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).
April 23, 2018 at 6:06 pm
Posted in: General Discussion
[I saw to what extent the people among whom I lived could be trusted as good neighbors and friends; that their friendship was for summer weather only; that they did not greatly purpose to do right; that they were a distinct race from me by their prejudices and superstitions,]
When reading a passage like this, it is understandable why someone like Kathryn Schulz may be lead to her characterization of Thoreau as a misanthrope (“Pond Scum”) . Thoreau’s tone in this passage seems extremely bitter. A criticism of Schulz’s characterization is that she cherry-picks from select moments of bitterness and translates them into a lifelong disdain towards other human beings. Having a moment to spout off about one’s grievances with others does not make them a misanthrope. It makes them human.
See in context
October 13, 2017 at 1:42 pm
Posted in: Into the Woods
October 11, 2017 at 4:36 pm
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.
October 11, 2017 at 4:15 pm
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.
October 11, 2017 at 3:56 pm
[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?
October 11, 2017 at 3:40 pm
I am wondering what Thoreau would make of Twin Oaks’ or Oneida’s governing structures.
October 11, 2017 at 2:23 am
“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.”
October 11, 2017 at 12:36 am
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.
March 14, 2016 at 7:40 pm
Posted in: Panel of Experts
[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.
November 20, 2015 at 2:27 pm
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.
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