Monday, October 19, 2015

A Serious and Necessary Re-Appraisal of Henry David Thoreau

Really, the article's title sums it all up:

Pond Scum
This comprehensive arrogance is captured in one of Thoreau’s most famous lines: “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” It is a mystery to me how a claim so simultaneously insufferable and absurd ever entered the canon of popular quotations. Had Thoreau broadened it to include himself, it would be less obnoxious; had he broadened it to include everyone (à la Sartre), it would be more defensible. As it stands, however, Thoreau’s declaration is at once off-putting and empirically dubious. By what method, one wonders, could a man so disinclined to get to know other people substantiate an allegation about the majority of humanity?
I've always been struck by the fact that, while living "deliberately" in the woods, he also permitted a woman to do his laundry for him.  Thoreau's popularity is probably based on the fact that he is generally introduced to teenagers in high school English classes and there is something insufferably adolescent about his world view.