Conform or die.
In both Mark Twain’s Corn-Pone Opinions and Thoreau’s Life Without Principle essay it is clearly expressed that it is human nature to conform either based on societies opinions and or expectations of living life to the fullest degree. Throughout Twain’s essay, he shows how society conforms to the majority view based on his locality. In addition, Twain declares that there is a first hand opinion also known as an original opinion. Basically it is a flaw in American society that the citizens seek approval of themselves ultimately through others opinions. It is interesting to note that Twain choses to use “we” rather than “I” when presenting his views on American society. Thoreau’s essay is primarily about how people chose to live their lives working for a paycheck. To work solely for money is not really living according to Thoreau. Additionally Thoreau states that American are slaves to taxes and the political systems which form the basis of their opinions. Thoreau also states that gossiping is a waste of time and should be better spent with more important issues. Both share opinions about the American society and it’s flaws.
Henry David Thoreau and Mark Twain both state that society is based on opinions and the expectations to do what is considered the norm. In the Corn-Pone Opinions Twain writes, “It is our nature to conform: it is a force which not many can successfully resist”. Basically no matter what a man must agree with society and whatever the majority rules or he will suffer. Mark Twain is clear that the fads come and go for no obvious reason. He explains this further when he states, “We are creatures of outside influences; as a rule we do not think, we only imitate”. Thoreau agrees, “Thus men will lie on their backs, talking about the fall of man, and never make an effort to get up”. Man is destined to repeat its faults and the present day is mirrored in the past. Thoreau is saying that man will repeat the work for a living no matter what because it is the norm in society. History is doomed to repeat itself especially with man and his need for approval from civilization.
The use of the pronouns I in Life Without Principle, and we in Corn-pone Opinions make a clear distinction that Thoreau does not consider himself part of the normal American society. Whereas, Twain’s use of we allows us to clearly see that he too has fallen for the majority and it’s conformity as a whole. Thoreau’s Life Without Principle, is an essay looking in on society. An example is Thoreau’s view of paying of taxes as being a slave system, “Even if we grant that the American has freed himself from a political tyrant, he is still a slave of an economical and moral tyrant”. Thoreau wants no part of this society. He distances himself both in his lifestyle and that way he writes about Americans.
Both have clear statements saying that throughout civilization man has had a tendency to gossip and not come up with any real opinions only those that have already been thought of by others. Thoreau writes, “It is important to preserve the mind’s chastity in this respect”. Basically gossip is the dangerous part of interacting with society. Man’s thoughts are never deep but solely based on the knowledge gained from others. Again Thoreau writes, “Just so hollow and ineffectual, for the most part, is our ordinary conversation”. It is important to understand that Life Without Principle strives to make man understand that true living is determined by how they choose to spend their time, working for wages is different that working for a life’s goal.
After reading both of these essays it was easy to make connections to the American society of today. The way society disdains things and then after a while comes to accept it as a norm. Fads with clothing and the need to have the newest phones come to mind. Its amazing that people never stop to think about who and what really influences them. The commercials we watch and the need to be the same as or better than the Jones next door clearly shows our society is still very much self absorbed. In fact, the election this year was a great example of how people are what they are based off of who they surround themselves. The Republican and the Democratic mindset was just that really, a group of people who influence each other and their beliefs bounce off one another. Being associated with one party or another is in essence a way for man to be among his peers and viewed as in the norm like Mark Twain professed in his essay Corn-Pone Opinions. Men will base their political ideas on their parties beliefs. Basically man is not thinking for himself. He is feeling public opinion and basing his belief system on that.
The philosophy behind Life Without Principle is that man should not settle for something that just pays the bills. People will do anything for money or the right price. In fact those who are able to find something they enjoy doing as an occupation can not be tempted by bribery. The biggest problem is someone spending more time working than living. That is a profound statement in itself and makes you think about the future and your occupation. Is it going to be something to do to just get paid or will life have a meaning and be worth living.
Interestingly Thoreau, talks about found money such as gold, being like gambling or cheating. The lottery system is a good example of money that you could receive but didn’t work for. Sure if you make money, enough to survive and raise a family that’s great but you must have a passion in you life. Ironically we are at an institution where our knowledge is based on the texts and essays that others have written. We are not in fact having deep thoughts but rather regurgitating knowledge already discovered by someone else that society has declared “the right kind of knowledge”. One needs to stay true to themselves all while keeping momentum moving forward to avoid the “snowdrift of knowledge” and be ready when in a “lull of truth, an institution springs up”.
Ironically American culture is founded on uniqueness yet it is human nature to conform. Look at all the kids going to college just because it’s expected and they do not want to be different. It’s crazy to think that having things like a home and car are greatly influenced by those around us. Cars that are energy efficient because the norm for those people sees that as the right thing to do. Having the luxury cars without regard to energy efficiency demonstrate the fad and be the same as everyone else who believe is a car as a status symbol. They say to be your own person and follow your own dreams but technically that’s only if your dreams and the path you set for yourself follow the norms expected by the people you surround yourself with. Acceptance in itself is not guaranteed unless you are like those around you. How silly to think that the choices one makes are based on the knowledge that they will be viewed as the norm. Even if one choses to be different they are making a choice to be different and like another group of individuals who are like minded. Society expects a lot of its people and we in turn expect to know what decisions to make using the societal norms of the culture that we align ourself with. Is this not a vicious cycle of acceptance and opinion based on a knowledge of those that came