#59- Henry David Thoreau’s Walden: Why Are We Always So Busy?
In the spring of 1845, Henry David Thoreau borrowed an ax, walked into the woods, and started cutting down trees to make a shack to live in. Walden is the result of this endeavor.
Through this process, Thoreau spells out his distinctly American project — simple living with as few compromises as possible. Karl says, “The book is not a guide to your life, the book is a challenge to your life.”
In the woods, Thoreau makes precise, scientific observations of nature, writing his thoughts down in pastoral poetry. He wishes to drive life into a corner, to experience a sense of wonder, but also oneness, with nature.
When you are feeling uncoupled from your life, how might you come to “live deep and suck out all the marrow of life?”
Tune in to this week’s episode to hear more about Thoreau’s experiment and what can happen when you pick up an ax.
- Scott and Karl read podcast reviews
- Overview and history of Civil Disobedience
- Famous colloquialisms from this book
- Discussion of Thoreau’s morals
- The modern philosopher’s problem
- The dangerous of the book
- The lack of marriage and family in Thoreau’s life
- Achilles versus Bartleby the Scrivener
- “The book is not a guide for your life- it’s a challenge for your life.”
- Jonathan Swift’s Modest Proposal
Resources/Articles/People Mentioned In The Podcast
- “Dark Side of the Moon”
- The Republic
- Alasdair MacIntyre
- “My Fair Lady”
- Bruce Springsteen’s “Glory Days”
- John Browning
- Bhagavad Gita
- Baker Farm
- Modest Proposal.
Scott Hambrick: I’m Scott Hambrick.
Karl Schudt: I’m Karl Schudt.
Scott Hambrick: Today, Karl and I are going to talk about Henry David Thoreau’s book Walden (one of my favorites) but before we get into that, I would like the “dear listener” to go to onlinegreatbooks.com/ogbpodcast and jump on our V.I.P waiting list, even if you don’t want to sign up, we send you digests of our reading lists, we send you a couple of essays from Mortimer Adler that are interesting, some resources that might be helpful to you if you wanted to read these books on your own. So, go to onlinegreatbooks.com/ogbpodcast today and sign up there by clicking the join now button and if enrollment is open, join us and you’ll get 25 percent off your three months for doing that or get on the waiting list and we’ll send you some goodies anyhow. I normally make these appeals at the end of the show but I’m going to assume that not everybody stays until the end, Karl. It would be a great help to us if you recommended our show to one of your friends or went to iTunes and left a review there, that would be a big help to us.
Karl Schudt: Invite two of your friends.
Scott Hambrick: Yes, if you’re fortunate enough to have two friends, send it to both of them. Here’s a review, this guy says, “Breath of fresh air. Thank you Scott and Karl for the podcast, I appreciate the podcast because it seeks to and succeeds to help the listeners think of what is true and beautiful in the world. Often Scott and Karl get choked up at something from what they’re reading, and it is pure and good, and it is contagious. I was in tears on the way into work listening to the Lord of the Rings podcast that speaks to friendship and love and how sick our culture is in it’s understanding of love. This is truly a wonderful podcast and I appreciate the call to think of deeper, more profound and beautiful realities. ‘Thanks.’” That’s awfully nice of them.
Karl Schudt: We’re making up this podcast as we go and it’s taking shape. I think I have said this before that I want to be the guy pointing to the wonderful stuff and say, “Isn’t that neat?” I really like when other people say the same thing- the thrill of co-discovery. How’s that for a word.
Scott Hambrick: Sign up for the V.I.P list, leave an iTunes review, tell a buddy, all those things would be helpful to us because we don’t charge for people to listen to the show, so help us out that way. Meanwhile, Thoreau’s Walden here.
Karl Schudt: What a bombshell of a book. I think my brother had a copy of this and Civil Disobedience and it must have been excerpts because if I had read the whole thing I never would have finished high school. It’s an angry book by a guy who’s fed up and goes off to live by a lake. It’s just so mad, it’s kind of fun. It’s mad like 1840s New England mad, it’s not yelling and screaming, it’s very reserved mad but it’s still a really angry book. I think if you are interested in keeping things going as they are, nobody should ever be allowed to read it. It should be banned.
Scott Hambrick: This book is about non-conformity and following your own set of values and doing things intentionally but not doing anything that doesn’t suit your own purpose. Can you build a society full of Henry David Thoreaus?
Karl Schudt: No, but there’s no danger of that. Most people aren’t going to do it. You’ve probably heard a few quotes from this book like the one about drummers is from this book, the one that Pink Floyd quotes from “Dark Side of the Moon,” “Most men live lives of quiet desperation,” is from this book, but that’s not the good stuff.
Scott Hambrick: The famous colloquialism “when you cut firewood, it warms you twice.”
Karl Schudt: Is that from here?
Scott Hambrick: He says a friend of his told him that, but he immortalized it.
Karl Schudt: Is that what they say in Concord?
Scott Hambrick: That’s right.
Karl Schudt: What do they say in Catoosa?
Scott Hambrick: Same thing. It warms you when you cut it and it warms you when you burn it.
Karl Schudt: What if Catoosa was like a colony of Concord?
Scott Hambrick: It’s not, it has conformity to a perverse way of life that mostly isn’t good. There’s a lot that’s good about it but there’s a lot that’s not good about it. Picture the widely advertised image of rural America and that’s what it is. A lot of bad stuff going on there, not enough Thoreau’s. He’s an ascetic and boy is he. His family was wealthy, he was a hovid man (at least for a little while) I think his family owned and manufactured graphite pencils, if I’m not mistaken (which was pretty high-tech at the time). They had money and he wouldn’t have a whole lot to do with it, he wasn’t interested, it didn’t suit him, and he rejected all of it and one summer he went out to the woods by Walden Pond and built what the kids would call a “Hobo shack” and endeavored to live there. Not to live cheaply but to transact a private business with the fewest possible obstacles. It’s what he did for two and a half years.
Karl Schudt: It’s a book about laziness except not really. I think it’s a book about what happiness is. When I was part of the educational system, one the first day of class, I wanted to point out that happiness is something that they didn’t really know and something they ought to try to find out. One student thought the reason he was in school was to get a good job so that he could buy stuff. Meanwhile, this is a 9 a.m. class, that seems like a lot of work just to get a job and I suggested to him that he should try “wanting less stuff.” He was amazed, he’d never thought of it. If you want less stuff than the stuff that you have becomes wealth.
Scott Hambrick: Thoreau famously said, “The man who owns little is little owned.”
Karl Schudt: He’s got a line in there that we’ve become the tool of our tools and he’s talking about slave drivers, this is the time of slavery in the United States and of course it’s bad if you have a northern overseer, it’s worse if you have a southern overseer, it’s worst of all when you have a slave driver of yourself.
Scott Hambrick: He actually says that Northern overseers are worse, Karl.
Karl Schudt: Does he?
Scott Hambrick: I believe that’s right, we’ll check it in a second. You need to think long and hard about before you undertake to work, and you need to think about why you do it and if it suits your purposes. Right at the beginning of the thing he tells a story about an Indian who made baskets and I thought this was wonderful and I’m going to read it, It’s just one paragraph. “A strolling Indian went to sell baskets of a well-known lawyer in my neighborhood, ‘Do you wish to buy any baskets?’ he asked. “No, we do not want any,’ was the reply. ‘What,’ exclaimed the Indian as he went out the gate, ‘do you mean to starve us?’ Having seen his industrious white neighbor so well off that the lawyer had only to weave arguments and by some magic wealth, it’s standing followed, he had said to himself, ‘I will go into business, I will weave baskets. This is a thing which I can do, thinking that when he had made the baskets he would have done his part and it would be the white man’s part to buy them. He had not discovered that it was necessary for him to make it worth the other’s while to buy them or at least make him think it was so r to make something else which would be worth his while to buy. He said, “I would rather avoid the necessity of even selling them.”
Karl Schudt: If you make the baskets it’s not enough to make the basket you have to market the basket,, you have to create the need. A lot of what you see nowadays is creating the need for a product. That baby Yoda thing is trying to create a need for Disney plus and I’m completely immune. I don’t need another streaming service but they’re trying to make me think I do.
Scott Hambrick: You don’t need more babies either.
Karl Schudt: I like babies, but I don’t need baby Yoda and I don’t need another streaming service. It didn’t exist, they made it then they are trying to make you want it. It isn’t a necessity of life, you do not need another streaming service, you need food and shelter and apparently a pretty robust inner life. What else do you need?
Scott Hambrick: He wants to avoid the necessity for selling the basket and for Thoreau, the way you do that, is you need little. You must need little so that you don’t need to sell those things. Throughout this first book, he rails against the economy and all these petty wants and petty needs people commonly have.
Karl Schudt: He calls them petty but if you had a whole society of Thoreaus, you’d be poor. Your gross domestic product would go down, you wouldn’t build fine skyscrapers, you wouldn’t have marble halls of govt, you wouldn’t have fine clothes, you wouldn’t have the internet. You’d have a bunch of people sitting in shacks looking at the birds come out in the spring.
Scott Hambrick: What’s wrong with that?
Scott Hambrick: It’d be poverty. I was chatting about this with the “famous” seminar one, it’s like Socrates, in The Republic, suggests an ideal city and it’s a very minimal place with the bare necessities but it’s a very nice life reclining on couches of myrtle, eating barley, and be with family and sing songs to the Gods. But Glaucon says, “There’s no luxury, here.” Then they go off and they have to build the city that nobody really likes with all of the warfare and everything.
Scott Hambrick: Socrates posits that luxury necessitates the big state. Thoreau does here too, later. He says that without consumerism they don’t have the tax base to wage war in Mexico and they don’t have the tax base to grow up a giant state and control everybody.
Karl Schudt: He’s pretty angry about war. It’s not a very patriotic book. It’s not conventionally patriotic, I believe he calls the soldiers “fools” at one point. He can hear the military marching from Concord across the hills to his little shack and he doesn’t take part of it. If you had a whole society of Henry David Thoreaus it wouldn’t be the society we have.
Scott Hambrick: It would certainly be different. I’m not very attracted to some of it like common fashions. He says, “A monkey in Paris puts on a travelers cap and all the monkeys in America do the same. Every generation laughs at the old fashions but follows, religiously, the new.” He cautions us against wanting stuff because somebody else had it.
Karl Schudt: Bell bottoms are ridiculous. Yoga pants though are ubiquitous.
Scott Hambrick: Yoga pants don’t get caught up in the sprocket though.
Karl Schudt: I’m kind of fond of bell bottoms. When you strolled into a room your pants would lead the way.
Scott Hambrick: They got there first.
Karl Schudt: If you had the platform shoes, that was cool. It was 1978- the peak of fashion.
Scott Hambrick: Speaking of clothing, he says, “I cannot believe that our factory system is the best mode by which men may get clothing. The condition of the operatives is becoming everyday more like that of the English and it cannot be wondered as since as far as I have wondered or observed the principal object is not that mankind may be well and honestly clad, but questionably, corporations may be enriched. in the long run, men hit only what they aim at therefore though they should fail immediately they should aim at something high.” Even your clothing needs to have a higher aim.
Karl Schudt: The people that make the clothing need to have a higher aim. But what’s the aim? Is it to see you well and durably clothed?
Scott Hambrick: Maybe at Carhart?
Karl Schudt: Is that an endorsement?
Scott Hambrick: Yes. It’s expensive, durable, and superior.
Karl Schudt: Let’s go back to the Disney corporation which, through baby Yoda, is attempting to suck us all into signing up for their streaming service. Is the goal of that corporation’s actions the true the good, the beautiful for us or for them?
Scott Hambrick: Probably to even for them.
Karl Schudt: Is it something else? The quote you just read, Thoreau says, “We get what we aim at.” You had better aim at the right thing. The reverse of that is that you can figure out what people are aiming at and it might not be for your good. Having some skepticism, not to say that Thoreau would propose that everybody be a Thoreau and live out in the woods. If you read this book you might think that he was only a mile or so out of town and he wasn’t really roughing it but I don’t know that the point is that you all go off and build a cabin somewhere, the point is it’s his experiment. The form of your experiment’s going to be different, but you could take an inventory of all the things that you work very, very hard to get and think about the needless things. There’s a whole lot of nature stuff in here, there’s some poetry too. He’s watching pigeons fly by and he says, “I had an appointment with an oak tree.” He’s somewhat of a naturalist. Is watching a tree come to life in the spring, better than Netflix?
Scott Hambrick: Yes.
Karl Schudt: If it is then why don’t more people think so?
Scott Hambrick: Because the tree doesn’t have a marketing budget to control your taste and to direct you towards it.
Karl Schudt: Netflix is easier, and it takes time and peace and calm in order to walk through your local sacred grove to see the changes from the trees budding to flowering, to bird’s making nests, to follow the trail of the ants going to war. He’s got a description of ants going to war. You have to have some inner peace to do that.
Scott Hambrick: How you opened that point was that this is his experiment, but I think it’s his thesis statement, he says, “My purpose in going to Walden Pond was not to live cheaply nor to live dearly there but to transact some private business with the fewest obstacles. You, dear listener, can do that in whatever form that works for you so you have to figure out what your private business is and identify the things that are the obstacles and you cut it all clean so that you can do that thing whatever that may be. He gives many examples such as education, he says, “How could youths better learn to live than by one’s trying the experiment of living.” He’s a Harvard man and he impunes the University.
Karl Schudt: He’s sitting in a philosophy class and you’re talking about Socrates and he says this thing, “The unexamined life is not worth living for a man.” You could imagine the students dutifully jotting down, bullet point, “the unexamined life is not worth living,” and then regurgitating it on the test but do they ever examine their life? The whole point of life is not to digest a bunch of PowerPoint slides. Alasdair MacIntyre made a point about how nobody cares about modern philosophers; nobody makes them drink poison. A philosopher is a bomb thrower, but Thoreau is every bit a philosopher. If you read this book and take it seriously and you might head for the hills.
Scott Hambrick: Whatever your hill is you’re going to head for it. He’s a hater, he says, “I would rather sit on a pumpkin and have it all to myself than to crowded on a velvet cushion, I’d rather ride on earth in an ox cart with a free circulation than go to heaven in a fancy car of an excursion train and breathe the malaria all the way.” I wrote next to that- air travel. Airplane can’t take me anywhere that’s worth going to the airport for. I hate it, it’s disgusting to me.
Karl Schudt: What’s your limit? How far will you drive before you have to get on a plane?
Scott Hambrick: I don’t know.
Karl Schudt: For me, it’s about fourteen hours. I think I did twenty-one one day.
Scott Hambrick: Fourteen hours is probably about right.
Karl Schudt: The thing is if you have a good inner life, you don’t need to go anywhere because it’s always with you. You can be anywhere and not be bored. This is why Thoreau could watch ants on a hill and cut firewood, but he had a rich inner life. Wouldn’t you like to be like that so that the tasks that you have to do for your personal economy are the tasks that you like doing. How can you take something that’s drudgery and make it glorious.
Scott Hambrick: How can you do that? Let’s talk about that. One thing you can do is realize the essentials for existence. He knew that the firewood would warm him twice, it made him effective in the world around him. He wasn’t’ just moving the “tps reports” around. He was doing good work and his world view was such that he would see some other kind of work that seems higher to normal people as drudgery because it wasn’t necessary. He valued it because of the necessity of boiling water to make his gruel or cutting the firewood so that he didn’t freeze to death. The necessity of the thing made it good, the other stuff is superfluous to him.
Karl Schudt: For him, the closer to his actual life, the better.
Scott Hambrick: It made him self-reliant. If you go to the store to buy your food, you don’t have to do any of the work to get your food. You should know where your food comes from. When they have BBQs in Homer, they always give an offering to the gods before they kill the animal and cut it up and it’s an event because they know it’s how they get food and they make it happen. It becomes a sacred event and grabbing a package of ground beef might be drudgery. It would be better if you raised the animal on your farm. Is it better or is it just poetically better?
Scott Hambrick: Everybody knows that when you grow tomatoes in your back yard or container tomatoes on your patio you get more satisfaction from watching them grow that makes it better.
Karl Schudt: I have some musical instruments that I had built myself and they aren’t as good as the factories in China could make but I made them. When I say I made them I put together a guitar kit but it’s mine and it’s better and when I sit with my banjo and pluck on it, it’s better because I made it; I put the linseed oil into the wood, I stretched the goat skin over the hoop, it’s mine, I did it, it’s better.
Scott Hambrick: He sees those things that we are being taught that are mundane as very noble and very good. People give kids career advice and they say that if you find something you love you’ll never work a day in your life. Most jobs aren’t’ loveable but if you can find a way to love them and be challenged by it and to be gratified you’ve got something. He has a knack of doing that. Most things he doesn’t find gratifying and he rejects them. He values personal immediate action over delayed gratification. He would rather cut his own firewood right now than do something to make extra money and pay somebody to deliver firewood to him. He’s not okay with that. He tells a story about “spending the best part of one’s life earning money in order to enjoy a questionable liberty during the least valuable part of it reminds me of the Englishman who went to India to make a fortune first in order that he might return to England and live the life of a poet.” That’s a thing for him.
Karl Schudt: We just watched “My Fair Lady.” I think there’s enough movies made; we don’t need to make anymore.
Scott Hambrick: Have we made enough books?
Karl Schudt: We have maybe three more. But we’re going through lists of greatest movies and it was “My Fair Lady” this weekend. Henry Higgins is a linguist and he’s spent his life doing whatever he wants and his friend, Colonel Pickering who has spent his whole life in India thus he’s an amateur at the thing that Higgins is the best in the world at. He went off to make his fortune and served in the British Empire and he’s happy to be in Higgins shadow, but he could’ve been the guy. He would have pursued his own thing- if you want to be the poet, go be the poet.
Scott Hambrick: Take action!
Karl Schudt: When I’m sixty-five I will retire and take up painting.
Scott Hambrick: Just do it. What are you waiting for? The material conditions aren’t going to improve. You still have to put the first stroke on the canvas. “If I have to drag my trap, I’ll take care that it is a light one and it does not nib me in a vital part. But per chance, it would be wise never to put one’s paw into it.”
Karl Schudt: And the trap would be? Business, the stable job.
Scott Hambrick: Right. He said that at one point he could have taken up business and if he had worked at it for ten years he would have had the misfortune of doing a good business. He would have been trapped because that’s not what he wanted to do.
Karl Schudt: There’s a quote in my book, on page 20, “The greater part of what my neighbors call good, I believe in my soul to be bad and if I repent of anything it is very likely to be my good behavior.” He doesn’t care what you think and “good behavior” would be to do what everybody else does without thinking about it. I wonder what it would be like to live in this area and have this guy squatting out on the banks of the pond? I wonder if they thought he was crazy and if they called him “Hank?”
Scott Hambrick: No. He’s very proper, he’s very puritanical, he thinks that there are all these behavioral standards that people need to adhere to, he’s got dietary restrictions, body dysmorphia, he’s very Northeastern Puritanical.
Karl Schudt: I think he’s more Hindu, I think he’s’ read a bunch of the Eastern stuff.
Scott Hambrick: He’s a toxic mixture of the two, I think.
Karl Schudt: Which doesn’t matter and he’s going to do what he thinks is the right thing to do rather than taking a job in a factory. I was thinking about comparing him with the fictional character of Bartleby and maybe Bartlebys’ boss who does scrivening and law work because it’s the thing to do and they continue at it and Bartleby doesn’t want to do it anymore.
Scott Hambrick: Bartleby, ultimately, doesn’t want to do life anymore but in chapter economy, Thoreau says that he’s doing this because he wants to drive life into a corner. He wants to master the whole project and to submit to his will. Bartleby is a conscientious objector.
Karl Schudt: Bartleby did not find within the confines of New York life, anything that he thought was worthwhile, so he quits. Maybe the problem was where he was, and his initial compliance was the problem. I have a quote here that I really like also on page 24, “None can be an impartial or wise observer of human life but from the vantage ground of what we should call voluntary poverty.” In other words, if you are full-on into the stream of modern life, you probably can’t judge it very well. To use my Disney Plus example- if you are watching streaming movies all the time and talking about the shows all the time if somebody suggests to you that maybe you shouldn’t watch anything. Are you going to be able to hear the question? Are you going to be able to think about it? You have to be able to step back from it and have some distance. He says of about being a philosopher- philosopher means lover of wisdom- Socrates was a real philosopher, “to be a real philosopher is not merely to have subtle thoughts nor even to found a school but so to love wisdom as to live according to its dictates, a life of simplicity, independence, magnanimity, and trust. It is to solve some of the problems of life, not only theoretically, but practically. The success of great scholars who think vs. commonly a courtier likes not kingly not manly, they makeshift to live merely by conformity, practically as their fathers did under no sense the progenitors of a nobler race of men.
Scott Hambrick: “Practically.” It’s about action. It’s all about the right action for him.
Karl Schudt: If you think the unexamined isn’t worth living then you better go live an examined life.
Scott Hambrick: You can’t examine it if it’s covered in layers and layers of artifice, popular fashion, trains, and artificial conveyance.
Karl Schudt: He’s not a fan of the trains.
Scott Hambrick: He wants you to be close to reality. He wants a realometer that future ages might know how deep a freshet of shams and appearances had gathered from time to time. He wants people to be rooted in reality so they can see everything and see themselves and once they see that they can transcend it.
Karl Schudt: This is angry stuff that a high schooler should never read. What if they read it and thought that they had to live their convictions?
Scott Hambrick: I had a “clique,” I had some friends when I was in school, we read this, I carried a copy of this around with me every day for about three years and my friend Craig read it, when we were in the 7th grade. He finished it, he stood up, walked out of the school and down the street and the cops picked him up three miles from school.
Karl Schudt: He was done.
Scott Hambrick: He was done. They got him back in the building, but he was gone- his body was there but not his mind. Stuff didn’t work out very well for him. Things have been difficult for that cat, but he walked out.
Karl Schudt: Craig- it didn’t work out for Craig. Is this a dangerous book?
Scott Hambrick: It’s a super dangerous book. It can be an apology for idleness, frankly. It can be an apology for not being industrious. There’s a certain good in industry, there’s a certain good in productivity, there’s a certain good in striving but we have to do it where it makes sense. I think Thoreau probably strived very hard to make a good book of this. How many untold hours did he have in this? How many edits were there? We’ll never know but there was a striving and a lot of work put into this book, but he doesn’t talk about that. He talks about a lady that was going to give him a door mat that he turned down because he would have had to have shaken it out. It could be misconstrued because he doesn’t talk a lot about the virtuous stuff that he did work out very, very hard. He didn’t talk about the hits that he takes in public. I’m sure people thought he was nuts and talked bad about him, he didn’t fit in, he had to have been a social outcast to some degree. He doesn’t talk about that.
Karl Schudt: Was there a Mrs. Thoreau?
Scott Hambrick: There’s no Mrs. Thoreau or Johnny or Susie.
Karl Schudt: It’s a book by a solitary man not too interested in family. I didn’t look up his life story, I just wanted to take the book as it was. It doesn’t seem like there’s a girlfriend.
Scott Hambrick: I think that the poet who visits him is Emerson. He talks about a poet who visits him, and they would come for two weeks and they would talk late into the night. He had some good friends but no spouse.
Karl Schudt: Marriage and family are not of the things that are valued in this book. For me, that’s a big thing missing, and that might drag you back into society. Although, you’d probably have to work it out for yourself. How do you do marriage and family, do it the right way, see the value in it, and not do it as everyone else does as making more cogs in the machine?
Scott Hambrick: He tells a story about the Irish family…
Karl Schudt: He always tells a story about an Irish family. All the lower class people in this book are Irish.
Scott Hambrick: They rented a shack, but they had rich food, they were poor people, but they had butter and Thoreau questions why the Irish guy is going out busting his ass so that he can have butter? He’s got these little filthy kids and they live in squalor, but they rent the house and they depend as much on butter in a year as his house even cost him. He doesn’t paint a good picture of family life. It was probably hidden to him that maw and paw delighted in the kids and were happy when the kids had butter. That stuff’s lost on him. Might he have been a little autistic?
Karl Schudt: I don’t know. He’s certainly odd but the thing is that his strangeness can point the way or give you permission to follow your own strangeness a bit more than you normally would. The Super Bowl happened recently, and I have spent a lot of my life paying attention to football, so much wasted time sitting in tree or four hour chunks sitting in front of a television watching these games. You know what? It was hard for me to quit because when you quit it you’re considered strange because you don’t have anything to talk about with people. I go to gatherings and they want to talk about football. In order to disengage from that thing, you have to take a stand and that’s a small thing, but it was hard to not care about that stuff. It has been very freeing and very good for me.
Scott Hambrick: It makes it tougher, but you can find your own tribe and cultivate better relationships with our own tribe. I think he’s one of us. He talks about the Great Books, Karl.
Karl Schudt: He does but you only had one book with him, right?
Scott Hambrick: Yeah. He talks about reading it in the Greek. Do you remember this piece? He says, “The student may read Homer or listen to the Greek without danger of dissipation or luxuriousness, for it implies for he is in some measure emulating their heroes and consecrate morning hours to their pages. The Great Books, even if printed in the character of our mother tongue will always be in a language dead to it’s degenerate times. We must laboriously seek the meaning of each word and line. Conjecturing a larger sense than common use permits, out of what wisdom and valor and generosity we have. The modern cheap, and vernal press with all it’s translations has done little to bring us nearer to the heroic writers of antiquity; they seem as solitary and the letter in which they are printed is as rare and curious as ever.” I think he thinks that to read the original and do the translations is heroic.
Karl Schudt: Right. Somewhere he says, “Why do you read these things?”
Scott Hambrick: “To read well, to read true books in a true spirit is a noble exercise and one that will take the reader more than any exercise which the customs of the day of steam.”
Karl Schudt: And it’s a way to get in touch with the heroism of the ages. I think so, obviously, I’m a part of Online Great Books. You read these things and they change you; they open possibilities of existence that might have been covered over. Reading Walden does this. He’s like Achilles sitting down in his lodge by the beach.
Scott Hambrick: He’s like Achilles who prefers not to fight.
Karl Schudt: Achilles and Bartleby- I thought Bartleby was like Achilles. When you read the Iliad, you’re first reaction to Achilles is that you think he’s a jerk and you might circle back to that in the end but you’ll be missing the point if you don’t see that it is Achilles’ strength of character that allows him to sit out of this war that is a thing that he really wants to do. If Achilles were not strong, he’d be fighting like everybody else. You might not like the reason he doesn’t fight, and you might not like the bad effects, but it takes strength of character to take your ball and go home sometimes. It’s not petulance it’s what you think the right thing to do is. That’s a good message, it’s not going to work out for everybody.
Scott Hambrick: He does what he wants to without regard for what anybody thinks about it. He has the courage of his conviction; he marches to the beat of his own drummer for sure.
Karl Schudt: He says some things that I thought sounded like what Hambrick would say about debt. He gives you an accounting of everything that he’s spending in this book.
Scott Hambrick: I love his accounting.
Karl Schudt: The house cost him $28.12 ½ cents. He tells you what his food cost for eight months, what his oil costs, how much he spent on rice, and he’s comparing it to what you might learn in school. If you go to school, and you study this, the consequences are that while the student is reading Adam Smith Ricardo and Say, he runs his father into debt, irretrievably. If you study economics in college, while you’re financing your tuition with debt. Ridiculous! Maybe you ought to walk out of school and build your $28 house and get your copy of Adam Smith and be better off.
Scott Hambrick: He says it again and again, “Go up the garret at once if you want to learn how to live, start trying to live.” He’s big on that. He says that we’ve got a pretty good school system at the time, “but it’s time that we have uncommon schools, that we do not leave off our education when we begin to be men and women. It is time that the villages were universities and their elder inhabitants the fellows of the universities with leisure, if they are indeed so well off, to pursue liberal studies for the rest of their lives. Shall the world be confined to one Paris or one Oxford forever? Cannot students be boarded here and get a liberal education under the skies of Concord? Can we not hire some Apeopleyard to not lecture us? I’ll ask not with fodder in the cattle and tending the store, we are kept from school too long, our education is sadly neglected. In this country, the village should, in some respects take the place of the noblemen of Europe.” This is Emerson’s project in the essay “The American Scholar.” This is the project of the “American Scholar.” We have an opportunity to make the village the university and create uncommon schools.
Karl Schudt: You could but what you need is leisure.
Scott Hambrick: He says so.
Karl Schudt: In order to have leisure, you have to not work as hard.
Scott Hambrick: To not work as hard, according to Thoreau, you need to want a whole lot less. Stop wanting unimportant things. Want important things which are a few unbroken hours in the morning with that book. Conversation with friends, your appointment with the tree.
Karl Schudt: Right. He says, talking about economic efficiency, “Where is this division of labor to end and what object does it finally serve? No doubt another may also think for me.” We can keep dividing up our jobs in order that you can make more stuff but what’s the point of all of that stuff if it makes you not think. I thought a funny line was when he was talking about railroads and telegraphs (that’s what was happening in 1842) the information “highway” and they’re thinking of running a telegraph line from Maine to Texas, but they never figure out whether Maine and Texas have anything to talk about. They’re running telegraph lines all over the place at this time, before the transcontinental railroad, so connecting everything so that everyone may communicate but what are they going to talk about? You can get a telegram; Lindbergh has land somewhere- why do you care? Most of what is transmitted to you, as I sit in front of my computer, is diversion. I could imagine walker Percy writing a story where you’re sitting in front of your computer and you’ve got Fox News on one and CNN on the other, and you’re taking in all sorts of stuff and one of the screens flashes and says, “How are you? How is it with you? Who are you? What are you doing?” That’s never what comes through. What comes through is observing people, or other videos that are distractions that you never needed to know in the first place. The ancients would have called it gossip- the mere desire for novelty, for curiosities advice. Continually wanting to know the new stuff to the exclusion of your own inner life is a vice.
Scott Hambrick: Thoreau says he loves a broad margin to his life. He wants to keep a broad margin around it and protect it from those things. He said in the first summer, he didn’t read, he read no books and hoed beans. He said, “Often I did better than this.” He would just lay on his ass and watch the sun come up and watch the trees. He says, “I love a broad margin to my life.” He wants to be protected from all that, he doesn’t care what Texas and Maine had to say or what the newspaper in Concord had. It wasn’t his life, so he wanted a moat around his life. That ain’t bad advice I don’t think.
Karl Schudt: What is the thing that’s important? It’s your life, right?
Scott Hambrick: He says that we have to be very careful that our life isn’t made for us or taken from us. The trip to Fitchburg story, I think, tells this pretty well. His buddy suggested taking the train to Fitchburg, the next town over, tomorrow. His buddy has to go work so that he can buy his ticket, so he works all day and gets paid and the morning after that and he pulls in on the train in Fitchburg the next morning. Thoreau decided to walk to Fitchburg the moment they decided to go, and he got there the night before and had already been there for twelve hours when he met his friend at the train station. Not only did it not cost him anything, but time is money. We trade chunks of our lives for these tickets, so he got to retain that chunk of his life. He profited his experience between Concord and Fitchburg by walking the track and seeing everything and stopping to visit with one of the Irishmen working the rail on the way and was richer for it.
Karl Schudt: If you could figure out your hourly rate to earn your daily bread, think of it as the hours of your life that you have to give. Say you go to the store and you want something new and ask how much of your life it costs.
Scott Hambrick: It could cost a lot.
Karl Schudt: The thing that the car salesman should tell you is that he just sucked one year of your life from you.
Scott Hambrick: That ain’t good. Let me flip that. Towards the end of my career in my previous life, I was making quite a bit of money, and it gets to the point where if I stay and work another hour, I can afford extra things and still have money left over. I could spend two hours fixing the leaky faucet under the sink or I could work an hour here and have the plumber do it.
Karl Schudt: I might still hire the plumber.
Scott Hambrick: I did that for a long time, and it uncoupled me from my life. It uncoupled me from my home and my surroundings, and it changed my life into whatever it was I was doing there at my business. I ultimately sold that business because I was mighty uneasy in it. I had certain reasons for being uneasy in it that I could have made a list. It’s nice to have disposable income to make those economic decisions but life is not an economic decision. There’s something good about working on your own home whether or not it’s profitable.
Karl Schudt: Or knowing your own children. I know my kids. I want to read a lengthy quote here about education. “If I wished a boy to know something about the arts and science, for instance, I would not pursue the common course which is merely to send him into the neighborhood of some professor where anything is professed and practiced but the art of life. To survey the world through a telescope or a microscope and never with his natural eye, and study chemistry and not learn how his bread is made, or mechanics or not learn how it is earned. To discover a new satellite to Neptune and not detect the moats in his eyes or to what vagabond he is a satellite himself. Or to devour the monsters that swarm all around him while contemplating the monsters in a drop of vinegar. Which would have advanced at the end of the month? The boy who made a jack knife from the ore which he had dug and smelted? Reading as much as would be necessary for this or the boy had attended the lectures on metallurgy at the institute in the meanwhile and had received a Roger’s penknife from his father.” Obviously, we’re not going to dig ore.
Scott Hambrick: Why not?
Karl Schudt: Because there’s no ore near me, we don’t have mountains, we’re flat. It would be a rough life if you could not buy stuff that others had made and there would not be a whole lot of leisure and subsistence existence is not leisure. It sure would be good to get a little bit more of this stuff closer to home. Is that a moderate position or am I selling out?
Scott Hambrick: No, we need to be moderate here because he is not moderate. We can’t all be him and it’s probably not a good idea to do what he did, and he did it for two and a half years at most. He abandoned the project as well and when we can do good things we should do good things.
Karl Schudt: The book is not a guide for your life- it’s a challenge for your life.
Scott Hambrick: Here is a Rogers pen knife. Apparently Rogers was a company in Sheffield, England. Here’s one for $60 on eBay.
Karl Schudt: Is it form 1840?
Scott Hambrick: No, it looks like it’s from 1890. It’s really hard for me to not buy this.
Karl Schudt: I have a knife that I made out of a bit of rebar. We built a forge, I have a little anvil, I pounded this one out of a railroad rail. It took a lot of work and it looks like an org knife. I haven’t sharpened it yet and it’s like a butter knife but it’s recognizably a knife, I bent the metal to make a handle, I curved part of it and made a handle and it sits in the hand pretty well. I made it, it’s ugly, but I could use it.
Scott Hambrick: I made a meat cleaver when I was fourteen.
Karl Schudt: Do you still have it? I want to see it.
Scott Hambrick: I made a machete which I don’t know where it is.
Karl Schudt: I read about Browning, the gun inventor.
Scott Hambrick: My aunt Bula had a brass bed and it was squeaky and it finally broke and some of it was missing. One of her boys had taken chunks and tubing and made a 22 rifle out of it. Here’s you some Roger’s County shit, Karl, I know you like the stuff. My mom came out to this acreage that we’ve got and there was a wild rose bush in the fence row that had to come out, it was as big as a mid-size car and the trunk of the thing was probably as big as my thigh, it was huge and deadly. My mom said when she was a kid there was a rose bush like that on the property she lived on and the story goes that the people who lived there before her, one of the guys lost his arm in an accident and they buried it in the yard and planted that rosebush on top of it. I have no idea if that’s true but it’s a good story.
Karl Schudt: Is that how you get your rose bushes to grow?
Scott Hambrick: She says, “Heck, I don’t know.” She didn’t think anything of it, she just told the story and walked off.
Karl Schudt: That’s the way things are out there; people burying body parts to grow their flowers.
Scott Hambrick: He has a chapter here called “Sounds.” He talks about the things he could hear with no companions he could really hear things. And the next chapter is “Solitude” and he starts out “This is a delicious evening when the whole body is one sense it imbibes to life every pore.” I remember some of those evenings when the temperature is just right, and you’ve got your mind right. I used to go fishing with my sister, we’d walk to a farm pond and when the weather was just right and the humidity was just right, she could be on the other side of this pond and we could talk in a completely normal talking voice and we could hear each other across that pond. No shouting, just normal speaking volume, and we could hear each other from 200 yards away.
Karl Schudt: but you won’t notice that if you’re looking at your phone.
Scott Hambrick: No, I miss it.
Karl Schudt: There’s a whole lot that you won’t notice. Is what’s on your phone better?
Scott Hambrick: No.
Karl Schudt: Keeping up with current events. That’s like Maine keeping up with Texas. What does Maine have to do with Texas? What do current events have to do with you?
Scott Hambrick: I had this talk with my oldest daughter about current events and politics and she was saying that one of her acquaintances had no interest in politics and she got on to her about it. She’s almost eighteen so she’s very interested in voting and so on. I’m not interested in the amount of time to cast one 325 millionth of a decision in a national election isn’t worth the time it takes me to go to and fro. I’ve said before that I don’t believe that I’m competent to vote. If we’re going to do a bond election about the new low-water damn out at the wastewater treatment, I don’t know anything about that. My vote no matter what I think, or I tell myself, is going to be capricious because I don’t know anything about that stuff.
Karl Schudt: Sure. If you go in, I will be voting because it’s my license to complain, I live in Cook County and whichever way I vote won’t matter; it’s a monolithic county so it doesn’t really matter if I go vote but I’m going to do it.
Scott Hambrick: Thoreau would say that you’re free to gripe, that you don’t have to punch a hole in the ballot, or draw a checkmark or make your x, and it is your right and lot in life to gripe.
Karl Schudt: I feel better about griping having actually gone.
Scott Hambrick: Fair enough.
Karl Schudt: But you get a long ballot and you might know three of the candidates. Do you know who your congressman is? He’s a friend of a friend.
Scott Hambrick: You need to look into your friends a little more. I don’t know who my state house rep. is.
Karl Schudt: All the Chicago Catholics know each other. But I don’t know who my state house people are, if you don’t know that you’re probably going to vote for the president because they’re big personalities, but you won’t know any of the down-ticket things. Don’t take it too seriously if you’re going to do it for the purpose of complaining, you do it when the election is but the rest of the year what good does it do to follow all of the current events? Is it going to change your convictions?
Scott Hambrick: I can hear all the Normies right now yelling.
Karl Schudt: It’s entertaining but I have better things to do than to follow daily current events and it’s not going to matter in November as my convictions will be the same. I don’t need to spend a year following all the people.
Scott Hambrick: I think Thoreau would say that it doesn’t serve your life.
Karl Schudt: I want to read the most well-known quote, in my copy this is on page 96 and this is what I lived for, ”I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life and see if I could not learn what it had to teach and not what I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear. Nor did I wish to practice resignation unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and spartan like as to put to route all that was not life; to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner and reduce it to its lowest terms. and if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness and publish its meanness to the world or if it were sublime, to know it by experience. To know it and to give a true account of it in my next excursion. For most men, it appears to me, are in a strange uncertainty about it whether it is of the devil or the god and have somewhat hastily concluded that it is the chief end of man to glorify god and enjoy him forever. Shall we live meanly like ants? Though the fable tells us that we were long ago changed into metal.” I could keep going on and on.
Scott Hambrick: Wonderful prose.
Karl Schudt: He doesn’t want to take anybody else’s word for it, he doesn’t want to succumb to conventional religion, somewhat hastily he concluded that the chief end of man here is to glorify god. Something that struck me is his quote about Christianity and agriculture, that we like Christianity because it helps the agriculture. Good Christian men and women get the harvest in but that’s not the religion, that’s somewhat hasty.
Scott Hambrick: He also says that we weren’t afraid of the dark until we had Christianity and candles too.
Karl Schudt: He’s a non-conventional believer, which might raise your hackles, but if you just go and do what everyone else does, you’re not going to suck out the marrow of life.
Scott Hambrick: Part of this project here is not just to suck out the marrow of life but to identify what it is by paring away chunks that he suspects ain’t it. It’s like a sculpture when you reduce the material to form it into a shape like David. He’s trying to “reduce it to its lowest terms” by reducing the unnecessary things or elements and find out just exactly where it is at its core. I think we all could take a life inventory. What are we doing here with superfluity and get down to the “thing.”
Karl Schudt: I was listening to Bruce Springsteen’s “Glory Days” the other day and how the “glory days” are all gone. It’s a depressing song because they are living in the past exclusively.
Scott Hambrick: Earlier, I talked about the nostalgia of being at the pond with my sister, I often wonder what happens to the human mind, as we get older, that makes it harder for us to reminisce about the past. Is it scar tissue, weights we carry, and dead neurons, or whatever but here you are in your fifth decade and it’s harder to remember those fond memories.
Karl Schudt: I think there’s some of that, there’s the “glory days” thing but what’s your average fifty-year-old doing? It’s the peak of your professional life, you’re going to be at your job most of the day, if you have kids they’ll be fifteen to twenty, and when you wake up it might be a day of “quiet desperation.” I hear what you’re saying, and I remember as a kid feeling like the days of summer were endless but in my recent adult life, they seem like nothing. It might be that the reason the summer was endless was because I was doing something every day and the reason the summers go by so quickly now is that you get stuck in a routine where you’re doing the same thing every day, there’s nothing to remember.
Scott Hambrick: Do you know ice flowers?
Karl Schudt: Ice flowers?
Scott Hambrick: You know- it would be rainy, some groundwater out there above freezing then the next night the temperature will drop below freezing and the ground will push these curly-ques of ice up out of the crack in the ground. Have you seen these things in Illinois?
Karl Schudt: We have slush and potholes.
Scott Hambrick: You probably don’t have the wild temperature swings up there. I remember seeing those things as a young person and they were fascinating! Go look up “frost flower” or “ice flower.” That wonder and openness is hard to maintain forever.
Karl Schudt: It’s worth trying. The way to not make it happen is to not know that it’s happening? There’s so much that you miss, and you have to make a choice about where you put your energy. Do you put your energy into a quaint festival or the commercial pro football game? I think that there was a more authentic life before I started following sports all the time. There might be more out there, but I have found the “thing” that’s for me.
Scott Hambrick: I would say that playing football is one million times better than watching it.
Karl Schudt: It hurts, though.
Scott Hambrick: It would be better off joining the flag football league.
Karl Schudt: Make it more of your own activity (suck the marrow out of your own life) instead of sitting around passively watching a game. Sure, it’s fun but there are things that are funner.
Scott Hambrick: Thoreau’s fun, he’s funny and he makes me laugh out loud. He says, “I had more visitors when I lived in the woods than any other period in my life. By that I mean I had some.”
Karl Schudt: Nobody ever comes to see Henry David Thoreau. What would that have been like?
Scott Hambrick: Terrible. Would you like some boiled peas? He talks about a French-Canadian wood cutter that he would hang out with from time to time. He told him Plato’s bird, Plato’s definition of a man, “Featherless Biped,” “and the one exhibited a cock plucked and called it ‘Plato’s man,’” and the French-Canadian said that he thought it an important difference that the knees bent the wrong way.
Karl Schudt: That’s true.
Scott Hambrick: he was more interested in that practical thing than the philosophical turnings that you could come up with. I read a chunk to Charity last night. Virgil wrote a lot of wonderful pastoral poetry and a lot of this Thoreau “smells” like Virgil to me. “There the sun lighted me to hope means pacing slowly backward and forward over that yellow gravelly upland between the long green rows fifteen rods. The one interminating in the shrub Oak cots where I could rest in the shade. The other in a blackberry field where the green berries deepened their tints by the time I had made another bout. Removing the weeds and putting fresh soil about the bean stems and encouraging this weed, which I had sown making the yellow soil express it’s summer thought in bean leaves and blossoms rather than in wormwood and piper and millet grass, making the earth say beans instead of grass. I think that whole thing is wonderful. He says that the beans were a thought expressed of the soil and that he was making the earth say “beans” instead of grass. That is wonderful.
Karl Schudt: There is a poem, I think it might be by your guy Walt Whitman, about a live oak tree furiously shouting, “green leaves!” That the whole world’s an expression of mine somehow and that the expression of the earth’s is beans.
Scott Hambrick: Made it say “beans.” By his own hand. He’s got a whole chapter about the bean field. It’s great, it’s a lot like John McPhee. He says that when he was weeding those with his hoe, “Many a lusty crest waving hector that towered a whole foot above his crowded comrades filled up before my weapon and rolled in the dust.” He’s talking about weeding.
Karl Schudt: The “roll in the dust” is when people in the Iliad they’re sometimes described as “rolling in the dust.” He’s quoting the Iliad there. It’s such a good book, it’s a classic, I think it should be an international classic that ought to be read by everybody. It will challenge you and make you think about unconventional ways of living and these are the best books. A good book is a book that you want to throw across the room. Not every book that you wish to throw across the room is a good book. But a good book, one that’s good for you, not one that’s pleasant, but a book that’s good for you is one that challenges you. It will make you question what Henry David Thoreau is talking about. You may end up disagreeing with him.
Scott Hambrick: How in the world can this guy not take delight in food?
Karl Schudt: I don’t know, he delights in everything else in nature, but he doesn’t care for eating.
Scott Hambrick: He says, “The wonder is how they,” meaning you and I, can “live this slimy, beastly life eating and drinking,” he says. What?!
Karl Schudt: I might part company to that.
Scott Hambrick: He’s such a prig about certain things like no coffee, no tea, no tobacco, no drink. He drinks water and a hasty pudding which was brown rice and corn meal.
Karl Schudt: Let me come to his defense. I had a conversation with gentlemen, in the gym, on Monday, his wife and I drink coffee all day long and he asked why I drink coffee all day long. I get terrible headaches if I don’t drink coffee, but he says I’m an addict. Would it be better if I never drank coffee or if I drank it once a week on Sunday morning?
Scott Hambrick: No.
Karl Schudt: Tell me why.
Scott Hambrick: I delight in it all day long.
Karl Schudt: It does nothing for me, it does not wake me up.
Scott Hambrick: I like coffee, so shoot me David. He says, “Not that food which entereth into the mouth defileth a man but the appetite with which it is eaten.” He’s very puritanical like that. He talks about the Bhagavad Gita and the Hindus and he’s very Eastern in some ways, but he’s still got a lot of Plymouth Rock in him.
Karl Schudt: A real nice quote about the classics, he says, “They only talk of forgetting them who never knew them.” We don’t need this stuff; we don’t need Virgil, we don’t need Homer, we don’t need Shakespeare. “They only talk of forgetting those who never knew them.” I thought that was good because once you know these things. I have only read passages out of this book until now.
Scott Hambrick: You hadn’t read it before now?
Karl Schudt: It’s going to be stuck in my head. How could you forget it after you’ve read it? How could you say that you would never read that thing again?
Scott Hambrick: I want to testify, Karl.
Karl Schudt: Go ahead.
Scott Hambrick: Like I said, I carried this book around with me everyday for two to four years and I couldn’t find that copy and I ended up reading it on the Kindle. When I was twenty-two I read it again, right after Charity and I got married, at that time I was pre-med and considering going to med school. I read this book and started looking at what physicians’ lives were like and realized that I didn’t want to have that. Thoreau had me look at the career path I was on and I discarded it. I wrote an essay about this on the plan Charity and I set out. The plan was to find a way to make a living with as few compromises as possible, it was clear to me that we needed to be self-employed and we needed to live frugally, and we needed to save as much money as we possibly could because Thoreau taught me that we sell wholesale our life to buy retail. You sell chunks of your life by the hour or if you’re salary you sell years for money and then you buy retail. I was frightened of it and didn’t finish college as a result. We ended up putting a bow on that later. We did what we said we were going to do. That essay is on the Online Great Books website blog. When I moved out of the offices of the businesses I sold, I found that essay and I did OCR on it and published it. The life he described is not the life I can live. His experiment is not one that I could live or carry out, but he was an enormous influence on me. I concretely took action on what I read in this book, documented having done it, and twenty-three years later we could look back and see how it panned out. I owe him so much.
Karl Schudt: How good would it be for the young people that you love or perhaps yourself to take a Walden weekend and shut everything off and ask yourself who you are and what you really want to do and how do you want to spend your life. Make some plans and do it rather than do what everybody else does which is to go to college and get a student loan, everyone gets a mortgage. Any of these things are things you should maybe or maybe not do until after you’ve thought about it and affirmed it as good rather than going on auto-pilot. I have had a few of those moments in my life but when I abandoned following sports, and it was hard to do that, but that was not where I wanted to go.
Scott Hambrick: If you go to onlinegreatbooks.com (you should join our waiting list) you can hit the search icon and search “Making an Entrepreneur,” that’s the thing I wrote in 1998 about this. I owe him a whole bunch. I think the U.S owes him; he’s an American, a nonconformist, an original thinker and was a thorn in the side of almost everyone who met him, but I love the guy.
Karl Schudt: I’m chuckling about some of these quotes, “he’s got one chair for himself, two chairs for friendship, three for society,” you only need three chairs. I bet he was a pain.
Scott Hambrick: But I’m so glad, that in the spring of ’54 he borrowed an axe and walked out into the woods and started cutting down trees to make a shack to live in and took the time and the care to write it down so beautifully so that we could see what was going on in the mind of that guy.
Karl Schudt: You should go read it, you can get yourself a copy and there are free copies on archive, but you have to read them on a gadget. It’s pretty easy reading, I think.
Scott Hambrick: Is he a communist?
Karl Schudt: Would it make the book worse if he were? No, a communist wouldn’t do it on his own. This is not enforced but maybe you ought to think about what it’s like to live in poverty. I think he’s a monk. He’s a non-Christian monk, he’s in his hermitage and it’s where he’s able to be himself- that’s the whole point of a hermitage.
Scott Hambrick: Is he anti-Capitalist?
Karl Schudt: Yes, I would say so but what does “anti” mean? Does it mean he doesn’t want to play the game, or does it mean that nobody should be allowed to play the game?
Scott Hambrick: I think he doesn’t care what anybody else does. He just reports on what he does and that’s good enough for him. He broke out for Walden in 1854 and I think that this marks the end of the original American Project. There’s a lot about it that makes me sad.
Karl Schudt: Each generation has to make their own thing. The thing about culture attitudes about life and there’s a quote in Baker Farm he was happy that he could come to America and meet for coffee everyday and Thoreau says that “The only true America is the country where you are at liberty to pursue so a mode of life as may enable you to do without these and where the state does not endeavor to compel you to sustain the slavery and war at others’ superfluous expense which directly or indirectly result form the use of such things.” So, there’s a vision of America that he’s got that’s where you’re free not to participate. Take that as a goal if you think there’s something of value in it. This is what some guy thought in 1845, 2020 needs to be rediscovered. It’s not like a building which endures in a town. Every generation needs to be convinced of philosophy.
Scott Hambrick: You have got to blow the dust off it and take it for your own.
Karl Schudt: Books only live when they’re read.
Scott Hambrick: At the end of the book, Karl, he says, “There’s not one of my readers who has yet lived a whole human life.” If you’re reading it you’re still alive, you haven’t done the whole thing. And back to the “American Project” and how he sees the US he says, “It is said that the British Empire is very large and respectable, and that the US are a first-rate power. Almost to a man, everyone would now say the US is.” To him it was a confederation of states that stood on their own and had their own character and abridged some powers to the federal government and that they were a set of united states. There was no such thing as The United States. This, I think, starts to mark the end of the original “American Project.”
Karl Schudt: Anyone who lived through the American Revolution was nearly dead by this time.
Scott Hambrick: The US are a first-rate power, he says. Dang it.
Karl Schudt: I think our dear listeners ought to read it and challenge their own life and think about what they are doing. The worry about these intellectual pursuits is why people made fun of college boys, but the difficulty is that you can get stuck in your head and it becomes an intellectual exercise and you can relate all about the theory of forms or categories or Nietzsche’s attempt at destruction of conventional reality. You can tell somebody all the words about it, but you have to experience it to know it. In other words, intellectualizing your life isn’t living it.
Scott Hambrick: Go read this thing, if nothing else read “Economy” and “Pond in the Winter.” All of it’s great but some of us dudes have trouble with flowery prose, but he’s got accounting in there, he does a survey of the depth of the pond. He makes diagrams of how deep the water is and where he drilled holes in the ice to measure the depth of the water. He’s a scientist and a gentleman scholar, he’s the best and the worst. There is Henry David Thoreau’s book Walden, go get that one and if you don’t you’re screwing up. If you’ve got a young person in your life, make them read that as they are looking at what they’re going to do with themselves as far as schooling or career and so on. It’s a good one to read, as we stand at cross-roads. Karl, what are we going to read next time?
Karl Schudt: This is the part of the show that I dread because I don’t know what to read next but what about Modest Proposal? I think we might need a shorter one.
Scott Hambrick: I definitely need a shorter one.
Karl Schudt: Let’s do Jonathan Swift Modest Proposal.
Scott Hambrick: Excellent. My oldest daughter just read that.
Karl Schudt: We’re going to learn about eating Irish babies.
Scott Hambrick: What’s not to like? Hopefully you guys are reading along with us. Go get Jonathan Swift’s Modest Proposal satire.