Walden – Henry David Thoreau

There is no reason for anyone to read this. Ever. For any reason whatsoever. To clarify, I generally think that there is always something to gain from reading an author, even an author you disagree with, in that if nothing else you can gain knowledge regarding why you disagree with that author. But Walden breaks that. There is nothing to gain here. 

Henry David Thoreau’s Walden is an account of how the author lived alone in the woods, and found meaning in his life there. The author spends time going over a variety of topics, but focuses on living simply and naturally, as well as the virtues of self-reliance and solitude from society.

Hence the meme at the top. Thoreau is Fractally Wrong – he is wrong at every conceivable resolution of his argument. Everything we now have and enjoy we have because humans worked together to create. Society and its spoils are a cumulative effort. Nature is not healthy. nature is deadly. Granted, we need some respite from society every now and again, but the idea that nature is healthy is bullshit. Asbestos is natural, as is cancer, uranium and Dengue fever. Nature, is cruel and unjust by default. Society is cruel and unjust because we don’t work hard enough at making it better.

I read this book, and many other’s over the course of this year, in an attempt to better understand the conservative / right wing pull that has been happening politically, around the world, over the past few years.  I do not for one moment think that this book in any way gives anything closely resembling clarification to that open ended question. Sure, the genesis of American libertarianism is linked to works like this – that much is obvious. But really it stops there. Few could realistically live by the model set up in this book, and those who would would have no way to effect our politics. Though not expressed outright, the book is oddly anti-capitalist and resolutely anti-progress. i don’t think any modern politicians would actually bother to endorse this if they knew what it really expounded.  

But it isn’t just politically that I find this irritating. It is also just the argumentation of it that I find irksome. Philosophy sometimes gets a derided for being a bunch of people scratching their stomach and just asserting whatever comes to their mind. That is actually the case sometimes, but mostly with the worst philosophy has to offer. Nietzsche is one of the worst offenders for this, as is Sun Tzu. But it is not the case with all philosophy. Some of it tries to prove things pretty rigorously, and actually cares whether what is being said is factual or not. Ultimately, philosophy must always be buttressed by other sciences. 

So considering how I started things with this post, I will end it with a picture as well.

Frankly, I have no idea. And I am happy this way.

2 thoughts on “Walden – Henry David Thoreau

  1. This was an interesting review. Walden has been on my TBR for ages now.
    I don’t think you’re entirely wrong. There are plenty of benefits to cooperating with others and great benefits to modern life, and yeah, nature isn’t always great. But in a world where nobody needs to be self-reliant, we can all get our food from a drive-thru and housing and work is easy to come by compared to past decades; I do think there’s some value in self-reliance for the sake of self-reliance, hard work for the sake of hard work. Hard work and isolation can be good for us. Too much isn’t good. But I think too much comfort and connectivity isn’t good either. Most of today’s existential malaise is probably due to young people being too comfortable and not knowing what to strive for.
    Anyway, everything is a balance.
    I think that’s why I want to read Walden. I admire anybody that wants to be self-reliant as a means in itself.

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    • Thanks for your thoughtful comment. You’re definitely right in that self-reliance is a virtue, but that is not what ‘Walden’ has become. There is something to say about the fact that I am very much reading this from an American context, where books like this are held up in a very political light and lauded as arguments as to why the government should be reduced. I think that is pretty heavy in my review. There are two ways two read Walden, and I think reading it from a sort of self-help perspective is not one I opted for, but that’s because I am not over the moon for self-help books (see this: https://locushorribilis.com/2020/01/10/on-reading-self-help-books/).

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