Saturday, January 9, 2021

Henry David Thoreau - America's first Punk Rock Icon

 I can't remember whether Greg Graffin's Punk Manifesto first reminded me of Henry David Thoreau's Resistance to Civil Government (also referred to as Civil Disobedience), or whether it was Thoreau's work that resonated with Graffin's description of the punk ethos. Regardless, ever since I've been teaching, and for as long as I've been teaching Thoreau and the philosophy of transcendentalism, I have always introduced the ideas of Thoreau through the concepts of punk. Basically, I introduce Thoreau to my students as the original punk rocker. Henry David Thoreau is original American Punk.

Certainly the simple idea of self reliance, which Thoreau's good friend Ralph Waldo Emerson described so eloquently in an essay of the same name, is at the heart of America's individualism and is also an integral part of the punk identity. The pursuit of self reliance in theory was put in to practice by Thoreau, notably during his time living at Walden Pond. However, the ideas of self-reliance in the face of a society which seeks to force conformity reach another level in Thoreau's work on civil disobedience. At the heart of the idea is authenticity to the self and the ideals of that self. These ideas, going back to the early nineteenth century, are aptly articulated by Graffin, frontman and founding member of the seminal punk band Bad Religion.

PUNK IS: the personal expression of uniqueness that comes from the experiences of growing up in touch with our human ability to reason and ask questions.

PUNK IS: a movement that serves to refute social attitudes that have been perpetuated through willful ignorance of human nature.

PUNK IS: a process of questioning and commitment to understanding that results in self-progress, and through repetition, flowers into social evolution.

PUNK IS: a belief that this world is what we make of it, truth comes from our understanding of the way things are, not from the blind adherence to prescriptions about the way things should be.

PUNK IS: the constant struggle against fear of social repercussions.

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