The Case Against American Super-Individualism

A passage about Thoreau’s Walden Pond from David Brook’s column in The New York Times, “The 2015 Sidney Awards, Part 2,” December 22

Thoreau…For centuries Americans have been reading the hyper-individualistic purity of Henry David Thoreau’s life on Walden Pond – the way he cut himself off from crass commercialism and lived on a pure spiritual plane.

Writing in the New Yorker, Kathryn Schulz points out in “Pond Scum“ that Thoreau was a misanthropic, arrogant, self-righteous prig. He was coldhearted in the face of others’ suffering. Highly ascetic, he sustained the shallow American tendency to equate eating habits with moral health.

He tried philanthropic enterprises but found they did “not agree with my constitution.” Schulz accurately notes that Thoreau’s most famous sentence, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation,” is at once insufferable and absurd….

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2 responses to “The Case Against American Super-Individualism

  1. It’s about time!

  2. Some people do lead lives of quiet desperation, but not most. Some of that desperation is a response to the pressures that accompany the necessary means of survival in a materialistic world, some from the characterological discomfort of being an introvert among intense extroverts, or being a lonely extrovert, in need of compatible human connection. There are many combinations of circumstance and personality that can contribute to a sense of desperation.