Today marks the bicentennial of the birth of Henry David Thoreau, and rereading Walden always inspires me to say some uncharitable and unfair things about Thoreau. Knowing that they are unfair (see HERE, for example) I’m going to say them anyway, since having once been said it will be possible to see how and why they are unfair – as applied to Thoreau, at least – and then say some things that are fair, though mostly about some of Thoreau’s “readers.” So, let’s start by presenting the unfair in its simplest, and most privileged terms.
Many years ago, the Science Fiction author Robert A. Heinlein elucidated what he called, “the Sears-Roebuck” fallacy. (Memory tells me this was in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. You should not credit my memory with any authority.) Describing this in my own words, young Henry David decides to head off into the wilderness, and make for himself the life of a True Man. Upon arrival, the first thing he needs to do is build himself some shelter, so he grabs his trusty ax, and sets out to fell some trees. But wait a minute! He was supposed to be leaving civilization behind; so where did that ax come from?
Why, the Sears-Roebuck catalog, of course! Continue reading