The Nature Of The Beast Essay, Research Paper
The Nature of The Beast
Most profound and original thoughts are likely to have significant impact on social norms. Such is the case of the ideas expressed in Emerson’s essay “Self-Reliance.” Some would say that such views incite immoral behavior, breeding social deviants such as Charles Manson. While this may be partly true, one cannot ignore how the same views may result in socially upstanding citizens as well, such as the persona portrayed as Erin Brockovich.
One might first object to this idea because of the obvious contradiction. Yet one must take into consideration it would only be a contradiction if all things other than Emerson’s ideas were equal, and rarely, if even possible, could everything else be equal.
With that being said, one must ask as to what exactly the views of Emerson in this essay are. Most of his essay can be summed up with two words: trust oneself. He believes that the only true person one can trust is oneself, that one’s instincts are the only pristine thoughts. All other ideas have been tarnished by social norms and values. Rampant throughout society is the notion that one must think and act consistently with what one thought and did on days previous. Emerson says that it is this desire for consistency that keeps one from following one’s own instincts. “The terror that scares us from self-trust is our consistency; a reverence for our past act or word, because the eyes of others have no other data for computing our orbit than our past acts, and we are loathe to disappoint them” (24). In other words, Emerson is trying to say that any action done for consistency is pointless, since it requires no original thought. Emerson then goes on to say that “no man can violate his nature” (25).
Now this raises an interesting point. Is it possible for it to be in someone’s nature to desire to be consistent in thought and deed? Obviously yes, it is possible. Do we now take this to mean that this person, whose nature it is to be consistent, is living a pointless life? Does his consistency also require no more original thought? No, this person would still be capable of pure spirit. As long as his actions and thoughts are pure and genuine as his nature proscribes, he himself is thus pure and genuine in character.
This concept has staggering implications. When taken to one extreme, we end up with Charles Manson, a person that no one would argue had purity of mind or character. Yet he lived his life as he believed was his nature. This was a man was capable of extreme violence against his fellow man, yet also proclaimed that he was his own God. He truly believes that his way is the right way and that he is not subject to the laws and machinations of society. Looking back at Emerson’s view of living life, Manson easily fits Emerson’s mold. Does this mean now that since a person like Manson can exist under Emersonian view that the view itself should be rejected? Should Emerson be blamed for a person such a Manson?
Not so fast. There is still the other extreme that must be considered, such as the case of Erin Brokovich. Erin was not the typical unwed mother. She used what she had, namely her physical features, to get what she needed. She did not care that society deems that behavior as bad or wrong. In the end she was very successful and also a good mother, both things deemed good by society, yet to her it did not matter, since that was her very nature. And it is because she followed what was in her nature that she also fits the Emersonian mold.
Which person is better? Erin or Manson? Emerson would say neither. He would say that both of them are the same in application, only different in action. Both followed what they believed to be correct in their nature, for which neither can be faulted. Why then is Manson in jail when Erin Brokovich is looked up to? The answer to that is because people don’t exist in a vacuum. Society does exist and it just so happens that what Manson chose to do conflicted with what society has chosen as right. Very possibly there might have existed another world where their roles would be reversed.
Emerson’s view was best summed up when Emerson wrote “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” (20). Such a tragic fate that would be. The very thing that gives a person claim to their existence, claim to their place in space, is the idea. That person’s unique idea, the summation of that person’s experience and previous thoughts, is what, in Emerson’s view, distinguishes one person from another. Whether that idea is original to mankind has no relevance on that idea’s importance. The point is that the person’s idea was original in their own mind; it did not come to them from an outside source. Thus comes Emerson’s view of traveling, “Traveling is a fool’s paradise” (34).
Rooted in society is the notion that if a person is to be “educated”, they should be well traveled. Emerson would say that it is not the travel that makes the person educated, yet just the opposite. It is the original thinker, the wise man, that makes traveling “venerable in the imagination” (34). It is the mind that makes different places, different things worthy of reverence or reflection; the attributes of those different places that only exist in the mind are what truly make those places great.
Does that mean that everyone should stay home pondering the mysteries of the universe? No, since there is obviously some inherent value in experience. The point is not to go somewhere, or do anything for that matter, just for the sake doing it, rather one should take that experience and relate it to their own unique person, getting out of it something that only they can.