Henry Thoreau uses his text “On The Duty Of Civil Disobedience” as a form of social analysis in order to highlight the situation concerning race in America. Thoreau is trying to encourage others to get involved in the same type of analysis. The point is that if social change is going to happen it is up to us to make a change. In relation to the broad and complex scope of American social politics Thoreau feels compelled to confront a certain cynicism that he finds prominent in American society. This cynicism is a form of despair involving the interaction of individuals and the larger social structure. “Why should I even take a stand?” most people in society have been trained to claim, “Our local action can’t help”.
This cynicism effectively kills grassroots activism and harms the nation. Grassroots activism consists of regional and local groups that coordinate efforts to bring power and pressure to bear on specific issues. The two most important consequences of grassroots activism that are squashed by this modern cynicism are critical dialogue and democratic accountability. Firstly, this cynicism puts a halt on the process of learning that individuals need to go through in order to become creative and prosperous citizens. Critical dialogue is the process of asking questions, gaining insights, and developing a new understanding from which to make decisions and wage important cultural projects. This cynicism, which inherently involves throwing up your hands in submission to the dominant power, eliminates the passion for truth that forces people to question the current ways of thinking and develop creative solutions to cultural problems. Secondly, democratic accountability, or the idea that every individual has the power to make changes that are oriented toward the collective well-being of society, is discounted in the willing exclusion of oneself and possibly one’s associates from the process of social analysis and activism.
Henry Thoreau proposes that we, the readers of his text, emulate the opposite characteristics from those exhibited in the cynical attitude. We must, as individuals responsible for our own future, struggle to become the best. This struggle, initiated in an infinite number of unique ways, can come from the effort of every man, woman, and child. It may be difficult, but it is up to us to harness all of these distinctive and wonderful ways of struggling through life and having passion for one’s own personal ideas, in order to create change in this world. I believe in this principle because of the responsibility it places on people, individuals like you and I, to make the world into the type of world that we want it to be.
A priest, for example, has a distinctive struggle that varies by virtue of position, rank, and location. We could say that, in general, priests are responsible for learning the truth. In the same general capacity we could also say that priests throughout the nation, by virtue of their very positions as priests, are tasked with the act of encouraging or distributing the principles acquired through the learning process. In other words, universally, priests should be progressive. They should focus on social analysis in order to understand the truth of the situation, then act as a non-discriminatory prophetic leader who critiques the existing way and who puts forward a vision of fundamental social change for all who suffer from socially induced misery. Despite this universal aspect to the struggle of priest, a universality that can be determined for all social groups from teacher to warrior, the path of struggle will be engaged through your own choices (our whole lives are decisions), and our individual actions (by acting you make the world what it is).
Your task: Thoreauvian Ranting
The title of this section is meant to be funny, but also to recognize that much of what you are going to read is Thoreau ranting about topics. Dictionary.com defines a rant as “to speak or declaim extravagantly or violently; talk in a wild or vehement way; rave.” (1/2015) A rant is extravagant, with emotional language that tends toward conflict. It seems to be unchecked, and hard to predict. A rant is contrasted with a logical argument, like the one that you will make in Part II of this assignment. For now, your task is to make a short rant about one idea that you find in Thoreau’s essay. Find an idea and define it in one sentence, then let your-logical-self go as you passionately respond to that idea. Give it at least 150 words.