[I think sometimes, Why, this people mean well; they are only ignorant; they would do better if they knew how: why give your neighbors this pain to treat you as they are not inclined to? But I think, again, this is no reason why I should do as they do, or permit others to suffer much greater pain of a different kind.]
This passage applies well to the recent firing of University of Missouri President Timothy Wolfe. While the President may have not acted with any malicious intent in failing to correctly disciplining the students who acted in a racially insensitive manner, this does not change the fact that he is then ill suited to his job and should be removed.
[But when the friction comes to have its machine, and oppression and robbery are organized, I say, let us not have such a machine any longer.]
This line goes right back to Locke’s principles on the dissolution of government. The people are the ones who created the government in the first place, for the purpose of expediency as Thoreau says. Once their creation is no longer serving the purpose for which it was made, there is no longer a use for it.
Thoreau is very passionate about a government ruled by conscience and not by the majority. He continues to elude to the idea that the government is only beneficial to some and is only trying to truly help itself. With knowing T’s views on slavery, his comment in paragraph 7 isn’t shocking in the fact that he’s defending black rights, but he is willing to completely turn his back on the government. I agree that T seems to be an anarchist, however, I wouldn’t go so far to say Locke’s enemy, he seems to agree with Locke’s idea of natural rights and revolution.
It is the right and duty of the American citizen to protest and reject the actions or inactions of their government when a wrong is accepted. That had been the case regarding racism on campus locally and across the nation. Here we see though the charge to communicate how we wish to see the change occur. What specifically can be done by government officials (who are inevitably distanced from the problems citizens are raising, based on the current culture of our society). Unfortunately this has proven to be the problem behind movements like Occupy ____, and I can see a similar trend occurring with the Black Lives Matter campaign. Their message is clear, but their solutions are unclear, or radical and impractical at best. On a smaller scale, the protest at Geneseo appeared to be far more focused, and more of a call for social awareness and reflection, though it still lacked the specific requests we may posit would help spark change. This does not take away the responsibility of the government to act on their own accord, or muse solutions that have not specifically been requested, but to claim the rights of citizens, without playing an active part of the productive civil process becomes contradictory, and no longer earns the respect of the government at question, while also failing to help shape the government that citizens are ready and willing to respect.
This paragraph looks at the idea that government can be considered a machine that will either eventually wear itself out, or if it is not a machine then it is us the people who are in control of the government. This is getting at the point of a higher law that if there is not agreement with the law should you go with it or break the law.
The idea of immediately asking for a better government connects well with Thomas Merton’s quest to end the War in Vietnam. Merton did not believe that it is reasonable to expect the government to be anything near perfect and that to expect it to be so could lead to ideas such as communism that have failed to realize a perfect or even a good government. However, he did make it clear that governments that deserve respect should respect the basic right of people to live.
[that is, the right to refuse allegiance to and to resist the government, when its tyranny or its inefficiency are great and unendurable. ]
This ties in nicely to what Reece had to say about utopian communities which form not just in opposition to the mainstream American society but to live out its members ideals — to live meaningful, purposeful, and generally “happy” lives. I hope as time goes on, especially in this political environment where television stars can become president, we’ll see more and more people resist the American government and its corrupt values.
However, as Reece says, it’s not necessarily utopian to simply change legislation and reform certain laws. Here, I think Thoreau would very much agree. The principles this country was founded on are deeply problematic. Thoreau protests the enslavement of black people. Reece thoroughly discusses income inequality. Change must be absolute, as Reece argues, so that we no longer rely on the “plutocratic system that doesn’t deserve to be salvaged” (329). That has become our response to most things these days; spend money to put bandaids on the symptoms rather than looking at our issues holistically.
I can’t help but think of the many NFL players who kneel during the National Anthem before the football game. It makes me sad to say that even people in my hometown have become outraged by this, about the disrespect it seems to display to veterans and to our American flag. In fact, the conversation about kneeling at games has effected one frequent customer’s patronage to my family’s cafe, a warm and inviting community that is comfortable sharing its opinions with the larger community. Why is it that we can’t seem to understand the plight of others if the struggle does not effect us? Why is there such a misunderstanding about the reasons for kneeling at these games? If we are a democracy like we say we are (constantly), then just as much as you have the right to argue with your neighbor about politics, you should stand up or rather kneel when your country seems to have failed you or failed your fellow citizen. Now, maybe that’s a bit of a stretch for Reece and Thoreau. They would probably rather us not watch men colliding into each other for entertainment and instead encourage those who feel disenfranchised to start their own community or to live in solitude, as long as it means leaving the problematic nation behind.
Twin Oaks and Acorn like to think of it as abandoning the mainstream society. And at one point, I wondered where their sense of duty was, their sense of actively working to fix these problems. But maybe in their own way they are fixing these problems. They’re showing other people that these communities can work on a small scale, that we don’t have to think of ourselves as different nations or as people of different political leanings, or as people of different social classes, or as people of different skin color. Why work on a system that’s broken?
I am wondering what Thoreau would make of Twin Oaks’ or Oneida’s governing structures.
Yesterday, on the college green, we learned that it is very much possible “to take a step further towards recognizing and organizing the rights of man.” Living in a democracy, and in America, we are lucky to have it better than many other places in this world. However, that does not mean that we are perfect, not in the slightest. This fact was evidenced by the strong and courageous people who shared their stories with us yesterday.
[Let every man make known what kind of government would command his respect, and that will be one step toward obtaining it]
I think this sentence clearly states what all of this activism, these protests including the ones at Ithaca Mizzou and even here at geneseo are trying to accomplish. These protesters are saying this is not how i want my government to behave, i feel disrespected and i have something to say about it with the hopes that it will illicit change for myself and all those who feel disrespected too. It is the right under our American, democratic government to rise up and say there is disrespect from our government and we want change. And this is the first step towards a better more respectful government. The only issue that is faced now is getting people to listen and actively make the changes needed.
Here Thoreau shows that he isn’t protesting taxes, but rather the allegiance of joining a state that is engaged in war. He disagrees with the killing and slavery in the society he lives and “silently declare[s] war” against these actions. His dedication is seen by him willing to face jail time. Although the work of one person won’t stop these actions, Thoreau gains awareness on the situation and shows how people have to lay themselves down and take some risks for reform to take place.
Does this qualify Thoreau as an anarchist? He’s certainly advocating for a society without governmental force, and possibly run by natural law. I guess this would make him a philosophical enemy of Locke.
When I read this paragraph I can’t help but think of Thoreau’s statements on living deliberately. He doesn’t care about the government, he’s only going to pay taxes to the parts of society he personally supports. This exemplifies the american ‘ideal’ of rugged individualism.
This quote is applicable to the politicians and celebrities that has maintained a consistent record of fighting for moral reform throughout the years and yet still considered to be on equal (or sometimes lower) platform with their peers. Senator Bernie Sanders has long fought for racial equality since the beginning of the Civil Rights era and yet he is judged for being too old whereas Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is pragmatic in her campaign run regarding the Black Lives Matter movement. Director Spike Jonze is seen as foolish by those who perceive his documentaries are distorted truths regarding racism in America. “When The Levees Broke”, Jonze documentary about Katrina was released, critics judged it as an unfair representation of the situation. In reality, the lower, impoverished, and primarily black, class of Katrina did suffer the most.
This quote is applicable to the politicians and celebrities that has maintained a consistent record of fighting for moral reform throughout the years and yet still considered to be on equal (or sometimes lower) platform with their peers. Senator Bernie Sanders has long fought for racial equality since the beginning of the Civil Rights era and yet he is judged for being too old whereas Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is pragmatic in her campaign run regarding the Black Lives Matter movement. Director Spike Lee is seen as foolish by those who perceive his documentaries are distorted truths regarding racism in America. “When The Levees Broke”, Lee’s documentary about Hurricane Katrina was released, critics judged it as an unfair representation of the situation. In reality, the lower, impoverished, and primarily black, class of Katrina did suffer the most.
“It is truly enough said that a corporation has no conscience, but a corporation of conscientious men is a corporation with a conscience.”
I think this is something Reece was saying at the end of his book. He mentions those who profit off of every worker while there are some in the mining communities who have died, and those corporations turn a blind eye and continue with their work. With corporations profiting so much while the average family struggles to make ends meet, Reece says that “every single societal problem, with no exception, can be tied directly to income inequality.” He states that, while the money corporations or CEO’s make can be put forward to furthering education and helping lower income families, that money is instead used for the person’s own profit. The money is instead used to have government officials “do their bidding.” I think that one thing Reece really believes in, is that “a corporation of conscientious men” will change the world. It will help to remedy the problems that he pointed out in the last parts of the book. As he said, “Utopian thinking…must begin by addressing this country’s gross disparity in wealth.”
It is truly enough said, that a corporation has no conscience; but a corporation of conscientious men is a corporation with a conscience.
Towards the end of his research, Reece notes the kind of government he deems necessary in order to have a “properly” functioning society. I believe the quote above has very similar ideas with the ones that Reece discussed. This sentence states the importance of not just economic awareness, but social and emotional awareness. This kind of idea is not prominent in today’s society especially in regards to the economy. Both Thoreau and Reece note how these other aspects are missing from our societies and must be changed if we want to better our lives. Within Reece’s research he states some of the different factors that were held within different communes that allowed them to be so “successful”. This included “preventing exploitation” which would happen when “people believed in the nobility of work and its value”. He also discussed “agrarian communities that acted with great care and stewardship toward the land they tended”, this is in comparison to the vast amounts of environmental degradation that takes place for financial gains all across our societies. Being able to look at these communes and see what aspects create harmony within them helps us to understand what we need within our own larger society in order to have a more natural community.
This paragraph relates to the civil rights protest on Friday because it explains how the people in power do not always govern justly, with the rights and dignity of all people in mind when they construct and enforce policies. In our society we are still experiencing gross injustices towards minorities. Thoreau said, “Law never made men a wit more just; and, by means of their respect for it, even the well-disposed are daily made the agents of injustice” and by this he could mean that until the laws are created by a truly accurate representative body with equality, justice, and protection for everyone as their prerogative, we further the injustices faced by those who do not belong to the parties in power.
[Is a democracy, such as we know it, the last improvement possible in government? Is it not possible to take a step further towards recognizing and organizing the rights of man? There will never be a really free and enlightened State, until the State comes to recognize the individual as a higher and independent power, from which all its own power and authority are derived, and treats him accordingly. I please myself with imagining a State at last which can afford to be just to all men, and to treat the individual with respect as a neighbor;]
This quote I feel embodies everything that happened today at Geneseo, and that is happening all around us. Even with a democracy, where people are free to make choices and voice their opinions in hoping of making a difference, there are still plenty of people who get shut down because of their race. Thoreau wanted us to take a step further and value the individual, something that we are still struggling at doing today. Most people have played off what happened in Yale and Missouri based on the fact that it doesn’t happen here, so it doesn’t affect us. Yet hearing everyone share their stories on campus today makes it real, and lets people see that this abuse happens right here, all around us. Thoreau says he would be happy if he saw everyone being respectful to another. Here we are two centuries later and still hoping for the same thing. While there are plenty of people trying to move us forward, we are met with plenty of people trying to hold us back. Thoreau was right when he said we still had a long way to go, despite the progress we had already made.
[and, if ever they should use it in earnest as a real one against each other, it will surely split.]
These words do not appear in the 1866 “Civil Disobedience.” See “A Note on the Text.”
[Not a drum was heard, nor a funeral note,]
Thoreau is quoting Charles Wolfe (1791–1823), “The Burial of Sir John Moore at Corunna.” In “Civil Disobedience” (1866), “nor” was changed to “not” and “ramparts” to “rampart.” (See “A Note on the Text.”) In his edition of RCG for The Works of Henry D. Thoreau, Wendell Glick points to Henry A. Small, The Field of His Fame: A Ramble in the Curious History of Charles Wolfe’s poem “The Burial of Sir John Moore” (Berkeley, University of California Press, 1953), p.7 for the authority of “not” and “rampart.” It’s worth noting, however, that “nor” replaces “not” in some reprintings of the poem, including those of Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine Vol. I, No. 3 (June 1817): 277-78. and The North-American Review and Miscellaneous Journal [Vol. 5, No. 15 (September 1817): 342-43]. The poem originally appeared in the Newry Telegraph on April 19, 1817 with no attribution other than the author’s initials. Lord Byron’s discovery of it (presumably in Blackwood’s) led to a mention in Thomas Medwin’s Conversations of Lord Byron and to both the identification of Wolfe as author and some of the “curious history” recounted by Small.
If we are a democracy like we say we are (constantly), then just as much as you have the right to argue with your neighbor about politics, you should stand up or rather kneel when your country seems to have failed you or failed your fellow citizen. Now, maybe that’s a bit of a stretch for Reece and Thoreau.
Your idea here that kneeling is essentially a way to “stand up” for the principles you believe your country should follow, and therefore as a way to show your respect for those principles while suggesting that your country is failing to live up to them, is backed by a long tradition in which we can see Thoreau as a participant. In her new biography of Thoreau, Laura Dassow Walls describes T at an anti-slavery rally: ““On the Fourth of July 1854, at one of the largest and angriest antislavery rallies, the professed hermit of Walden Pond stepped onto a high lecture platform under a black-draped American flag hung upside down” (313). By a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court recognized an even more extreme use of the flag for this kind of political speech – burning it – as protected by the First Amendment in Texas v. Johnson (1989).
[and they dread the consequences of disobedience to it to their property and families]
In the 1866 “Civil Disobedience,” the latter part of this sentence reads, “and they dread the consequences to their property and families of disobedience to it.” See “A Note on the Text.”
[but if it is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then, I say, break the law. Let your life be a counter friction to stop the machine.]
Mario Savio, 1964: “There is a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can’t take part; you can’t even passively take part, and you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop. And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you’re free, the machine will be prevented from working at all!””
[They only can force me who obey a higher law than I]
In a comment on the chapter title “Higher Laws” in Walden, Walter Harding points out that “The phrase Higher Laws’ was very popular in the years prior to the Civil War, particularly among transcendentalists and abolitionists in their fight against the proslavery laws passed by Congress.” Sandra Harbert Petrulionis examines the political uses of the phrase in “The ‘Higher Law’: Then and Now,” Thoreau Society Bulletin 262, Spring 2008 (5-7), available at the Internet Archive.
In both “Resistance to Civil Government” (1849) and “Civil Disobedience” (1866), the paragraphs on this page (beginning with “The night in prison…” and ending with “This is the whole history of ‘My Prisons'”) are offset visually from the main flow of the text.
[a true respect for the individual. Is a democracy,]
The 1866 “Civil Disobedience” inserts a sentence after “individual” and before “Is”: “Even the Chinese philosopher was wise enough to regard the individual as the basis of empire.” See “A Note on the Text.”
[to discover a pretext for conformity.]
In the 1866 “Civil Disobedience,” the following lines appear after “conformity”:
“We must affect our country as our parents;
And if at any time we alienate
Our love or industry from doing it honor,
We must respect effects and teach the soul
Matter of conscience and religion,
And not desire of rule or benefit.”
They are quoted (with slight alteration) from George Peele, The Battle of Alcazar, 2.2.425-30. See “A Note on the Text.”
On the editorial issues presented by the text, Rossi cites Wendell Glick, “Scholarly Editing and Dealing with Uncertainties: Thoreau’s ‘Resistance to Civil Government,'” Analytic and Enumerative Bibliography 2 (1978): 103-15; Thomas Woodson, “The Title and Text of Thoreau’s ‘Civil Disobedience,'” Bulletin of Research in the Humanities 81 (1978): 103-12; Fritz Oehlschlager, “Another Look at The Text and Title of Thoreau’s ‘Civil Disobedience,'” ESQ: A Journal of the American Renaissance 36 (1990): 239-254; and James Dawson, “Recently Discovered Revisions Made by Thoreau to the First Edition Text of ‘Civil Disobedience,'” Concord Saunterer: New Series 15 (2007).
[I have paid no poll-tax for six years. I was put into a jail once on this account, for one night]
Thoreau’s decision to not pay taxes, I believe, can be compared to the recent protests of the Mizzou football players. Thoreau stopped paying taxes because he did not want to endorse a government that actively supported slavery. Similarly, the football players of Mizzou chose not to participate in their university’s football game with BYU because they did not want to play for a school that did not properly address previous racial and hateful incidents that had been occurring prior to the game. Both of these protests were taking place because the institutions (U.S. government for Thoreau and the University of Missouri for the football players) in control were not doing right by people existing within them. They all have the right to protest or disobey these institutions until they are satisfied that all wrongs have been amended.
Here Thoreau expands on the way Reece articulates issues of inequality in modern America. Reece describes as an example the plight of coal mining communities in West Virginia. Thoreau acknowledges the harm caused by such exploitation and goes further to examine the harm imposed on the “beneficiaries” of the exploitation. Those who participate in a system of violence are “commonly esteemed good citizens” but lose their dignity and humanity. As a white, educated young person growing up in the U.S., this is something that I think about often and a big part of my personal stake in fights for the liberation of all people.
I feel as though this passage relates to what the people were protesting during Wednesday’s class and the events that have been going on throughout the country on many college campuses. That very question:
” Shall we be content to obey them or shall we endeavor to amend them?”
I don’t believe it’s as much as unjust laws exist, but rather the laws are doing enough to protect people, especially minorities in this country. Many people are afraid to stand up for their beliefs because of the dire consequences that could come along with it (further hatred and oppression by people who disagree with their beliefs) which is why many minorities feel as if they should not do anything. But it’s prevalent, that idea of not doing anything has ben outdated and it is time for them to stand up for their rights.
[I believe, — “That government is best which governs not at all]
From the title, one might expect that Thoreau would support the recent protests against administrative inaction at colleges around the country. Perhaps he would, but I also think it should be considered that Thoreau might not want the administrators of colleges (particularly public ones like University of Missouri) to interfere in social affairs at all. For example, Thoreau might have agreed with the Yale staff-member who sent the e-mail questioning whether the university should tell students how to dress on Halloween.
October 13, 2017 at 1:42 pm
Posted in: Into the Woods
See in context
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