I have to admit that I have been thinking a lot about Thoreau lately. His intention to live deliberately is a source of inspiration for me. When I look around me and see the world as it exists today, I can’t help but wonder what the hell would Thoreau do as a remedy to all of this (as I gesture broadly at the entire world around me.)
Part of me believes that Thoreau would have exiled himself to Alaska by now and would be living off-grid in some cheap-ass trailer as a hermit. But, another part of me believes that he would be couch-surfing in a rich friend’s cabin and would spend his time writing treatises about how wrong we humans have been treating this world.
Had Thoreau been born today, he still would have written both Walden and Civil Disobedience, for his personality would have been exactly the same. “That government is best which governs least” was a motto that Thoreau believed in then, and it’d be one that he’d certainly believe in today. How much governmental overreach would Thoreau support in the Age of Covid? Would he be in favor of vaccine mandates? Or would he say that “we should be men first, and subjects afterward?” Where would he blur the line between society and individuality?
We people of today are living on a rock wedged in a hard place. We are being crushed by the weight of our mistakes and we are slowly being flattened. “Flattening the curve” is no longer a viable option when we ourselves have lost our shape. We are lying prostrate before the very future that we created, a future that looks less like how we envisioned it.
Thoreau was a fundamentally religious thinker, and he believed that it was possible to fail at living, to live a life that is no life at all. My fear is that we are collectively losing our humanity. We have divided ourselves into two separate camps, and we are going at each other’s throats. “Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth” is a poignant quote from Walden that speaks volumes through the ages. I fear that we do not know what is true anymore. Everyone believes a different truth, and that is what is pulling us apart.
First and foremost, I believe that Thoreau would demand answers. He would demand to know where COVID-19 came from, what remedies effectively stop it from spreading, and what treatments best cure it. If vaccines don’t stop the disease from spreading, he would demand more research to be done. He would never advocate for human rights to be curtailed under any circumstances, especially when people are being told a million different things.
“The question is not what you look at, but what you see,” is another Thoreau quote that inspires me to look at the world around me. And what is it that I see? I see a system that is not working. I see corporations deciding our futures, governments dictating our freedoms, and an environment that is falling apart. I also see an unaffordable future, extreme class divisions, and generations that may never retire.
Thoreau once asked, “what is the use of a house if you haven’t got a tolerable planet to put it on? If you can not tolerate the planet it is on?” It’s a question that he asked in 1860, and it is a question that he could easily pose today.