“It is very evident what mean and sneaking lives many of you live…” Thoreau writes in one of his turns of phrase in which he comes off as arrogant and self-righteous.
You don’t have to read far into Walden before you figure out that Henry can be pretty full of himself. But a lot of that is passion. He’s experienced some things about life that he doesn’t think the rest of us are getting, and he really, really wants us to.
He looked around and saw his fellow citizens measuring everything in life by its dollar value. They thought they were being practical and realistic. We do the same thing today, only with better technology and more aggressive marketing. Everything is a commodity. Henry wrote of people “trying to get into business and trying to get out of debt… always promising to pay, promising to pay, tomorrow, and dying today, insolvent; seeking to curry Favor… lying, flattering, voting, contracting yourselves into a nutshell of civility….”
Kissing ass. Sucking up. Playing the game. Valuing others in direct proportion to the degree to which they can grant or withhold benefits. The rat race. Networking. Establishing your personal brand. It’s the price you pay to get ahead.
Some people try to climb the ladder as high as they can, as fast as they can, gain power and become one to whom others must suck up — or at least gain the power they think will free them to be their own person.
But it’s not really that simple. Listen to any politician or leading business executive. How honest are they really? How free are they to say what they really think?
“The mass of men,” Henry writes, “lead lives of quiet desperation.”
And that’s the main point that Walden is written to address.
(About “A Year in Walden”)