“Insist on yourself; never imitate.” -Emerson.
John and I, despite being very different people, have similar thoughts and tastes; specifically, in literature, although I’ll admit to liking Emerson’s Self Reliance far less than The Poet, and in regards to feelings on technology, as I just celebrated my one-year anniversary since abandoning my cell phone.
The main difference between us is probably an ability to commit fully to an idea and run with it, societal regs be damned. He possesses this. I may or may not have it. But time will tell.
He’s out there doing his thing in fearless, unhampered fashion while I walk the fine casuist line between spartan existence and enjoyable vices, unsure of which to fully commit to. Perhaps a lack of confidence in self is responsible? And does lack of action negate my acknowledgments of a flawed self? Less than two months after declaring (publicly, via podcast) confidently that I would never work a real job, guess what I’ve found myself doing.. I have no responsibilities, and yet here I am, giving 50 hours away each week that could otherwise be spent in the mountains.
I suppose envy is a natural feeling in this situation. After all, here was John, appearing out of nowhere, good-looking, outspoken, and achieving success with an unreal ease. And then just like that turning away from everything we dream of: success, fame and money.
I don’t claim to know the reasoning behind John Yatsko’s journey, but a reading of Self Reliance may very well be the closest we will get to understanding his motivation.
Emerson warned of the dangers of technology and reliance on property. John owns no phone. He has compacted his possessions down to a bag’s worth, influenced in some part, I’d suppose by Emerson’s beliefs on physical possessions:
Men have looked away from themselves and at things so long, that they have come to esteem the religious, learned, and civil institutions as guards of property, and they deprecate assaults on these, because they feel them to be assaults on property. They measure their esteem of each other by what each has, and not by what each is. But a cultivated man becomes ashamed of his property, out of new respect for his nature. Especially he hates what he has, if he see that it is accidental, — came to him by inheritance, or gift, or crime; then he feels that it is not having; it does not belong to him, has no root in him, and merely lies there, because no revolution or no robber takes it away. But that which a man does is always by necessity acquire, and what the man acquires is living property, which does not wait the beck of rulers, or mobs, or revolutions, or fire, or storm, or bankruptcies, but perpetually renews itself wherever the man breathes. “Wait,” says the freshman from the back of the classroom. “Is this guy talking about owning slaves?”
Jim Ryun said that while motivation gets you started, habit keeps you moving. And yet, not all movement is worthwhile. For spiritual gains things must be shaken up. After all, says Emerson, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”
I’ll admit there is a certain palpable bitterness to Emerson’s views on consistency. Not everyone, of course, has been gifted with the faculties, affluence-wise or mental, to chase transcendence. Which, by the way, was a terrible movie.
Emerson argues that despite natural undulations, society itself never shifts. After all, even as knowledge changes, the basic instinctual needs like love and EXPERIENCE do not. Literature’s beloved wanderlust-enamored protagonists have reflected so much: Ishmael in the 1800s, Kerouac in the ’50s, Christopher McCandless. (One of these things is not like the other)
Ishmael was a God-fearing sponge, and in a Biblical sense, expelled to the foreign, outer reaches of wandering man. Kerouac was a fearless maniac, and McCandless, for all his deep reflections, was youthfully ignorant. Emerson? He was something of a combination of all three; a transcendentalist obsessed with expression, whose pantheist takes on man, the soul, nature, and straightforward manner of speech lent him a self-righteous air on occasion, i.e. (and I paraphrase) “He who travels must be running from his own boring, hateful self. That troll will chase him wherever he goes.” That hurts, Ralph. Maybe I just like to travel…
Despite the vague nature of his journey, there is perhaps one certainty: Yatsko, “Spartan Fife” and all, leans more toward Emerson than McCandless on the philosophical spectrum of explorers, even if his current actions speak otherwise.
Here’s hoping his future says as much.