OGB Podcast #39: Scott and Karl Discuss Emerson’s “Self-Reliance”
By Katie King
You’ve got to go out and read the essay that brings our Reader-In-Chief to tears every time. Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Self-Reliance” is foundational in Scott’s life and crucial to our mission at Online Great Books.
For Emerson, authentic, unmediated thought has some sort of divine truth in it. In Seminar discussion, everyone has a unique perspective that we need to hear about. Your thoughts are worth a whole lot- and they’re not bound by your past.
Emerson’s hope is this:
“I hope in these days we have heard the last of conformity and consistency…A great man is coming to eat at my house. I do not wish to please him; I wish that he should wish to please me. I will stand here for humanity, and though I would make it kind, I would make it true. Let us affront and reprimand the smooth mediocrity and squalid contentment of the times, and hurt in the face of custom, and trade, and office, the fact which is the up upshot of all history, that there is a great responsible Thinker and Actor working wherever a man works; that a true man belongs to no other time or place, but is the center of things. Where he is, there is nature. “
At the time this was written, these New Englanders were standing on the threshold of something entirely new. The dust had settled from the Revolutionary War and the bloodless coup that got rid of the Articles of Confederation and a new era had emerged. Emerson really believed he had heard the last of this conformity and this consistency.
Despite that freedom these men felt, and wrote about, and saw in transcendentalism, we are more conformist than ever as a nation. Even with endless choices in front of us, true freedom of action is waning. Part of the problem is having 24-hour access to the hive mind of the Internet, without yet developing the virtues to handle this technology.
How, then can we become self-reliant? What can we do?
According to Emerson, trust the contents of your own mind and act based on your own revelations. Karl would add, find your own fortress of solitude in the midst of the chatter and stay a while. Find a way to revel in the chaos! When you drive home, don’t turn on the radio. Give yourself time to think some thoughts.
- Scott and Karl talk about Emerson’s idea of authentic, unmediated thought
- Karl talks about getting his watch worked on
- The two discuss cowardess
- Scott talks about what makes something uniquely American
- Scott talks about the problem with pathological empathy
- Emerson’s backstory
- The two discuss what it takes to be a nonconformist
- Karl talks about having access to objective reality
- New England Transcendentalist movement
- Walt Whitman’s influence
- Emerson as a Platonist
- Final Sendoffs
Resources/Articles/People Mentioned In the Podcast:
- Walt Whitman
- Nathaniel Hawthorne
- Emily Dickinson
- AC/DC- Highway to Hell
- Civil Disobedience
- New England transcendentalist
- Hobbes’ Leviathan
- “Song Of Myself”
- Plato’s Apology
- Nicomachean Ethics
- Moby Dick
- Man Against Mass Society
Scott Hambrick: Well we have already read and you should go read “Self-Reliance” an essay by Ralph Waldo Emerson. That’s just another thing that has been important to me like Sherlock Holmes. Therefore, Karl has issues with it.
Karl Schudt: I have a couple of issues. I like a lot, there are some things that it presumes you believe that I think are kinda Emersonian and we can talk about that as we go. My memory from it is from the 1980s, a commercial, I don’t know whom it was for, maybe Apple? But they had this guy reading Ralph Waldo Emerson and the quote was “a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of a little mind” and that’s burned in my brain. I don’t remember the product it was for but it was such a good line, it’s got poetry to it and everything. It made me think. That could be the summary of the whole thing, which is you’re not bound by your past. You should think your thoughts as you think them, they’re worth something. And you shouldn’t be bound by what’s the right thing to think or what did I think yesterday. It was stunning to me back in 1987 when I heard that because I thought you should be consistent. But that’s my vivid memory of this piece.
Scott Hambrick: Let’s talk about this thought thing. Like right in the first paragraph, he talks about thought. For Emerson, authentic, unmediated thought. I don’t know, let’s call it your “first hunch” has some sort of divine truth in it. By the way, I think that he thinks the American male in particular has an inner compass that there’s something very special about, that it should be their guide in all they do.
Karl Schudt: Even the title, you should be self-reliant. Well, why should you be self-reliant? Is it just because that’s a way to make more profit? You should be more self reliant, he believes, because there is something fantastically unique and special about you.
Karl Schudt: And that you need to live up to this, or you’re not living. I don’t remember using the word authentic, but modern people would, you’re not living an authentic human life. I really like the end of the first paragraph which bares on what we do. He’s talking about works of art. You go to the museum and look at the works of art, you should go with what you think of it which is what we do here at Online Great Books. We think you should think about what YOU think about the Iliad and not go read what Knox or somebody else thinks about it. And he has this line at the end, “elst tomorrow a stranger will say with master consent, precisely what we have thought and felt all the time….our own opinion from another.”
It’s a great line. The problem isn’t that Knox is wrong, he’s the guy that writes the Introduction to the edition we use. I think it’s a good introduction.
Scott Hambrick: I do too.
Karl Schudt: But don’t read it. Read it later, and you find that he agrees with you rather than reading it first and finding out that you agree with him.
Scott Hambrick: Don’t be a thought cock! Don’t let someone else think your thoughts, bro.
Karl Schudt: You think them first.
Scott Hambrick: He would say just think em and roll in them. He says, II think at the top of the second paragraph, I wrote here “distinctly american” and I think this is: “There is a time in every man’s education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better, for worse, as his portion; that though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given to him to till. The power which resides in him is new in nature, and none but he knows what that is which he can do, nor does he know until he has tried.” I don’t know if America is still that, but I think it was. When I close my eyes and hope for the best, that’s what I want to be.
Karl Schudt: Right. Can I complain about something?
Scott Hambrick: Do it, that’s my favorite.
Karl Schudt: It’s connected.
Scott Hambrick: You put on you complaining glasses by the way.
Karl Schudt: I sent a watch back to China to get some warranty work done on it. Cost me 30 bucks to send it back. It’s been stuck in Chinese customs for 3 months. U.S. post service told me they need to call customs and do it. So I sent the company a note and said you need to call your own customs people and do it. And they sent it back saying we don’t have anyone who can do that sorry. And I’m thinking they’re sitting in China and they’re afraid to call. They’re afraid to take any kind of action. and you see this all the time. I used to, back when I had less prosperity than I do now, I took a job for a week to deliver phone books. And you drive up and down the road and you drop the phone book off at the desk, and I remember walking into a place and saying I’ve got this phone book for you and the woman behind the desk was like, “ I don’t know let me ask my manager.” She was deathly afraid of making a decision. It was a free phone book. She could’ve dropped it in the garage when I walked out the door. I was getting like 20 cents a book, she could just take it. The look in her eyes, she was so frightened. That’s when I’m standing up and cheering for Emerson, passages like this. You have to do it. You have to do something. It is your portion to do it because no one can act for you. If a consequence comes, so what at least you did something.
Scott Hambrick: It’s your consequence. It’s something glorious about it being your consequence. There’s nothing a kid hates more than dealing with someone else’s consequence. Like, have one of your kids spilled a glass of milk and have the other one clean it up. Holy crap!
Karl Schudt: “I didn’t spill it!”
Scott Hambrick: “It’s not fair!”
Karl Schudt: We’re communists about chores here. We try to say all chores are everyone’s job. and you know what happens? nobody does any of them.
Scott Hambrick: Hmm.
Karl Schudt: It’s a terrible system, we should get rid of it. A little bit later in that paragraph, “God will not have his work made manifest by cowards.” I love that sentence, there’s a lot in that sentence. You start in the back of it with cowards. So if you are afraid to do any sort of action, well that would make you a coward, but what is it that you’re not doing? So the cowards are, I think, the people that are afraid to act, I don’t want to do it, what will happen… but if you don’t do it, the work that you were going to do, Emerson calls “god’s work” and I think that’s a clue why self reliance is a valuable thing because you’re kind of a divine spark, it’s almost a stoic idea.
Scott Hambrick: Those unique thoughts that you have, have a divinity and truth in them that is accessible, only for Emerson, and known only by you. And can’t be gotten elsewhere.
Karl Schudt: Right and if you are too pusalanamis to do it. You like that word?
Scott Hambrick:- i do, insouciant.
Karl Schudt: We say this in seminars, everybody has a unique perspective that we need to hear. And you should be a little bit arrogant, maybe a lot arrogant, and believe that you in fact have something to say. But what do you have to believe is true to believe the second part? You’ve got to believe you have something to say, that your mind is somehow participating in the forms, in divinity, in great things. Hey, he is so much a platonist. He’s a huge platonist. He probably didn’t believe Plato until later and found out that Plato had thought all his thoughts for him.
Scott Hambrick: Yup I could have told him that. “The nonchalance of boys who are sure of a dinner, and would disdain as much as a lord to do or say aught to conciliate one, is the healthy attitude of human nature.”
Karl Schudt: Ya I like that one too. So you’re a well-fed kid at dinner.
Scott Hambrick: You don’t care!
Karl Schudt: You just don’t care.
Scott Hambrick: Sit up straight. I’ll leave.
Karl Schudt: Ya. Go into debt and go to college. No thank you. But everyones doing it. No.
Scott Hambrick: Get a job fight to keep it.
Karl Schudt: It’s incredibly American.
Scott Hambrick: We should say, this is memory and it could be wrong, i think it’s 1832, it’s New England, it’s certainly the first half of the 1800s, and he’s a New England man and his mentor and slightly older than Henry David Thoreau who later writes Walden. He’s in the family tree of the Walt Whitman school of thought, all of those kinds of people. And creating this federalist era art that’s new. And interesting. It just feels like that when I read it. It feels like conquered Massachusetts. I mean I don’t know what that is like, I don’t have a time machine. The 1830s must have felt like that.
Karl Schudt: Nathaniel Hawthorne is down the road, Emily Dickinson is there somewhere. I want to fight with him now. We have this idea of self reliance of go do it yourself, don’t care about anything. Is this time bound in the economics of the age? I was reading, I think it was a book by stephen ambrose on crazy horse and custer and he made the point about the incredible GDP growth in the 19th century which was— I know you don’t care about that- but just for perspective. nowadays we’re supposed to be happy if we’re above 3 percent. ok, it was like 35.
Scott Hambrick: I’m like the fat kid at dinner who’s already full. DGAF. Ok, so, is a guy gainfully employed in owning a merchentizit endeavor in the 1890s cash hand over fist in Boston, happier than our RWE in the 1830s? Who’s living the good life?
Karl Schudt: I don’t know but the thing is if you didn’t like it, you’re that kid at dinner, you can get up and just start heading west and had a pretty good chance at ending up prosperous.
Scott Hambrick:- Let’s talk about that. We’re derailed, you’ve done it.
Karl Schudt: It’s my job.
Scott Hambrick: People talk about our system of government and our condition as being wonderful. Maybe our condition is wonderful. It’s certainly unique and very interesting. It is not a piece of paper and it can’t keep people from killing me or subjecting me. And they talk about the wonders of what the United States has done and been in light of that. You know? And I think it’s not that. I think it’s that young people could just start walking West and instantly be capitalized. Like if you just walk far enough west, you can have land, you can have a farm. On the fringes of that, the governmental system for the rest of the coney didn’t even matter. The first was anarchy on the edge. And I think that’s where that GDP growth comes from.
Karl Schudt: My point in bringing this up is, I like that this essay resounds with me, I’m cheering as I read it, but then I have to fight with myself. Well, are these thoughts of people who live in these times? So that customer service person in China who’s afraid of calling their own customs office, he can’t go west, he can’t do anything.
Scott Hambrick: It’s true.
Karl Schudt: And so does Emerson make sense when you don’t have a frontier?
Scott Hambrick: I think it could. Maybe not, maybe he doesn’t Karl. Maybe it could because if you were later on, here on the 3rd page of what I’ve got, “who should be a man should be a nonconformist..” If you’re in North America in 2019 and you’re 100 percent willing to be a nonconformist, you can have enough and be way on the fringes of society. You don’t have to be that receptionist to have food and shelter and to live your way. If you’re a non conformist. But if you want to live the kind of life everyone else lives and have the kinds of things other people have and do the kinds of things they do, you will have to do all the things they do. But there is enough here. There is enough. There is plenty if you’re willing to not say that you want all of it. So while you can’t just walk, you know, the Oregon trail and find free land and build a well and a fence. There is food and shelter and ways.
Karl Schudt: You might have to be weird
Scott Hambrick: You’re going to have to be weird.
Karl Schudt: I remember when I canceled cable a while back. The shocked reaction from the cable company. Well do you want this plan do you want this plan? No i don’t want a plan. I just want internet. Well, do you want internet with channels? No i don’t want any channels. Are you Amish?
Scott Hambrick: I wish.
Karl Schudt: So there’s a line. in the paragraph “so who would be man would be a nonconformist.” There’s a possibly problematic quote.
Scott Hambrick: No we don’t say problematic, gosh!
Karl Schudt: There’s a quote that deserves some consideration. and it’s probably the inspiration for a song by the band ACDC. “these imputes maybe be from below not from above i replied they do not seem to be such but if I am the devil’s child…” highway to hell.
Scott Hambrick: I think he could be smuggling in some relativism and some weirdness there right? but in the second sensten of that paragraph, I’ll just read “whoso would be a man… he who would give immortal palms must not be hindered by the name of goodness, but must explore IF it be goodness.”
So he’s willing to explore it, but he’s not going to let this other clown tell him. and then he’s glib. Because he’s Ralph Waldo Emerson. With the parson, who’s telling him that his impubles must be from below, he’s got to slap him down because he’s like a metaphysical John Wayne. He can’t stand fo rit. There’s this story
Karl Schudt: – Can you read it in a John Wayne voice?
Scott Hambrick: I can’t.
Karl Schudt: “If I was the devil’s child..” I can’t do it. but, uh,
Scott Hambrick:- No. There’s a story, I don’t know if this is true, I may have told it before on here but i’ll tell it again. Thoreau, I don’t think he lived to be 40, I think he died in his thirties. He was a young guy when he died. His aunt was at his bedside when he died and she said, “Henry, have you made your peace with the Lord?” and he said “I didn’t know we fought.”
These guys have to be slick with their detractors. They can’t help it. When he says that, he does believe in an absolute good before he lays down the devils child there, he talks about that. He talks about exploring and seeking it.
Karl Schudt: He’s using his own nature as a guide. This is the big presumption behind the whole thing. You have to have that thought that the individual has that spark of the divine in them. I think.
Scott Hambrick: Well, you have to have that. but he also couples that with an unspoken idea here I think that that which is conformed to, like the popular notion, is in fact inauthentic and wrong and false. So not only do you have the divine spark thing within you, but that which everyone else does is wrong and bad.
Karl Schudt: Right. Why did they go bad? Why do you have to have.
Scott Hambrick: The divine spark.
Karl Schudt: This edgy self reliance. I’ve got a line highlighted. “Your goodness must have some edge to it, else it is not.” In other words, if you don’t piss someone off, you’re probably not real god.
Scott Hambrick: You know that ’s true. if there are evil people in the world and they aren’t mad at you, you ain’t doing it right. Just above it, I hate pathological empathy. I just hate it.
Karl Schudt: I haven’t noticed.
Scott Hambrick: Fuck! Oh who will think of the children? What children, my children? Your children? no “the children.” No I don’t think of the children. They don’t want you to think of the children, they want you too fell for the children. They want to manipulate you to do the thing they want you to do. he says for those kinds of ideas, this kind of weird, pathological empathy i call it, he says, “thy love afar is spite at home.” you gotta take care of your business, your people.
Karl Schudt: Ya.
Scott Hambrick: You gotta take care of your people. A lot of people will bristle at this by the way, he’s actually talking about abolitionists at that time, who are worries about what was goin goin at that time in Barbados. and I’m sure there were atrocious things happening, but Emerson answers those people. he says go love they infant, thy woodchopper… never varnish your uncharabt me ambitions and incredibly tenderloins…”
I”ll say it, for these black folks a thousand miles off. I don’t think he’s being racist! There are other words you can find about their and emerson in fact being abolitionist, that they weren’t worried about Barbados.
Karl Schudt: What you’re doing when you respond to the universal claims of empathy on people, you’re making yourself feel better. you’re not necessarily solving anything. So, he says, their virtues are penances. Their works are done as an apology as they are living in the world. So you do a good action not because, especially when you do something like give money the college, which they have enough then don’t need it to me, or you send money to barbados, who knows if it’s even going to get there? Oh boy, you get a warm fuzzy tough. There penance is saying virtue.
Scott Hambrick: Emerson is saying go give the money to the woodchoppers.There’s a class of person.. these guys did go to jail for their beliefs. you know. I say these guys, famously Thoreau, Emerson, if i’m not mistaken, Thoreau owed a tax bill , Karl, and he said i’m not going to pay it because you have this Mexican American War going on and i don’t pay for that kind of business. and they threw him in jail and he was going to sit there. and if i’m not mistaken, Emerson paid that bill and they threw him out of jail. And it pissed him off really bad.
Karl Schudt: He wanted to stay? He was mad because Emerson paid.
Scott Hambrick: He was mad because he didn’t want them to have the money.
Karl Schudt: That’s Civil Disobedience, that’s the essay?
Scott Hambrick: He writes Civil Disobedience but that’s the backstory. Friends paid him off but I believe it was Emerson.
Karl Schudt: It would be like socrates being mad at his friends for paying a fine.
Scott Hambrick: What I must do is all that concerns me, not what people think
Karl Schudt: Stets talk about the opinions of everyone. He says one more paragraph down, it is “easy to live after the world’s opinion. it is easy in solitude to live after our own. but the great man is he who is in the midst of the crowd the independence of solitude. “
Scott Hambrick: That’s lovely.
Karl Schudt: It is, isn’t it. you’ve got three states. You can be in the world doing what everyone else does. Which, uh, is my reaction to that. But, I mean I do it some.
Scott Hambrick: Gosh we’ve got to. We’ve got to go along to get along a little bit?
Karl Schudt: We have it is easy in solitude to live in our own. We went to the beach yesterday because it was warm here, and we took some of the kids because that’s what homeschooling is all about if it’s 88 degrees you go to the beach. And the kids went back and built sandcastles. I went back into the water. I heard my wife back with the kids say when the kids asked what’s daddy doing, “he’s in his fortress of solitude.” And I was! I was just out there, just, I was close enough I could go help them if help needed to be done, but there I was nobody was arid me and I could think my own thoughts and my cell phone doesn’t work in water and so it was back. I was just out in the middle of the water and it was marvelous it’s easy when you’re by yourself to be an individual. it’s hard when you’re with everyone else. it’s great if you can do it when you’re with everyone else. but otherwise you end up the type of person he talks about into the next paragraph, “if i know your sect I anticipate your argument” if i know what team you’re on, I know everything you’re going to say. and you know, well what’s the point of conversation?
Scott Hambrick: I agree. I think there are sectarian political thinkers, and you can see an issue of the day in precisely where some of those people are going to come down on those issues. You don’t even have to talk to them.
Karl Schudt: I am almost never surprised i’m trying to think of a case where I was, of anything that the pendant class says. I know what they’re going to say! I know what team their on! I know what their argument is going to be. which leads to the suspicious that their thoughts are being thought by somebody else. and they might agree but they didn’t think it. you know? If you think it first, then you might think something new.
Scott Hambrick: Yuck.
Karl Schudt: Here’s my favorite line “foolish consistency is the job of” there’s good stuff before either. Talking about memory, what would you make you not be a nonconformist? There’s a reason why people don’t want to do it. people will be upset with you, people will be displeased with you, you might get deplatformed, you might be not the rights or to person. That’s one thing people are worried about. I told you this story, I had a kid in metaphysics class that didn’t want to go to their own conclusion that his own arguments led him to. Because he was afraid of being incorrect, in the class. it was stunning to me. That was a few years before I quit teaching.
Scott Hambrick: You quit that day but you actually resigned years later.
Karl Schudt: It was hard to get people to talk towards the end. Hard to get people who have any kind of opinion. But we do much better at Online Great Books, it’s so much more fun. But there’s that? You’re worried people might not like the option you have, that you come to with your own divine spark, your platonic recollection or whatever. let me do it in Socratic terms, the child that you’re giving birth to, you’re ready to stifle it because other people might think it’s ugly.
Scott Hambrick: I bristle against that stuff. I did a barbell logic podcast with doctor david putter a psychologist, in fact it will probably come out monday the 12th. I’m the color guy on that podcast, maybe i am here too, I think the listeners of that show in particular see me as curmudgeonly and whatever. but Peter said it was enduring because they know I never lie. and I think that’s true. I don’t think I ever lie, sometimes i say stuff that isn’t right but i didn’t lie. I try my best with it. There is a group of people that enjoy that about me, but there’s a much larger group of people that genuinely don’t like me. And it’s because of that.
Karl Schudt: Well i don’t know that we’ve measured if we’ve taken a poll but who cares about such things. Look, let’s derail for a moment. I want to talk about what happens if somebody on a podcast says something that you, let’s not even say disagree, because that implies thought, that you don’t like. They utter something that they believe to be true that you don’t like. So, is your reaction “that’s a horrible person?” I must ban him i must never listen to him again, I must write to his employers, write an email saying that I didn’t like what you said? Or what do you do when you encounter somebody who says something different from you? Maybe you respond and you say well, huh. ok, so ok this other human being that has every bit of intellect as i do and every bit of access to reality as i do, sees things differently. that’s excited, for me that’s excited! When I say something in seminar and someone disagrees with me I perk up.
Scott Hambrick:- But you smuggled something in there. You believe in this access to objective reality. And so does Emersom.
Karl Schudt: If you lose rationality, then all you get is teams and all your left with is violence in the end.
Scott Hambrick: And by the way that’s my other problem with empathy. that about the person we are in intercourse with that we can then use to apply our rationality to. But that’s all it is.
Karl Schudt: It’s like I’ll tell you something the best flavor of ice cream is vanilla. Do you agree?
Scott Hambrick: You’re right.
Karl Schudt: What if you didn’t agree, what if I said chocolate?
Scott Hambrick: I would vote to taking everything away from you.
Karl Schudt: Am i wrong? let’s say I genuinely think chocolate is the best. can you tell me that I’m wrong.
Scott Hambrick: No.
Karl Schudt: No it’s preference empathy is in that same realm. It’s emotional its taste it’s the thing that makes you feel warm fuzzies, it’s not public. A public object is real and we can both look at and make some kind of judgement on. Empathy is my private feelings that i’m making determinant on your reason. And I think that’s like making public policy over ice cream flavors.
Scott Hambrick: He says that empathy is the ability to take perspective from the other person’s point of view and to be aware of their emotional state, maybe?
Karl Schudt: I guess what I’m talking about is the fallacy in logic, it’s the appeal to emotion.
Scott Hambrick: When you and I are sitting in the same room having a cup of coffee and talking about our families and things that matter to us, empathy between the two of us is very important and helps you and I become better friends and come to a better understanding, ect. that’s two people in the same room. And it’s important. But you can’t have empathy with a group because a group doesn’t exist that a dozen exists.A dozen is 12. A group is a bunch. You can’t have empathy with that group. When people try and get you to ring the empathy bell, it’s pure rhetoric, it’s pure manipulation.
Back to emerson, these guys throws and emerson and just intertwined like the trinity. The Bayou head of new england transcendentalist. he talks about this weird reverse for our past act or word. But you said, “bro you ve changed. “ Ya, mhmm, I did. I damn sure did.
Karl Schudt: You thought something 10 years ago, although, honestly Scott, you think the same things 10 years ago.
Scott Hambrick: I used to be an anarcho libratarian and i’m not anymore.
Karl Schudt: I was going by the papers you should me that you wrote years ago.
Scott Hambrick: Ya, there’s a lot of things have been the same.There’s been a lot that’s changed. I’ll tell you what, I just finished reading Hobbes’ Leviathan.
Karl Schudt: Yes.
Scott Hambrick: Holy smoke what a book. I hated his guts for 50 pages. I thought you’re wrong, you’re wrong. And by the way he’s wrong in the first 10 pages. He makes up an epistemology, his metaphysics, are wrong, it’s weird weird weird. He doesn’t believe in a greater good. So he would have us govern for damage control essentially. he would have us govern to maintain a minimum state, he doesn’t call it well being, but of just non violence and i would like to think that we could govern for higher purposes that just killing each other with sticks you know
as I read that thing, I completely changed over the 2.5-3 weeks it took me to read that book. I completely changed on Hobbes. I completely changed on government in some ways as well even though I didn’t buy some things as well.
Karl Schudt: You need to find someone who disagrees with you and you didn’t say this is a bad person throw him on the ashes. You actually encountered a person and said let’s get something useful out of it?
Scott Hambrick: I did.
Karl Schudt: Thats cool.
Scott Hambrick: Thomas Hobbes made love to my mind and in doing so i changed.
Karl Schudt: I love the title, that’s a great title for a book.
Scott Hambrick: On the manner and form.. one of these long subtitles like all those books did.
Karl Schudt: The phrase that I like, “why drag about this course of your memory.” which is an interesting thought that your memory is a courses. He says, “leave your theater like Joseph his coat in the hands of the hamlets and fleece’ and then the line that i remember back in the 80s, a “foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statements and philosophers divines. “ It rhymes. right? You don’t care, Socrates contradicts himself all the time. He goes where his active thought leads him. And if it’s not what he said in the beginning, it’s fine. It’s ok. Be confident in your capacity to touch reality and if you touch it on one side of it, it’s like, think of the elephant. you touch it one one said it feels like one thing, you touch it on another side, it feels like something else. It’s ok to be yourself. It’s ok to think.
Scott Hambrick: Karl, as a 14-20 year old person, I was so heavily influenced and formed and molded by Whitman and Emerson and Thoreau that you were talking about Walker Percy being a big part of who you are? These guys are a big part of me. And i can’t talk about one without talking about all of them. Consistency, Whitman said Oh captain, do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contain multitudes.” Internet assholery is full of people yelling hypocrite. Our experience is complex, we are works in progress, and we are not internally consistent from top to bottom. and sometimes that happens and it’s ok. we need to try to be consistent, right? We should seek our consistency and build up a platform of thought that we can stand on, but sometimes we have to tear things down to rebuild them. sometimes you aren’t right, sometimes you haven’t thought it all through.
Karl Schudt: Socrates talks about this in is in his apology, so the beginning of his method is to find where there is inconsistency in the thought of another. and the people that hung around him learned how to do this. it’s easy enough to do, you just comb through people’s statements and say this doesn’t match that ha ha you don’t know what you’re talking about. that’s what internet jerks would do. but they don’t do the second part. the whole paint of socrates tearing down what meno thinks virtue is to figure out what virtue is.
Scott Hambrick: It’s not about kicking Meno’s butt on Twitter,
Karl Schudt: What would Meno’s twitter be?
Scott Hambrick: That’s so weird. I got Whitman wrong by the way, it’s song of myself. “Do I contradict myself, very well I contradict myself, I am large and contain multitudes. “ Distinctly american!
Karl Schudt: There is so much good stuff that came out of that very small region in American literature.
Scott Hambrick: They could walk to each other’s houses! Can you imagine a roman writing this stuff? Song of Myself, Self Reliance, Civil Disobedience, Walden–
Karl Schudt: No, it’s distinctly american. What do we mean by that? Go do something, don’t wait for someone else to tell you. Go do it-
Scott Hambrick: You must till your lot. And there’s something divine and true about tilling your lot. That’s an american thing. It’s not about bootstraps necessarily, it’s not just about self responsibility and hard work, there’s something divine in doing good with that which you were given.
Karl Schudt: He tells a story about the sot, I guess that means the drunk, and he’s carried to the duke’s house. And he wakes up and everybody treats him like the duke. And he says, this story owes his popularity that it so well symbolizes the state of man. who is in the world a sort of sot. but now and then, wakes up , exercises his reason and finds himself a true prince. I mostly share his starting point. Which is that the human being is something special and irreplaceable and everything. I remember my daughter told me once but you hate people! she thought. And I was like no I don’t. but you complain about them all the time, ya?
Scott Hambrick: It’s because of what they’re capable and don’t do.
Karl Schudt: It’s what they can do and I want them to. I think you said on a podcast “buba i love you more than you do.”
Scott Hambrick: God damn that makes people mad.
Karl Schudt: I think everybody listening, you’re a prince you’re a princess, you are sovereign. It’s like the whole motive for Online Great Books, you can read this stuff you can do it! you don’t need someone to tell you what you think! Maybe you don’t know what divinity is, that’s a hard question, I’m not sure I know either, but wherever it is that’s one place you can find it in human reason.
Scott Hambrick: No matter what your beliefs are, you have to think that there is something special and unique about human reason. There’s nothing else like it. It’s maybe the only thing that there’s no analog for in any other species or system.
Karl Schudt: It’s where we end up. Eventually you stick with us, you’re going to read Nicomachean Ethics, and Aristotle tells you everything you need to know to be a successful gentlemen in Athens and you think ah this is good. And in the end he throws in contemplation. It’s nothing without that. Thinking thoughts… thinking the best things you can think.
Scott Hambrick: It’s play acting without that. He says “I hope in these days, we have heard the last of conformity and consistency. Let the words be gazetted and ridiculous hence forward. Instead of the gong for dinner let’s hear a whistle from the spartan… let us never bow and apologize more. a great man is coming to eat at my house… I should with that he should wish to please me…. i will stand here for humanity and though i would make it kind, i wouldn’t make it true. let us afront and represent the smooth mediocrity and squalid content of the time and hurl in the face of custom the fact which is the upshot of all of history, that there is a great responsible … wherever a man works. That a true man belongs to no other time or place but is the center of things..”
I’m getting choked up. Uh, I think that these men in Dickinson and these new englanders… we’re standing on the threshold of something entirely new. The dust had settled from this revolutionary world, they’d already had the bloodless coup that got rid of the articles of confederation. These are actually englishman not too far removed. They are coming out of all that english class stuff, and they’re hoping that that’s gone. and by the way, the puritans are up there stomping people’s asses still. This ain’t too far from where the witch trials were, where cotton mothers was and in all of that, you know. He feels like there they are on the threshold of hearing the last of this conformity and we’re more conformist than ever. that freedom that those people felt and wrote about and saw transcendentalism in? It’s gone, we don’t have it anymore. We’re more conformist than ever. I got in an argument with a friend. I say an argent, it’s on elf our good kinds of arguments, no one was mad. We were discussing freedom the other day. Freedom has come to mean just endless choice. And it honest go to the state of the person who is the chooser. I haven’t quite gotten all my thoughts worked out in all of this. We have all kinds of choices. I bet there are 95 jelly flavors at the little grocery story i can walk from here. But conformity is on the ascendancy, consistencies is on the ascendinies and even though there’s choice in front of us, true freedom of action seems to be collapsing. and when I read this, I almost couldn’t get through it.
Karl Schudt: It’s like a glimpse of a lost country. Of a lost kingdom.
Scott Hambrick: It’s not like a glimpse, it’s gone! They round your ass up when your 5 and they put you in school until you’re 18 and then they round you up again and they put you in another one or whatever and then you file ups reports and when you’re 65 they give you some medicine and you live your 3 score and 10 and they throw dirt on you.
Karl Schudt: Ya but you got to watch a lot of series on Netflix. there are a whole lot of thoughts that popped into my head, he made me think of Kierkegaard a lot. believe it or not, I’m a strange person.
Scott Hambrick: You are strange. Has anyone ever said emerson made them think about Kierkegaard.
Karl Schudt: My mind is twisted and complicated.
Scott Hambrick: You contain multitudes.
Karl Schudt: It does. if I have a complaint here, in this particular essay I think he’s got to do some work on, I hate this word, but he’s got to do some work on community, brotherhood, friendship, fraternity whatever you want to call it.
Scott Hambrick: I agree but this is the american project. it’s the personal, that’s what it is. Right, wrong, or indifferent.
Karl Schudt: – That gets me thinking of Kierragard who also needed to do some or that. But then I got to thinking of Kerragard and the variety of dispart and the ways that people have given up hope and they don’t even know they have. you’re in that life where you’re worried about the twitter mobs and you don’t say anything else anyone thinks and you’re happy to sit and binge on netflix. what’s the point of that? When you get to the end of your life, have you actually lived? Did you ever think a thought that someone didn’t think for you first?
Scott Hambrick: To sit in front of the screen and take in those images and to hear the sounds coming from the speakers, is not a great deal different from having a wire jacked in. it’s just not authentic. I was talking to McKay the other day and Brett is always saying “Hambrick. The internet is not real.” And it’s not! the only thing that is real is reality, the things outside, the things that we can interact with. Newspapers aren’t real either.
Karl Schudt: What’s real? The people that show up at your gym that you train and talk to, your family, your wife.
Scott Hambrick: Ideas are real.
Karl Schudt: I agree, I think so too.
Scott Hambrick: But the ideas and the content has to be separated from the Internet because it’s not real. If a bunch of people on the internet are mad at me, nothing happens unless one of them show up at my door if I snuff them out. But until then, it’s just all nothing. It’s a role playing game.
Karl Schudt: I’m hoping we’re going to read Marcel at some point and I was prepping for him. And he said something about the problem of technology, we don’t develop the virtues to handle the tech before we get it. Everybody got phones, 24 access to this hive mind, maybe there’s a purpose for this? But we haven’t figured it out yet or at least a decent way to do it. What you should do is download the Online Great Books podcast and leave us a nice review and hear our content. And then, turn it off for a while and go live your life. Go talk to real people, go out into the middle of Lake Michigan in your fortunes of solitude and think some thoughts for a while and then maybe come back.
Scott Hambrick:- I wrote a little crappy essay that i put at Scott Hambrick:hambrck.com the title of which is “it’s all been B.S. since antibiotics. Most of this technology isn’t living as freer and it isn’t making us love a better life and there are a few pieces of technology that has made all of the difference. Harnessing fire, the knife, writing, the antibiotics. It’s a very short list and all of the rest are less good at doing without them. Confusing the choice or the ease of obtaining with the good life or true freedom is wrong. Emerson didn’t have electricity, he didn’t have a typewriter and he didn’t live terribly long. These guys didn’t live to be 100 years old. But he lived deeply, and fully, and in the community by the way. You know? He had friends. Anyways, I think the freedom is decreasing.
Karl Schudt: So if you want to be self reliant, what can you do?
Scott Hambrick: Well, you have to according to Emerson, trust the contents of your own mind, act based on the content of your mind and your own revelation. So I think you have to be a person of action in that way and let the rest hang.
Karl Schudt: I want to add something to that. I think, you probably need to turn stuff off. For a while, maybe go the whole way, maybe go 1 day a week. I remember back in the day, I would tell, this is a long time ago. I’d say to students, why don’t you do this: when you drive home don’t turn on the radio. And nobody wanted to do it. what? Not have sound in my ear holes? Because when it’s silent, strange things start to happen. You start to think thoughts. And thinking thoughts is scary! They might lead you places, you might have to change your life if you think some thoughts. So I better turn the radio on and listen to, I don’t even know who’s on the radio anymore, lest I mistakenly think a thought.
Scott Hambrick: Emerson says, “I like the silent church before the service being better than any preaching.” That’s what he’s saying
Karl Schudt: Ya, well, I like music. Ya this is a good essay.
Scott Hambrick: It’s so gorgeous, Karl.
Karl Schudt: I think you gentle listener ought to go read it. Read emerson, pick up some thoreau, read a few emily dickinson poems, read some Nathaniel Hawthorne, get in touch with these guys.
Scott Hambrick: Moby Dick.
Karl Schudt: That is so good, I reread it last year.
Scott Hambrick: It’s one of my favorites.
Karl Schudt: There’s a sense in there speaking of being a lord of creation, Emerson’s idea of being sovereign, Ishmael is standing up on the mast of the ship, he’s perched up on the mast of the ship and he sees all of the world laid at his feet below him and it’s this glorious transcendent moment. Like that’s what a human is. It’s ishmael on top of the quad. It’s so good, you should read that too.
Scott Hambrick: It’s so good. Emerson, he follows platonism. Self existence is the attribute of the supreme cause. Whoops there’s a little aristotle. And it constitutes the measure of good by the degree of which it enters all lower forms.
Karl Schudt: And so if you’re not a platonism what do you do with Emerson? If he was a platonist he probably thought himself into it, and when he encounters plato he said, “ya.”
Scott Hambrick: “Let us not rove; let us sit at home with the cause. Let us stun and astonish the intruding rabble of men and books and institutions, by a simple declaration of the divine fact. Bid the invaders take the shoes from off their feet, for God is here within. Let our simplicity judge them, and our docility to our own law demonstrate the poverty of nature and fortune beside our native riches” That’s american. you can be a pipefitter and you get to go vote. you can be the junior and be on the school board. let our simplicity judge them.
Karl Schudt: Excellent.
Scott Hambrick: He loved people!
Karl Schudt: Yu love people!
Scott Hambrick: I do! and I hate ‘em for the things they don’t do.
Karl Schudt: Ya I agree.
Scott Hambrick: I had this piece cut out in my wallet for about 10 years. “If our young men miscarry in their first enterprises, they lose all heart. If the young merchant fails, men say he is ruined. If the finest genius studies at one of our colleges, and is not installed in an office within one year afterwards in the cities or suburbs of Boston or New York, it seems to his friends and to himself that he is right in being disheartened, and in complaining the rest of his life. A sturdy lad from New Hampshire or Vermont, who in turn tries all the professions, who teams it, farms it, peddles, keeps a school, preaches, edits a newspaper, goes to Congress, buys a township, and so forth, in successive years, and always, like a cat, falls on his feet, is worth a hundred of these city dolls. He walks abreast with his days, and feels no shame in not ‘studying a profession,’ for he does not postpone his life, but lives already. He has not one chance, but a hundred chances.”
Karl Schudt: Ya, so if you can’t see him, there should be a hashtag #cryinglikehambrick.
Scott Hambrick: People don’t want hat for young people anymore! That’s not expected. They aren’t allowed to screw up and be eclectic and make their way. Damnit!
Karl Schudt: Go out and be Weird! and show us the glories of your weirdness and find something that nobody else has found. or, maybe you don’t. but do the thing that you do, gloriously.
Scott Hambrick: And by the way, the only thing.. you said go find the think that nobody else has found.. the only thing that nobody else has found is the thing inside you everything else is available to everyone else.
Karl Schudt: Right.
Scott Hambrick:- Shakespeare will never be made by the study of Shakespeare. Do that which is assigned you and you can not hope too much, or dare too much. Or you can go take the fucking classes they signed up for you when you turned 5 and you can be one of 6 things. You can be a fireman, a policeman, a teacher… ah fuck.
Karl Schudt: Remember we did inches? And his complains about education. None of those great german poets were made by the schools. Nobody made Shakespeare, Shakespeare made Shakespeare.
Scott Hambrick: I didn’t know he upset me this much.
Karl Schudt: I think you guys ought to go read this, go tell us if we’re wrong. Cause I want to know your own divine spark, it’s interesting to me.
Scott Hambrick: I’m just wrung out like a rag.
Karl Schudt: What are we going to do next after this?
Scott Hambrick: Well, while I’m looking that up. let me say a few other things that people might think are fun. A friend of mine, actually he’s an online coaching client, his name is David Airman he is a retired cardiologist he sent me a poem you need to read this. The one hashed by Oliver Holmes written in 1855. And he’s a New Englander, he went to Harvard, and was walking the same paths that these guys were. And it’s a little logical poem, it’s american! It’s about ingenuity and logic, and it’s cool. Ya, go read that, it’s fun.
The next thing you and I read, Karl is going to be Gabriel Marcel’s Man Against Mass Society.
Karl Schudt: We’re going to do some French continental philosophy, a little break from Emerson.
Scott Hambrick: Good cause i can’t continue crying like this. I think, clearly, this was a big deal to me for a long time.A few years ago, I found these series of picture books by a guy named D.B Johnson and it’s about henry the bear, it’s thoreau. and there are about 5 of these, Henry Hike to Hitch Book, Henry Climbs A Mountain… they are just these beautiful, impressionist style illustrations and they tell stories about Henry David Thoreau’s life, most of them are taken from letters from Emerson or Walden itself. If you have kids, that’s mighty find. Distinctly american.
Karl Schudt: This is like Hercules, this is the age of heros. that we are not up to them.
Scott Hambrick: Well there’s another podcast. We laughed, we cried we got angry we ran the hamlet. So go read “Self Reliance”. It’s even in a small paperback, not more than maybe 30 pages or something like that. It’s a fairly short read. and well worth it. By the way, I just want to talk about this, boy there’s some long sentences in there. He don’t mind putting 6 commas in a sentence at all, and he doesn’t mind not using paragraph breaks, what would a freshman comp teacher do to him? Really?
Karl Schudt: What would grammarly do to him?
Scott Hambrick: Oh my gosh. so the first time you read it, it’s just darn near word salad. Cause it’s long sentences, lots of subordinate clauses.
Karl Schudt: You might want to read it aloud. Go into your fortress of solitude or read it for your family out loud.
Scott Hambrick: I couldn’t do it. Well, there you go. We’re going to read Man Against Mass Society by Gabriel Marcel we’re going to cover chapter 1-3 for our next show so any of you guys are lunatic enough to read along with us go get that thing and we’ll talk to you guys in another week or so. Thanks.