Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Emerson, "Self-Reliance" (& Crawford)

--Emerson's "Self-Reliance" is a classic statement of American romantic individualism. As such, it is an interesting comparison to Franklin's Enlightenment version. How would you compare the two in terms of attitudes toward religion? What about attitudes toward 'virtue' (a term they share) or social responsibility?

--Crawford's comments on self-reliance come from a work about the loss of technical training in our educational system and, with it, a loss of independence and autonomy in our lives (in short, we are too used to having everything done for us). How does Crawford's view on self-reliance differ from Emerson's? Do you agree or disagree with Crawford? If you disagree, what do you think self-reliance should mean in our current day?


  1. Emerson is very concrete in his stance on self-reliance. It's almost as if he believes it should be absolute, that you should rely on yourself for everything. He even believes that ideas or thoughts should be exclusive to the individual, which is a pretty strange idea in itself. He writes, "Else, to-morrow a stranger will say with masterly good sense precisely what we have thought and felt all the time, and we shall be forced to take with shame our own opinion from another" (1164). He believes that you should not rely on someone else to articulate your thoughts for you, but that you should be held responsible for that or feel shameful. He even suggests that charity is counterproductive to self-reliance.

    Crawford on the other hand acknowledges the fact that we do need to rely on others in some instances, like learning a new craft. I agree with this because in this day and age we consult the internet to see how people have passed and failed tasks in the past so that we don't have to make the same mistakes. He also suggests that we in America have kept people from gaining too much political power, but there are no checks and balances for economic power, which coincide to me. Economic power is what gains one political power after all. I think self reliance has a completely different meaning than when Emerson wrote his book. We are held accountable for many more things these days but rarely deal with the repercussions on our own.

  2. Crawford states that we can not always rely on ourselves--which is very different from Emerson since he believes we should only rely on ourselves. Sometimes we have to use others experiences to help us get through our own struggles and issues. Such as the master plumber showing the apprentice how to do his job. If the apprentice didn't know how to do it, he would do it incorrectly. I agree with Crawford's view since I live in the generation I do. Without the internet I would have trouble accomplishing tasks that I am unfamiliar with. I am of the "lazy" age and like things to be done for me as often as possible--and I am not afraid to admit that.

  3. I agree with Crawford. I'm not a big fan of tech things and all the new gadgets that Apple and other companies come out with every three days it seems. The whole "there's an app for that" bothers me sometimes. In the age we live in, going to the library and looking up research books is almost laughable. That's what Google is for. I'm guilty of relying on things like the Internet and stuff like that but I do realize that it's probably not always the best for me. Things needing to be touch screen and within a stretch reach of you is what is important these days. There's little value in learning things from scratch and figuring out how to be independent. Like, there's no need to learn how to change a tire. Just take out your cell phone and call AAA or whatever. I think Crawford really hit the nail on the head.

  4. It seems Emerson feels that by subscribing to a religion, you are limiting yourself, which obviously, Emerson is against. He wants people to explore expression and simply be themselves. It raises the issue that perhaps being part of religion is being oneself, but Emerson would not support this feeling and doesn't address it. He even goes so far as to say that people have "bound their eyes with one or another handkerchief" (1167) by being part of religion or politics. Franklin does not have nearly the same extreme opinions. Though he turned away from the religion he was brought up in, I think on some level, Franklin liked the sense of organization religion provided. It certainly influenced how he kept track of his faults later in life.

    I'm not sure Crawford is as dramatic as we are making him out to be. It seems to me he's just commenting on how things are. We've become a specialized society. It's quite true. Most people don't know what it means to "throw a rod" with respects to an engine, but any halfway (heck, even quarter-way) decent mechanic will tell you that your motor's junk because of it. I for one certainly won't be complaining that I don't have to memorize all the different components of my car so I can fix it because the job of a mechanic doesn't exist. We can't be entirely self-reliant, and Crawford acknowledges this.

    Emerson on the other hand seems to focus more on thoughts than practice. It's true, he does delve into politics and religion and even a little bit regarding economics, but these started as philosophies, as thoughts, and that is what he is critiquing. We should be self-reliant with regards to our thoughts. Independent thought is something to strive for, as well as expression of those thoughts.

  5. Crawford’s view differs from Emerson’s, because Crawford believes that we can’t always depend on ourselves, that from time to time we are going to need help, while Emerson believes in complete self-independence. Crawford uses the examples of a master plumber showing his apprentice how to “vent a drain pipe a certain way,” and a better motorcyclist than him explains, “why it would be good to decrease the damping in the front end of his motorcycle.” Crawford says that we learn from emulating others, “The progressive character of the revelation energizes your efforts to become competent.” So by watching someone else complete a task gives us the encouragement to want to succeed.

    I agree with Crawford, because I know I wouldn’t be able to do everything on my own all the time. I'm a considerably independent person, but I am not afraid to admit when I don’t know how to do something, and ask for assistance. I'm also studying to be a teacher, so I definitely believe in helping others succeed.

    Emily Miller

  6. Crawford's version of a loss of independence is more focused upon how society as a whole babies people and how we are no longer 'masters of our own stuff', whereas Emerson focuses more on non-conformity and thinking for one's self as a means to being a true 'man'.

    The difference between the two authors' views is Emerson rejects the canon and promotes individual analysis versus Crawford's encouragement to conform into the image of the ideal of competence on any given subject. Emerson would reject the idea that any man should strive to be like any other because each of our lives is both internally and externally different.

    I somewhat agree with Crawford.We live in an age where we have all of these resources enabling us to learn at a pace unprecedented in history, but the ease of use (of the internet or cell phones)allows people to answer questions and solve problems without actually learning from experience.But as far as conforming to an ideal, I'm with Emerson. Everyone's internal and external stimuli vary, so conforming by idolizing someone or by thoughtlessly adopting the values of a (by opinion) desirable group (ex. a political party) denies the individuality integral to our thought processes.