July 04, 2010

Dirty institutions

Rosa Parks, 1955. Image by way of wikipedia.

Henry David Thoreau's essay on civil disobedience didn't make much of a splash when first written, but it was destined to have a major worldwide impact. The events that led to the essay took place during his stay at Walden Pond.

Here's how he laconically describes what happened in Walden:

One afternoon, near the end of the first summer, when I went to the village to get a shoe from the cobbler's, I was seized and put into jail, because, as I have elsewhere related, I did not pay a tax to, or recognize the authority of, the state which buys and sells men, women, and children like cattle at the door of its senate-house. I had gone into the woods for other purposes, But, wherever a man goes, men will pursue and paw him with their dirty institutions, and, if they can, constrain him to belong to their desperate odd-fellow society. It is true, I might have resisted forcibly with more or less effect, might have run "amok" against society; but I preferred that society should run "amok" against me, it being the desperate party. However, I was released the next day, obtained my mended shoe, and returned to the woods in season to get my dinner of huckle-berries on Fair-Haven Hill. I was never molested by any person but those who represented the state.

Of course, people have been resisting unjust laws and governments since ancient times--the Greek tragedy Antigone is a literary example of ancient civil disobedience. The histories of Josephus provide examples of Jewish non-violent resistance against the Romans under Caligula and Pilate. But Thoreau was one of the first to articulate it clearly and his essay about an almost accidental encounter would have a much greater influence than anyone at the time might have dreamed.

It's amazing what people can do sometimes even when they're not trying.

LIVING ON EARTH devoted a program to the changing view of the late WV Senator Robert Byrd on coal issues.

BAKER'S DOZEN (minus ten). Here are two good columns by economist Dean Baker. The first is about the politics of unemployment, while the second is about the growing inequality that is at the root of the economic crisis.

ANOTHER INTERESTING TAKE on the economic crisis can be found here.

GETTING EMOTIONAL can have its benefits.

BIRD BRAINS. They are more similar to those of mammals than previously thought. Having watched the complex behavior of the feathered inhabitants of Goat Rope Farm, I can't say I'm surprised.


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