his life to get a solid fix on Thoreau. If you do read him though, never forget that he is sort of a crypto-Hindu and militantly anti-slavery.
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