Tale Of A Strolling Indian

17 Apr

Not long since, a strolling Indian went to sell baskets at the house of a well-known lawyer in my neighborhood. ‘Do you wish to buy any baskets?’ he asked. ‘No, we do not want any,’ was the reply. ‘What!’ exclaimed the Indian as he went out the gate, ‘do you mean to starve us?’ Having seen his industrious white neighbors so well off – that the lawyer only had to weave arguments, and, by some magic, wealth and standing followed – he had said to himself: I will go into business; I will weave baskets; it is a thing which I can do. Thinking that when he had made the baskets he would have done his part, and then it would be the white man’s to buy them. He had not discovered that it was necessary for him to make it worth the other’s while to buy them, or at least to make him think that it was so, or to make something else which it would be worth his while to buy. I too had woven a kind of basket of a delicate texture, but I had not made it worth any one’s while to buy them. Yet not the less, in my case, did I think it worth my while to weave them, and instead of studying how to make it worth men’s while to buy my baskets, I studied rather how to avoid the necessity of selling them. The life which men praise and regard as successful is but one kind. Why should we exaggerate any one kind at the expense of the others?

– Henry David Thoreau, Walden; or, A Life in the Woods (1854)

6 Responses to “Tale Of A Strolling Indian”

  1. Kevin Moore April 17, 2012 at 8:26 am #

    In a symbiotic world lawyers could not survive unless as a parasite they preyed on the proceeds of other peoples adversity – lawyers produce nothing of worth – baskets are useful.

  2. Twodogs April 17, 2012 at 12:10 pm #

    To quote P.J. O’Rourke in reference to Thoreau; “All of the above is from the first hundred-odd pages of Walden and I defy any thinking adult without an airsickness bag to go further.”

    Among Thoreau’s pearls of wisdom referred to by PJOR include “Our inventions are wot to be pretty toys, which distract our attention from serious things… We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas; but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate.”. I dunno, but I think he was wrong on that one.

    Thoreau was a hypocrite of the highest order, and represents a blueprint for modern day socialist-green hypocrisy.


    • The Blissful Ignoramus April 17, 2012 at 2:15 pm #

      “Our inventions are wot to be pretty toys, which distract our attention from serious things…”

      I am surprised that any thinking, contemplative person would dispute that observation.

      When I see children raised before the altar of TV and Playstations, and the guff, nonsense, gossip, and propaganda that constitutes the bulk of so-called “news” and “entertainment” delivered on our wireless devices, I tend to think that Thoreau’s observations of 150-odd years ago are only the more valid today.

      FWIW, I fail to see anything in your comment, or the references to PJ O’Rourke, that might justify labelling Thoreau a “hypocrite”. In what way, exactly? Bearing in mind the context: he was a highly educated, well-travelled man of 28yo who wrote “Walden” after choosing of his own volition to build a very modest house/shack and basic furniture with his own hands from raw materials (cut down the trees and planed the timbers himself, by hand), tilled the soil first by borrowed horse, later by hand to grow his own food, and lived a life of (mostly) solitude and contemplation for several years, completely self-reliant. In my opinion, any “Green” who cites Thoreau in support of their ideology is only shining a Melbourne Cricket Ground of floodlights on their own hypocrisy by doing so. Their hypocrisy, however, is no reflection on Thoreau, or his choices, or his observations.

      I don’t recall whether you have indicated being a Biblically-literate / “Christian” / religiously-inclined man Twodogs, and even if you are not, nevertheless I trust that you may still be able to appreciate the observation that most (all?) of the revered philosophers, “natural” scientists, teachers, prophets, gurus, saints, and holy men of ages and cultures throughout time, have generally tended to live a very similar kind of lifestyle. Simple. Largely solitary. Separate from the hustle and bustle of “the world”. Out in the wilderness / mountains / bush.

      I think it worth bearing in mind that ideologues and zealots have hijacked the words of wiser men throughout time, to justify their own self-serving agendas. Most often the persons whom they are pleased to quote, hoping to somehow bask in their reflected glory, would, in my opinion, find the agendas of their latter-day cherry-pickers wholly abhorrent. My own reading of Thoreau suggests to me that he would be aghast at the totalitarian zealotry and attempted forcible (by law) removal of others’ personal liberty that the socialist-greens pursue.

      • Twodogs April 17, 2012 at 6:47 pm #

        Wow, I caught a big one! 😉

        Of course, taken in isolation, that part of that particular comment was fair, but the telegraph in its day was no mere plaything. Certainly what you say about modern toys is true, however Thoreau chose to live not how he preached, although he did at least try. However he decried civilization while enjoying its benefits, much like modern day socialists who live in concrete jungles and decry consumerism while living much the same lifestyles.

        What about “trade curses everything it handles”? Upon what fact is this statement substantiated? He curses that we exchange goods. Yawn. It may not be moral, but it sure ain’t immoral. Imagine trying to conduct a conversation with him? He represents the worst of sanctimoniousness.

        What about “I have always been regretting that I was not as wise as the day I was born.” Poetic, perhaps, but true? Not by any logic or fact. My childrens’ wisdom involves loving all that is natural (courtesy of our public school system) while rapaciously desiring all the junk consumerism provides. Thoreau’s idea was that wisdom could be accomplished through mere reflection of one’s thoughts. Total bollocks, and it’s the sort of high-minded thinking that is the basis of central planning.

        These are just mere opinions of course TBI, but I welcome dissent as, like failure, it provides the greatest opportunity to learn. In conclusion, I would add that bouncing ideas against each other is more productive than bouncing ideas against oneself.

        • The Blissful Ignoramus April 17, 2012 at 7:07 pm #

          FWIW, just as Jesus (and many other sages) often referred to “little” children in making valid insights on the human condition, I think Thoreau likewise was not referring to children of an age to be subject to formal “education”.

          Suspect we will be best served to simply agree to disagree on Thoreau.

          • Twodogs April 17, 2012 at 11:11 pm #

            Hey mate, I do understand the sentiment. Most of realists appreciate the intrinsic beauty of nature too, we just don’t assign it virtues that it doesn’t possess. Love your work 🙂

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