Artwork for podcast Voice over Work - An Audiobook Sampler
Self-Reliance in the 21st Century By: Charles Hugh Smith
23rd January 2023 • Voice over Work - An Audiobook Sampler • Russell Newton
00:00:00 00:05:31

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ldo Emerson’s advice in his:

For Emerson, self-reliance means thinking independently, trusting your own intuition and refusing to take the well-worn path of conforming to others’ expectations.

This celebration of individualism is the norm today, but it was radical in Emerson’s more traditionalist day. What’s striking about Emerson’s description of self-reliance is its internal quality: it’s about one’s intellectual and emotional self-reliance, not the hands-on skills of producing life’s essentials.

Emerson doesn’t describe self-reliance in terms of taking care of oneself in practical terms, such as being able to build a cabin on Walden Pond and live off foraging and a garden like his friend Thoreau. (The land on Walden Pond was owned by Emerson.)

n the largely agrarian, rural:

The economy of the 1840s was what we would now call localized: most of the goods and services were locally produced, and households provided many of their own basic needs. Global trade in commodities such as tea and porcelain thrived, but these luxuries made up a small part of the economy (one exception being whale oil used for lighting).

Even in the:

Households sold their surplus production of homemade goods and family businesses offered small-scale production of specialty goods (metal forging, furniture, etc.) and services (printing, legal documents, etc.).

For example, Thoreau’s family business was manufacturing pencils and supplying graphite (pencil lead). Before he took over this business on the death of his father, he earned his living as a surveyor.

Households obtained what they needed from local networks of suppliers who were known to them. If some item was needed from afar, the local source had their own network of trusted suppliers.

The government’s role was also limited. The government provided postal, judicial and basic education systems and collected tariffs on trade, but its role in everyday life beyond these essential services was modest.

The conditions of Emerson and Thoreau’s day—localized hands-on self-reliance was the norm and the elevation of the individual was radical—have reversed: now the celebration of the individual is the norm while few have practical skills. Our economy is globalized,