A 4th of July Remembrance: Independence Arises from Self-Reliance

What is visible on July 4th is the overwhelming consumerism of an American holiday: the over-hyped sales campaigns, the overdulgences of the table, and the obligatory displays of fireworks. But beneath this celebratory surface run questions about American identity and the state of grace of the American soul.

There is a darkness in that soul, the poisonous darkness of greed, complacency and hubris. Individualism, it seems, means not the making of one’s own way but the demanding of sacrifices by others to maintain one’s own lifestyle: the sacrifices laid on the next generations to pay our lavish medical and retirement benefits, and the sacrificing of the planet to supply us with cheap energy, particle-board furniture and all the other gimcracks which are piled up in countless garages and storage facilities across the overstuffed suburbs of America.

There is another American soul, a largely forgotten one; that of Emerson, Thoreau and Muir. Emerson’s essay Self-Reliancespeaks to a radical individualism: “Insist on yourself; never imitate.”

His vision has been reduced to a callow “do your own thing,” but his individualism is not the type trumpeted by consumerism, of dependence on the state and all the ills of self-absorption. It is both spiritual (Emerson was a Harvard-trained minister, after all) and a state of being.

“Man is not a farmer, a professor or an engineer, but he is all.” To be fluid, capable of metamorphosis, and true to oneself was not an abstract ideal to study in a classroom but a way of living: “We live amid surfaces, and the true art of life is to skate well on them.”

At 68 years of age, Emerson passed this understanding to a 33-year old living in Yosemite Valley, John Muir. Though Emerson’s visit was brief, it clearly affected Muir for the remainder of his life. Here is his account of their time together:

“Yes, the most of my years were spent on the wild side of the continent, invisible, in the forests and mountains. These men were the first to find me and hail me as a brother. First of all, and greatest of all, came Emerson. I was then living in Yosemite Valley as a convenient and grand vestibule of the Sierra from which I could make excursions into the adjacent mountains. I had not much money and was then running a mill that I had built to saw fallen timber for cottages.

When he came into the Valley I heard the hotel people saying with solemn emphasis, “Emerson is here.” I was excited as I had never been excited before, and my heart throbbed as if an angel direct from heaven had alighted on the Sierran rocks. But so great was my awe and reverence, I did not dare to go to him or speak to him. I hovered on the outside of the crowd of people that were pressing forward to be introduced to him and shaking hands with him. Then I heard that in three or four days he was going away, and in the course of sheer desperation I wrote him a note and carried it to his hotel telling him that E1 Capitan and Tissiack demanded him to stay longer.

The next day he inquired for the writer and was directed to the little sawmill. He came to the mill on horseback attended by Mr. Thayer [James Bradley Thayer, a member of Emerson’s party, who, in 1884, published a little volume of reminiscences under the title of A Western Journey with Mr. Emerson] and inquired for me. I stepped out and said, “I am Mr. Muir.” “Then Mr. Muir must have brought his own letter,” said Mr. Thayer and Emerson said, “Why did you not make yourself known last evening? I should have been very glad to have seen you.” Then he dismounted and came into the mill. I had a study attached to the gable of the mill, overhanging the stream, into which I invited him, but it was not easy of access, being reached only by a series of sloping planks roughened by slats like a hen ladder; but he bravely climbed up and I showed him my collection of plants and sketches drawn from the surrounding mountains which seemed to interest him greatly, and he asked many questions, pumping unconscionably.

He came again and again, and I saw him every day while he remained in the valley, and on leaving I was invited to accompany him as far as the Mariposa Grove of Big Trees. I said, “I’ll go, Mr. Emerson, if you will promise to camp with me in the Grove. I’ll build a glorious campfire, and the great brown boles of the giant Sequoias will be most impressively lighted up, and the night will be glorious.” At this he became enthusiastic like a boy, his sweet perennial smile became still deeper and sweeter, and he said, “Yes, yes, we will camp out, camp out”; and so next day we left Yosemite and rode twenty five miles through the Sierra forests, the noblest on the face of the earth, and he kept me talking all the time, but said little himself. The colossal silver firs, Douglas spruce, Libocedrus and sugar pine, the kings and priests of the conifers of the earth, filled him with awe and delight.”

A justly famous Emerson quote speaks to the core of self-reliance and the agency of true independence: “Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string.” 

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  • Zartan

    Total BS.

    America is a land with over 1-Million Laws, Regulations, Codes, and Statutes … ALL … Can be selectivly used to persecute you in the Worlds Largest Prison Industrial Complex.

    Yea, and You idiots pay for it!

    None of you are Independant. No, not a Single ONE OF YOU.

    You cannot even go fishing without License, Tax Stamp, and there are an entire CODE of laws ( Fish and Game) that applies to HOOKS, FISH SIZE, and GEAR … Fail to OBEY and YOU can end up in PRISON or Worse.

    You filthy PERVERTS — STOLE OUR FREEDOM — YOU, Who so despise the common so much that you want them to be servants ( SLAVES) of Government -giving everything to it- and expecting nothing in return!

    Only FOOLS would give themselves to government in such perversity!

    See, Chappy, it is real simple … US government takes over 50-percent in TOTAL TAX, NOW, it took that money from the people; and therefore, it is required to pay benefits to the people who support it.

    I do not like Governmment, If it were up to me, I would have Vladimir Take out the US Government with a Few Tactical Nuclear Strikes.

    GET IT?? A government that does nothing for the people is USELESS!

    IF you want to be FREE …. Too Late for that, prisonmates!


    You do not like Socialism “GOOD,” than YOU do not like JESUS either, because if you do not accept socialism ( the blood is offered to all, freely, but He paid for it) than HE cannot save you from YOUR SINS, PINHEADS! I actually, agree with the IDIOTS here, YES, You should all pay your own way to Heaven!

    You know, America, PRIDE and JESUS do not MIX! Why Pride is so useless even the ART OF WAR will tell you PRIDE IS FOR FOOLS!

    SO, America … Tell me, Why are You all so Proud?

  • Zartan

    And, if I hear any more BS about “Independence or self-reliance” I am going to Really Start Posting Fire and Brimstone! In America, they cannot even let “little kids” with a Kool Ade stand alone, because YOU HAVE TO HAVE A GD PERMIT! YOU NEED A GD PERMIT TO TAKE A S–T IN AMERICA, and DO NOT MAKE ME POST THE PAPERWORK, because “Failure to Comprehend” … You go to JAIL.



    Damn … I should be like the Bankers and Sell You —– a Red, White, and Blue Bible or Somthing!

    JESUS … I could title it ” WORDS of FREEDOM.” I bet the CRAP WOULD SELL TOO!

    Too bad that it would be an Abomination to God.

    America, you are so lost it is not funny!

    Consequences are coming.

    • collette.robert@yahoo.com

      Sorry, the alliterate are not reading, they can, but they don’t want to, as they have been successfully indoctrinated against knowledge and wisdom, preferring style over substance. Quantitative but not qualitative.

      • Zartan

        They will face the Consequences. Warnings have been Screamed at them for Decades. A people who will not learn will pay the consequences for their inaction. Americans are slaves, SO, if they do not care, Shame on Them!

  • ICFubar

    Someone of intelligence once wrote that “America is a nation of hustlers.” I believe that no man is an island, and while we are all individuals striving to improve ourselves and therefore the world around us, that world is better built when we can agree with our neighbors with how to build and create a just society. Individualism taken too far can lead to a position of personal detachment and lack of empathy. I’ve got mine and I’m alright Jack, pull up the draw bridge and you go and get your own.

    • Zartan

      The Problem, I can be an Island, but IN AMERICA, the GOD of the Earth, it owns all the land and Islands, too, SO that , IF, I wanted to go live in the woods, or on an Island, I have to live in FEAR of FISH AND GAME! If I get caught with an undersized trout they will go APE! And, I do not feel like feeding fish and game to the Alligators as I should. I mean, Imagine, a people so foolish as to come into my SWAMP and tell me How many Fish I can eat! Not even GOD would cross me for taking care of business!

      Sorry, but there is no FREEDOM. And, Those who continue to preach such Blaspheme should be placed in a prison.

      Now, when I LABOR, I do not want to support “MURDER OF GODS POOR COLORED PEOPLE FOR MILITARY PROFIT ALL OVER THE GLOBE.” I Do not want to voluntarily give my tax to support “murder of the poor” and the gutting of creation as seen fit by the military industrial complex ( ie, Rebellion against God). Most people will never think this deeply; and therfore, they will never see the truth.

      What are we supporting? A Murderer!

      I would rather tax monies ( if there has to be a government) go to help “ALL” citizens equitibly. This can be done, easily, but you have criminals EATING ALL THE PIE who do not want the people to have a crumb. This has to stop. If the people are going to be TAXED than the people must be benefit, otherwise, the government must have a Tragic Accident.

      • ICFubar

        I hear what you are getting at but it also reminds me of a conversation I had with the captain and owner of several fishing seiners. His tongue in cheek comment was that ‘the authorities should just get out of the way and then we could fish the oceans out in three months.” The world is now full. There are no new lands with untouched resources to plunder or to expand new debt from to pay old debt as has been the economic model for several centuries. Religion is fine until it submits that only one subset, its own, has exclusionary rights barring the rest of human kind as having any validity. And while there is abundance we see starvation in the face of this abundance. Capitalism, unless it is changed radically will be the undoing of human kind or reset as the western apex elites suggest keeping the system as is, with themselves at the top, but radically reducing the rest of the human population to a point, minus 90% suggested, where debt and production exponential expansion can be reset to a lower order of magnitude and begin the climb again.

        • Zartan

          NO … I am not talking about commercial fishing. There is no excuse for placing laws on individual consumption. NOT EVEN GD ENGLAND DID SUCH EVIL!!!

          There are Wars of Plunder going on all over the Planet? Little America is the Hammer going around stealing resources from the global poor and Murdering them for profit.

          In your mind, America (the god that mankind created) is entitled to “everything” and we should all be crucified by it, right? You know, if your America had “any” stones, I would actually welcome their attempt, because it would be met with HELL, Fire, and Brimstone! I do not comply with Evil, and I do not worship, or pledge to False gods!

          F .. Religion. Most of mankind is too primitive to even imagine, a Supreme Creator, anyway, so it is meaningless. However, your (mankinds) blind obidience to a Tyranny has rendered you all captive to a god of Cruelty, Beastiality, and Wickedness …A god of your own Making ( in your own image) … THE US GOVERNMENT.

          You should think about that for a while.

          See how simple it all is, and how you “all” fall right into a Snare! Those who deny, the Real God, get an Evil god as a Substitute!

          • ICFubar

            If everyone that wants to fishes your little stream or lake without any thought to conservation what do you suppose will happen to the fish population? Exactly what happened on Easter Island as they destroyed their natural resource base. Individual consumption taken in aggregate can out strip the natural ability of a renewable resource, the fish, to maintain a level where renewal is possible.

            While there still is abundance the rate at which we are depleting the natural resources of the planet, especially with soil depletion, is accelerating and there is no new parts of this planet that can be brought on line. Somehow human reproductive rates are falling universally, dramatically in Kenya, but is still in growth mode taken on a global basis. Human kind can fix these problems in an equitable fashion or we can have the present monetary and capitalist system sort out these problems for us in their favor.

            I am not an American and have no ancestors who were so how that nation has evolved is none of my or my ancestors doing though your criticism is well founded.

            As to belief in a deity being the only way to live and lead a virtuous life this is a misnomer as most carry within themselves a natural sense of how they would like to be treated by others, which if taken to heart is how we must in turn treat others. It’s as simple as that. That those not in possession of this internal morality run the world is a big question of the how and why category.

          • Zartan

            Commercial Fishing is where you can have problems. This is where regulations are needed.

            America did not create the water, fish and game … Therefore, it cannot claim ownership. The Indians were right.

            People can self-regulate and replenish.

            No government interfearence needed. America wants you to PAY FOR “PAPERS” SO YOU CAN CATCH BLUEGILL… It is about Control, not Regulation.

            F … AMERICA!

          • ICFubar

            I agree that there need not be any license , which is defined under law as permission to do something otherwise illegal, and certainly no charge associated with going fishing but maintain that conservation must be provided for by some means as the greedy will always take more than their share and end up destroying the resource.

          • Zartan

            Yes, they could reccommend limits, environmentally sound practices, and most people would comply. Those who abuse wildlife can be dealt with locally and that`s the best practice.


            I am against the license, because it costs MONEY;and therefore, it is a form of TAX and Tyranny. What if you do not have the Money? Now, you cannot Buy license or Eat. However, it is just a method to control people, because once they ( fish and game police) spot ( you have to wear the license on your clothes or hat) that you do not have a license, the police come, and they will go over everything in your tackle box, car, person with a fine tooth comb looking for a reason to fine or JAIL you.

            Americans put up with this BS, Imagine?

            There is more FREEDOM “anywhere” in the world, except America, and I warn people: “NEVER COME HERE!” I want a refund. I am looking to get out of this godforsaken land. However, I will collect for all the Lies, Falsifications and Abuses America put me through, first. As a Citizen they have Obstructed my rights, and for that, they must pay. Fishing was my only source of Enjoyment.

            I live in America and there are very few sport fishers. Americans would rather drink beer and do drugs … I cannot say that I blame them, either! Tyranny makes people lose hope!

          • ICFubar

            Is the license to fish expensive where you live? I hate to see a person deprived of such a satisfying pastime. My younger brother is the ‘real’ fisherman in my family. He’ll catch when no one else is as his knowledge is very deep and being he may be part trout himself. I was the hunter. We were raised to value what nature provides and to respect the lives taken. Where I live hunter and fishers are declining in numbers and the wildlife service has had to take this into consideration in wildlife population science….and of course their reason for budget dollars. Licenses here for locals if converted to USD would range in the $25 mark with tags adding about the same on top of. We have separate tags here if you want to fish for salmon or steelhead, other fisheries are covered by the license and off course for all big game and migratory waterfowl. Included in the license fee is a habitat conservation fee which is controlled by the public through the various clubs and conservation organizations making application for projects. I’m involved with a Big Horn Sheep winter feeding program and I received funds a few years back to build a hay and feed storage shed near where the sheep congregate in the winter. I had to keep track of every dime and file a project report on completion.

            Don’t give up on your country. It is my belief that the American people will eventually rise to the challenge in making a society that lives up to the your Constitutional rhetoric. Be apart of the change. Perhaps you could get a group together that lobbies for waved fishing license fees for those earning under a given amount? The opportunities for making changes for the better are only limited by the desire to make those changes.

          • collette.robert@yahoo.com


          • Zartan

            Individuals will only be persecuted when society puts its faith in government. This was planned by GOD to punish those who reject Him. Soon, there will be major Consequences for the Faith misplaced in government.
            They will bring Death and Destruction to all: Those who have wisdom can see this is the inevitable outcome. Government does not serve the people, it enslaves the people to it, and people need to end government before it ends them.

          • collette.robert@yahoo.com

            Soon, fuck your god

          • Zartan

            God does not Care if you Curse at Him. I tried that already!

          • collette.robert@yahoo.com

            The Gobi forest

          • arlenejohnson

            Zartan-God is not religion. Religion has been co-opted. God will never be. See

          • Zartan

            Nevertheless, He is the Almighty One, Right? He is the Alpha and Omega … And, therefore, HE is responsible for “every single molecular impulse in the entire Universe, Religions too! ”

            I have to hold GOD accountable, because the world ( He created) does not Care, the Devil will Laugh, and SO, God is the only Option!

          • collette.robert@yahoo.com

            Prisoners in the 1800’s complained that they were getting too much lobster, you know, the cockroach of the sea? Fed on Mafia deaths and liberals. Eat up and get your daily dose of mercury.

        • collette.robert@yahoo.com

          Funny you should mention it, but it appears that Madagascar is the next bolthole of the rich and famous and jewish. They make it appear as if Madagascar is uninhabited, is that the case NOW?

      • Gertrudesmckinney

        Managing director of Google says we are paying $97 per hour! Work for few hours and have longer with friends & family^ju542d:
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        • Zartan

          You Idiot, You cannot get a New Cadillac for $8,752., unless it`s a Sanford and Son Special! You CANNOT EVEN WRITE SPAM!!!

      • collette.robert@yahoo.com


    • collette.robert@yahoo.com

      Real sense of community alright

  • jadan

    The greatest advocates of unregulated individual license are criminals. Most billionaires, with a few exceptions like uncle Warren Buffet, preach self-reliance as an antidote to welfare and hold themselves up as models of self-reliance to be emulated. It is usually self-righteous bullshit, of course, like most every word that comes from Trump’s mouth. Emerson was not preaching self-reliance as an argument against socialism or indebtedness. He was a bit deeper than that. Smith is not. Emerson’s spiritual message was the realization of the individual self, the “know thyself” adage of all times. It was completely independent of political ideology. Emerson was not a zealot like Thoreau, who refused to pay his taxes. He was a spiritual teacher who served as an antidote to the stupid Bible thumping religious loonies of his day, and ours, too.

  • Zartan

    Independence in a land with over “1-MILLION GD LAWS” applicable to the common Slave! Brilliant!

    I know you Americans are YELLOW, but GD, Stop LICKING the FEET of your FILTHY MASTERS! Oh, and if you were all “like me” Master would be licking YOUR FEET.

    So, A WARNING, you will not win this argument!

  • Robert Campbell Collette

    Thoreau was a doper who went to jail protesting the Mexican American “war” ”” Lincoln lost an election over his opposition to this blatant theft of half of Mexico. History is what America doesn’t want to talk about, study, or face because it is an ugly, dirty, greedy, murderous, uncaring, self-centered, narcissistic, overweight, anxious, low self esteem, neurotic load of crap shit by you angry birds. While others are pursuing their educations, beginning careers and getting on with the serious business of life.

  • Independence for the intruders is such a BS, nothing but injustice for those who were robbed.
    People who feel anything honorable to the day are hypocrite.
    Ask native American like what does July 4th mean to you.