Walden by Henry David Thoreau | Book Discourse


Hello and welcome to The Black Ponderer. I’m Neal Trotter. Today we’re talking about Walden by Henry David Thoreau. This edition of Walden also comes with Civil Disobedience. It’s a Penguin Black Classic. Check out the lovely Lady Liberty on the front cover there. We’re just going to be talking about Walden because Civil Disobedience deserves its own video. So many things have been influenced by Civil Disobedience, so we’re just talking about Walden. Which is also an extremely influential work that we can talk about for awhile. Henry David Thoreau is a philosopher
that comes from the transcendentalism movement. Transcendentalism came out around 1820’s-1830’s. It was basically a revolt or movement against the political and social climate in America during that time. The movement focused on individualism and about living off your own means and living more simply. Also the whole abolitionist movement,
anti-slavery, came from that whole school of thought. It was also against the conventional religious establishment. Such as the manifest destiny ideology. The established white male has the right to conquer and take over America. Transcendentalism was against that. It was more about the spiritual side religion. It also took in a lot of Hinduism and other Eastern philosophies. And so we have Thoreau who is from that whole movement. And now we get to Walden. Walden is a memoir of his experiences. He had this disdain for the society at the time where he was living, Concord
Massachusetts. so he decided to just leave civilization for a while and built his own cabin in the woods. He just wanted to experiment and see what he could learn from that and what he could take from that experience, the whole
living on your own away from society. How’s that going to work? It’s a
beautiful tale. It’s really a great experience to read because you can learn a lot from it. So the first chapter of the book is called “Economy” and that’s when Thoreau is dropping dimes. You can get a lot of useful information and philosophy. You get to understand his idea of what he thinks about the world and how he gauges society. Why don’t we dive into the book itself and get into some quotes because I got a lot of markings here from a lot of
quotes. And we’ll just talk about a few or a lot. We’ll see where we’ll get to and what they mean. “Most men even in this comparatively
free country through mere ignorance and mistake are so occupied with the fictitious cares and superfluously coarse
labors of life that its finer fruits cannot be plucked by them.” So he’s talking about why he went to the woods because he’s trying to escape what civilized society has to offer and just
get away from it. He’s trying to appreciate the finer things
in life. The whole book is about living more simply and to do away with distractions. “Most luxuries and many of the so-called comforts of live are not only not
indispensable but positive hindrances to the elevation
of mankind” It applies so accurately to today. When I read this I’m thinking of smartphones laptops, social media… These things are great tools, I mean, we’re using these things right now for this video. I used it to post it online to share it with you guys. But at the same time we forget that these things aren’t essential. We can do a lot of things without them. Sometimes they can be hindrances. “Beware of all enterprises that require new clothes and not rather a new wearer of clothes. All men want not something to do with but something to do. Or rather something to be.” I love that one. He’s talking about social constructs; jobs, careers, clubs, organizations, that focus more on superficial things rather than what you’re doing or what you are. We need to focus on those things. What are we doing and who we really are, and not worry so much about what we project out toward other people.
That’s not important. But in the society of today we focus a lot on image and how we should portray ourselves. Is that really important? Thoreau argues no. “In the long run men hit only what they aim at. Therefore though they should fail immediately they had better aim at something high.” That’s a beautiful quote. Aim high! Don’t worry so much about failure, just pursue the ultimate goal. Pursue your dreams! So many people settle in life. So many people settle for a job, a career, a vocation, or end up doing little to nothing because they’re afraid to fail. But failing is not the issue. The issue is the journey. Trying even though you’re failing. It’s better to aimed towards something that you’re really passionate about or really feel strongly toward and fail then to achieve
something that you really don’t care. Achievement is not as important as pursuing your dreams. “I would rather sit on a pumpkin and have it all to myself then to be crowded on a velvet cushion. I would rather ride on Earth in an ox cart with a free circulation than go to Heaven in the fancy car of an excursion train and breathe a malaria all the way.” In this he’s talking about individualism. He’s also talking about settling for less and living simply because in this society, even today, we’re focused so much on luxury and really high end possessions that everybody has, we’re really fighting against each other. Instead we should live more simpler, living with less so we have more room to achieve more. And here he backs it up: “But lo, men have become the tools of
their tools.” You get locked into these luxury items whether its in debt, financially you’re paying a lot of money for these high end products. You become tools of these things. Or the tools themselves become a kind of system, a machine. For example, people say media is like a machine. It’s not really media itself but the false belief people have of the media, which keeps people in a cycle of falsehood. “We now no longer camp for a night but have settled on Earth and forgotten Heaven.” There you go. That’s a pretty powerful quote. I like that a lot. Even thinking about it from a Christian standpoint you see the Earth as temporary and Heaven is where we want to go. That’s where we ultimately want to head toward but society having us believe tha what’s important is luxury items and
materialism causes us to forget about that. We forget that all these materials are temporary. We’re focused so much on material and we’re not really focused on what’s really important which is each other. And doing good for one another rather than doing good to achieve these materials. He drives this point even further: “The civilized man is a more experienced and wiser savage.” We fool ourselves into thinking we have all this technology and all these conveniences that make us not savages. But actually what is a savage? It’s a person who only
cares about themselves and doesn’t really consider other people. That’s really what a savage is, in my mind. You say the “civilized man” is technologically advanced. No, not really. A “civilized man” is one who is doing good for society. These tools, materialism, is blocking that. “I thus found that the student who wishes for a shelter can obtain one for a lifetime at an expense not greater than the rent which he now pays annually.” So Thoreau builds his cabin and he calculates how much it costs him to
build. $28.12 In today’s money that’s about $685. He built a house for $685. Granted it’s a simple cabin. But he’s not in debt. He lives in a house and he’s comfortable. It’s not luxurious but he has all that he needs. So he challenges you, the reader, by asking: What do you really need in life to
achieve? “Those conviences which the student requires at Cambridge or elsewhere cost him or somebody else
ten times as great a sacrifice of life as they would with
proper management on both sides.” He’s just using this as an example. You go to Cambridge or a “prestigious” university and you’re paying top dollar when you probably go to a school that’s less prestigious, spend less money and get the same, if not better education because you’re not focused so much on the prestige. This is an example of us being so focused on the luxury of an item we forget really what is important which is the
education in this example, or it’s the ability to help each other or the ability to learn. All the same. “I wish as you are brothers of mine that
you could have spent your time better then digging in this dirt.” He’s referring to digging in the dirt to build the foundation for his cabin and how incredible that experience was for him,
to build his own house, to have this a shelter that he made, living on his own means and what that teaches
you and what you can gain from that. He wishes that you could have a better experience than that. But no you’re not even close because you’re spending so much money on pre-made houses that aren’t really necessary. You’re missing the whole point for what
it means to actually live in a home. Further in the text, Thoreau starts dropping less dimes and talks about how he lives by himself but also encounters several people. He doesn’t shun himself from all human contact whatsoever. He meets a few people people here and there. He goes back to town from time to time during his stay in the woods. He talks about society in general and makes observations. Then he moves on to the description of the area in which he lives which is very beautiful, I think. He talks about the pond, and how the seasons change the pond. How it gets frozen. Then he starts talking about how this company came in, a group of people that were trying to
harvest ice to sell but it didn’t work out. The way he describes it is pretty cool. So it’s not that he isolates himself from people. He just wants to be able to have the
experience to live on his own without financial burden. Living simply and focusing on the more important things in life. But then he concludes. He really starts dropping those philosophical dimes again in his conclusion, which is the last chapter of the book I would like to share some of that with you: “For the most part we are not where we
are but in in a false position. Through an infirmity of our natures we suppose a case and put ourselves into it and hence are in
two cases at the same time. It is doubly difficult to get out.” They way I interpret this is that we put ourselves in these false realities where we lock ourselves up. Debt is the example we’ve been using, but not just that. More so obligation. For example, you marry someone just because you want to get married. But then the relationship goes sour because you
realize you didn’t really marry this person because you loved them, you married the person, just to get married. You get trapped in this idea of marriage or this idea of having a lovely house, but you’re in tremendous debt, or this idea of having this prestigious degree, etc. You just get caught up in these fabrications that society actually
creates for us, and Thoreau is telling us to step back and really think about why are we doing. Is it because of what society says is good, these false constructs society is pushing onto us? What’s really important? What we should do is what ultimately leads us to happiness, not make us richer or more luxurious. “However mean your life is, meet it and live it. Do not shun it and call it hard names. It is not so bad as you are/ It looks poorest when you are richest. The
fault finder will find faults even in paradise. Love your life, poor as it is.” That’s just a beautiful quote. Just be thankful for what you have. And also what Thoreau is saying is that despite any hardship you have it’s always a learning experience. There’s always something valuable you can take from even the poorest life. Don’t always go after not only the easy life but the luxurious life or a utopia, or this “American dream” life because even then people will criticize. “Even the fault finder finds faults in me in paradise.” You end up where you think is your
ultimate goal but then it turns out there’s all these other problems you have to deal with. “Mo money, mo problems'” That’s where that quote comes from. So don’t focus so much on trying to aimed toward a paradise. Focus on what
really is happiness “Do not trouble yourself so much to get new things whether clothes or friends. Turn to the old. Return to them. God will see that you do
not want society.” Society tells you to get the newest application, get the newest items, get the newest clothes, But if you really focus, there are a lot of things that you already have that you can use toward your happiness. And if you do this, if you use the friends that you already have and the
things that you should already be thankful for, if you focus on that then you’re not going to want to listen to what society is telling you anymore because you find out the things you already have can bring a lot of happiness already. “Do not seek so anxiously to be developed, to subject yourself to many influences to be played on. It is all dissipation” It’s true. You try and get better and you focus so much on improvement, especially material improvement, and it all just fades away. In the end, what we’re left with are the relations we have with each other and the things that truly make us happy which is related to the spirit. “It is life near the bone which is sweetest. superfluous wealth can buy superfluity only. Money is not required to buy one necessary of the soul.” Thoreau just put what I said before more eloquently. Thanks for watching. I really appreciated it Walden is my favorite book. The whole idea of living simply and what you can learn from doing that. Not getting caught up materialism or what society says is
good. But rather focusing on what you think is good and how you think you should live and learning from yourself. Looking inward instead of outward. Walden is a great read that focuses a lot on that. I think if everyone were to read this book the world would be a better place. That’s my opinion. It teaches a lot of lessons. Well this is the Black Ponderer. My name is Neal Trotter. See you next time.