Seriously, Self Reliance?!: Squabble 2

Discussion quote #2: “Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist.” “A man is to carry himself in the presence of all opposition as if every thing were titular and ephemeral but he, I am ashamed to think how easily we capitulate to badges and names, to large societies and dead institutions.” p. 22

Jorge translation: To be an individual one must not conform to the group. An individual must be unyielding to one’s own self and understand the impermanence of all else.  Furthermore, it is embarrassing how easily we succumb to authority simply because it has ‘authority,’ without first thinking about our own individual ethic/belief/ideology.   

This is where I start to question Emerson’s thought and his ideas on how to live out ‘being true to oneself.’

Yeah, cause here is where his unwavering malarkey begins to shine! To “be a man” one must never conform? Well what if conforming IS YOUR TRUTH? What then? 

Once again we have to see past Emerson’s male privilege and translate his message for the modern reader since ‘man’ for Emerson most likely only included white males with a certain amount of wealth and education we certainly have to expand ‘man’ to mean ‘individual.’ So according to Emerson, “to be an individual one must be a nonconformist,” this oftentimes is true and there are certainly many instances throughout one’s life when one must stand alone but this is not always the case. Surely as ‘thinking  beings’ we can recognize when it is necessary to stand alone to stay true to our own ethic and when it is morally correct to accept the determination of the larger society. In fact, I would argue that this ability is what makes it possible for each of us to be individuals.  

So of course as women, we translate and interpret Ralph to include us (though he would probably be appalled at the inclusion of us, all those along the gender spectrum and people of color, but I digress…)

What I DO wonder about is Ralph’s power and influence on masculinity (particularly white, upper-class, American masculinity) today.  Do his ideas of “self-reliance” continue to perpetuate a masculinity that cages men even as it attempts to free them?  I don’t know…

I think you’re on to something very important here, Hannah. Our shared, socially constructed ideas of  masculinity/femininity/androgyny are vital to understanding ‘our true selves,’ and it can become impossible to live out ones ‘own truth’ if one does not fit neatly into the pre-constructed gender boxes perpetuated by society. So while we agree with Emerson that living out one’s authentic self is essential, we do not agree that any one way of living out one’s truth is universally true. 

Amen Sister! Amen!!

In our next Squabble we will discuss Emerson’s treatment of a subject that is near and dear to my heart, ‘history.’

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