Svithing a Grudging Agreement with Thoreau


I don't like Thoreau. I think he's a moron and a hypocrite.

That said, I still like the call for simplicity is a good one.

Walden Pond via WikipediaSo does Elder Perry. Last Conference, he gave a bit of Thoreauvian sprachin; some of it was in that charming but sort of silly forced metaphor we see a lot in Conference and the Ensign, but I still think the call for simplicity is, if anything, more timely for ever. And so I will try and swallow my irritation with Thoreau and quote this one line from Elder Perry's talk: "Just before Thoreau died, he was asked if he had made peace with God. He replied, 'I was not aware we had ever quarreled.'"

(Yeah, whatever, Thoreau. Anyway,) that sounds like a good goal for any of us. And simplicity is a dandy path.

last week's svithe


  1. I'd love to hear more about your disagreements with Thoreau. My only exposure to Thoreau came in High School - and my teachers presented him as a Great American Thinker Far Beyond Our Mortal Plane.

  2. .

    Which doesn't make me like him anymore.

    My main issue is that he's so self-righteous yet never really did what he claimed. His cabin on Walden Pond wasn't at all removed from civilization. He could go get a pie from mommy any time he wanted.

  3. He could go get a pie from mommy any time he wanted.

    And his laundry done and his rugs hung out for a good beating.

  4. .

    What amazes me is how venerated he is. I don't see why someone can't have good ideas but still be a tool.

    Just because I don't much care for the man doesn't mean I don't appreciate that his essay led to a free India and Martin Luther King's nonviolence. I'm glad he wrote things of worth.

    But he's still a tool.

  5. I'd be interested to know your feelings regarding Supporting Art vs. Supporting Artists (which is a really crappy name for the dichotomy but all I've got right now): I recall once having a discussion with a man who said, since Michael Jackson had just bought the rights to the Beatles' stuff, he thought it would be immoral to buy Beatles paraphernalia because to do so would be to throw support to Michael Jackson's lifestyle--or something like that. I don't think that fadges: when I buy Billy Joel CDs, it isn't be cause I think Billy Joel is an moral icon who deserves my financial support; I do it because I like his music.

    Similarly, I like a lot of things Thoreau said, and I don't think his hypocrisy taints them at all. Sure, his life is romanticized beyond what is reasonable, but, like you said, he said things of worth.

    So maybe this is a topic for another post, but I'm just curious whether you think a work is diminished by the life of its creator.

  6. .

    In Timequake, Vonnegut says that we can't separate art and artist. And I think this is mostly true. If Billy Joel were hiding Osama bin Laden in his basement and feeding him on the ovaries of young girls, I probably wouldn't listen to "Uptown Girl" anymore, you know? Doesn't change "Uptown Girl", just my perspective of it. To a certain degree, this is unavoidable.

    With Thoreau it's a bigger deal for me because what's wrong with who he was is so directly connected to what is good in his writing. Hypocrisy, in other words, is a headier crime than most others.

  7. I think I'd still listen to "Uptown Girl," reassuring myself that, the young, hip Billy Joel who wrote that song changed dramatically before he became the old madman who aids terrorists.

    I don't suppose that argument does Thoreau any good, though. I dunno. I just don't feel inclined to run background checks to look for reasons to dislike things I'd otherwise enjoy, ya know?

  8. .

    Me neither, but sometimes I know things that make unlikely to enjoy the work ahead of time. So, generally, I read something else instead. There are billions of others to choose from.