The Foul Reign of Self-Reliance
As I read through it a second time, I began to grow increasingly frustrated and outraged at how Anastas twisted Emerson’s words to fit his purpose and distorted Emerson’s central message to make it appear self-centered and egotistical. Anastas refers to Emerson’s doctrine as a “spell” that countless others have fell under throughout the past and present. I would like to remind Mr. Anastas that many of those “countless others” that were influenced by Emerson’s “spell”, as he puts it, are people that went on to shape American culture as we know it.
Is self-reliance not what this country was built on? Did we not break away from the English Monarchy because we were tired of following, tired of not taking action in our own beliefs? From what I remember each of the colonies were founded because an individual decided to strike out on what they believed in. While my outrage at Anastas is clearly evident, I find it ironic that Emerson would argue that Anastas is in fact doing what the “Self-Reliance” preaches – voicing one’s own ideas and thoughts instead of accepting what those before have said.
By striking out against Emerson (an author who many have followed over the years), Anastas is in fact qualifying that which he is against. In this essay I will attempt to refute Benjamin’s criticisms by justifying Emerson’s main themes of “Self-Reliance”. While I don’t agree fully with Emerson’s essay, which I hope will be evident, I find most of “The Foul Reign” obstinate and far from the truth. One of the first themes that Emerson dives into in his essay is that of societal disapproval and foolish consistency. He writes, “For nonconformity the world whips you with its displeasure. (Emerson, p. 156) What a quote indeed. In today’s world of tech savvy, body conscious, like minded individuals, to speak your mind openly in opposition of “the big issues” or the major trends is to be met with scorn by one’s peers. We are so afraid of being judged and outcast that we settle easily into the group think mentality. Education is the perfect example of this. Professors are constantly challenging students to speak their minds and yet, we the pupils find ourselves not independently thinking of the question, but rather answering with what we think the teacher wants to hear.
God forbid the professor or other students laugh at our ideas or disagree with us altogether. So we stifle down our true beliefs, rather than think of facing embarrassment. “Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string,” Emerson says. (Emerson, p. 151) Anastas goes on to scorn this line by saying that they are so ingrained in us that they feel like natural law. That is because if it natural law! As Emerson says, it would be unnatural to go against that which we feel and believe and believe in our hearts. “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. (Emerson, p. 157) In this quote, Emerson is discussing the importance of following ones nature and internal truth on a day-by-day basis. He explains that there is nothing wrong with waking up one day and radically changing one’s views. It is, Emerson says, actually encouraged. Clinging to the past will on result in a waste of time and resources and will never allow the human to reach its full potential. It is the collection of these changing views over the course of an individual’s life that defines their human existence. Aransas, in his snarky tone, condemns this view, relating it to that of political figure Mitt Romney.
To Mr. Aransas I say, what is wrong with this process? Do you have the same views and beliefs as you did when you were a seven-year old? Hell, do you hold to the same convictions as you did when you were a college undergrad? I highly doubt it. While it may not be as radical as waking up one morning and finding you’ve shed all your old assumptions about the world, they have changed over time. What of the successful businessman who one day awakens to find that in a moment of clarity, his heart has softened and his greed has shifted to giving?
He no longer works towards making money for the sake of wealth, but rather making money to give to those who need it. There are countless stories of these types of individuals. These are people who have found a universal truth within them and found their beliefs totally flipped. Is it not contradictory? It most certainly is, but this does not make it wrong. Where is you’re argument there Mr. Anastasia? There are two paragraphs in Benjamin’s essay that I disagree with above all others. The main one I will get to later in this essay.
The first is the fifth paragraph starting, “The excessive love of individual liberty that debases our national politics? ”(Anastas p. 2) Individual liberty is the crux of the entire human existence. How can we love this value too much? If any part of the belief in God or the One is true, it is that He has endowed us with the ability to choose our own path. Emerson would say that if we are clear of mind we have the power within us to choose the divine path that God had put within our heart. Is it excessive to love this part of our soul? To love the fact that there is a power within us capable of choosing such a thing?
In either case, how would this debase our national politics? Our politics were founded on the idea that every voice, every opinion, every idea should be heard. It is only over time that society and out “elders”, as Emerson puts it, has put that power into the hands of the few. Anastas later mentions, “…it ordained them with authority to speak what had been reserved for only the powerful. ” (Anastas p. 3) This is exactly the point Emerson is trying to make! Why should such power be limited to the few? We are all related on the divine spirit level and therefore no one person’s opinion should be greater than the rest.
I will agree with Anastas when he says there is a plague of devices that we are obsessed with for simply because they feed into our own importance. Things like the iPhone and Facebook have made it extremely easy, and almost addicting, to express ourselves. While I concede this point to Anastas, this is not, by any stretch, what Emerson had in mind. These devices are just another way to conform with society, something Emerson is obviously against. More so, reading through Emerson’s essay, if one really wanted to find their internal truth they need to wall off such devices of society to avoid that group mentality.
Only then would the individual be able to reach true genius. One of the lines I disagree with most in this essay follows, saying, “Our fetish for the authentically homespun and the American affliction of ignoring volumes of evidence in favor of the flashes that meet the eye, the hunches that seize the gut? It’s Emerson again. ” (Anastas p. 2)Here is where I can see that Anastas is the one that should be referred to as Mr. Sideways. Yes, Emerson definitely does stress the fact that we should follow our Instincts. These Instincts are the divineness in the individual leading the way to the universal truths.
Emerson is not suggesting we follow every little passion blindly. Emerson characterizes the highest truth as a moment of calm, “the soul raised over passion beholds identity and eternal causation, perceives the self-existence of Truth and Right, and calms itself with knowing that all things go well. Vast spaces of nature, the Atlantic Ocean, the South Sea, — long intervals of time, years, centuries, — are of no account. ”(Emerson, p. 163) It is important here to note that “passion” is different than “Instinct”. Anastasia is referring to passion in his essay – or the gut instinct. Something that has no place when seeking out the highest truth.
Before I get into my main argument against Aransas, let me first plainly paint a picture of Self-Reliance, as I understand it. Each individual in this world has been granted by God a unique genius or private truth, which shapes the person they are. To follow this genius is to follow the path in which God had laid. Society, over time, has made people afraid to speak out with their own genius and instead follow the beliefs and virtues of others. In that sense society is suffocating society. It is only through Self-Reliance that an individual can truly become anything of worth and reach his or her “telos” to put it in philosophical terms.
In his last four paragraphs, Anastas sums up his essay by referring to the popular “Think Different” commercial. A commercial that Emerson would have whole-heartedly agreed with. Anastasia first stumbles when he says, the individuals in this commercial have made a difference through their God-given wild card, genius. It is not just these icons that have this genius inside of them. It is that these few have had the clarity of mind to shake of the constraints placed by society, listen to their hearts (their God-given hearts), and follow the voice and path of God that has been placed within them since birth. I urge you to THINK Aransas!!
How else could a college drop out such as Steve Jobs revolutionize the way in which the world works? How else could an everyday African American man ignite a revolution among all races? How could a simple musician grab the hearts and attention of millions of people across space and time?? You go on to say “there really is no difference between coming up with the theory of relativity, plugging in an electric guitar, leading a civil rights movement…” (Anastas p. 4) and for once you are correct! As Emerson said from the beginning, their accomplishments and paths are all unique and different, but they share the common ground of Self-Reliance.
They chose to break the mold, to push the boundaries, to shout at society “No I disagree! ” These “icons” as you call them share the ability of finding their highest truth, as they have shared this same trait with all of the major players in history. What you are thinking of when you say “icons” are people like the Kardashians or Daniel Tosh who have acquired their fame by appeasing or conforming to society. Look at all of the names you listed and all of the names Emerson mentioned and you will see these are individuals who went against the grain, who were yelled at to conform, but still persevered.
How can you deny Emerson’s claim of Self-Reliance when faced with all of these examples? “The Foul Reign of Self-Reliance” on the surface seems to poke holes in many of Waldo Emerson’s points in “Self-Reliance”. When examined more closely, however, it becomes evident that Anastas is simply twisting words and scenarios to try and make his point. Further, half of the article is made up of quotes by Emerson or other scholars. After picking it apart there are only a few arguments that actually belong to the actual author. Even still Anastas relies on mockery to try to develop his arguments.
When looked at up close, these arguments falter and shrink when backed by actual knowledge of Emerson’s Self-Reliance. Anastas should be trying to persuade other of Emerson’s “Foul Reign”, but instead looking inward and trying to figure out the reasons for which he finds such life altering concepts foul. Bibliography