Seriously, Self Reliance?!: Squabble 4 – Conclusion

Discussion Quote #4: “What is the aboriginal Self, on which a universal reliance may be grounded?…The inquiry leads us to that source, at once the essence of genius, of virtue, and of life, which we call Spontaneity or Instinct.  We denote this primary wisdom as Intuition, whilst all later teachings are tuitions. In that deep force, the fact behind which analysis cannot go, all things find their common origin.” p.27 Self – Reliance and Other Essays, Ralph Waldo Emerson: Dover Thrift Editions

Jorge Translation: What is our truest self on which we can utterly trust? The question leads us inward to the place of where all “learnings” fall away and we are left with a pure inner truth which guides us on right paths.This is our truest self, our intuition and it is right here that we find our common link to all humanity. 

Ralph’s entire essay is premised on the assumption that there is a singular self that is both unique to us and shared with all humanity that when we access it we have the gifts and virtues to live life on our own terms, which then will be good for all humanity. I cannot express how much I utterly and totally disagree with this very premise.

We are fish in a fishbowl. We can look around and see the water and even the bowl, but we cannot jump out of it or live without its influence on our lives.  We are products of the experiences, choices, influences, values, cultures, and people around us (This fish bowl analogy is perfect!). I do not hold that there is a utterly pure self, which can 1) be discovered in opposition to our life’s wholeness and 2) then ascend our daily life and actions beyond the confines of our “fish bowl” to a higher and more accurate truth (is there even such a thing as objective truth?), virtue, etc.

In being open to our own reactions and wondering deeply about how we interpret the world around us, both positively and negatively Ralph has some things to so. But overall, for me, all the reasons Haddi and I have laid out here…and honestly for many many more, I find this essay to be past its time of import. It’s always a good exercise to read that which you disagree with and for that this was a useful essay, but would I recommend it? Do I think all college students in literature need to read it? No. Not anymore.

As an historian I see value in reading essays such as Self Reliance because we are forced to understand the writer within his/her own context if we want to comprehend that which the author was trying to convey. This skill is necessary if we want to continue to expand our awareness of global society. As the world continues to shrink and we come in contact with people from very different historical/cultural contexts, it is essential that we accept others within their own contexts if we hope to find understanding. That being said, I have no particular loyalty to Emerson himself and if educators want to move on to other authors I am ok with that, but I would argue that learning to understand people/authors/historical figures/modern figures within their own historical context is absolutely essential so please do not neglect teaching this important skill to the next generation. 

Agreed sister! Amen! And thus concludes our first attempt at dialogue posts ;). Happy reading everyone!