Thoreau and the Department of Philosophers

“Umm… excuse me,
is this the Department of Philosophers?”

“Your name please?”

“Henry David Thoreau”

“And you are… ?”

“Umm… a Transcendentalist?”

“Ahh yes, a Transcendentalist.
OK that will be the third door on the left,
past the existentialists
and right before the Dentalist’s office.”

“The Dentalists?”

“Why yes… they are the philosophers
who speculate on the nature of teeth.”

“Ahh… OK.
… alright here we go, The Office of Transcendentalism…
[knock knock] Hello?”

“Yes? May we confuse you?”

“Umm… yes is this the Office of Transcendentalism?”

“Why? Are you lost? Because if you are
the existentialists are right next door…”

“O no, I’m not lost… at least I don’t think I am.
My name is Henry David Thoreau…”

“Ahh yes, naturally. We’ve been looking for you.”

“O, is that right?”

“Yes. Mr. Thoreau we’ve been going over your file here…
and it seems you uhh… have been fulfilling your philosophical
duties of meandering around aimlessly but with a sense of deep purpose
phenomenally… however, you have not met the random essays on life
publication requirement of all registered Philosophers
as stipulated in your Philosopher contract.”

“Contract? I wasn’t aware I signed any contract…”

“Ahh yes, well… like the Social Contract there is an implicit
agreement you enter into with the Department of Philosophers
the moment you start talking profoundly and/or out of your ass.”

“Mmm… I see.”

“Yes, indeed. Now… let me see here… you are registered
as both a Transcendentalist and a… Naturalist? Is this correct?”

“Yes, well… I believe that we are all inspired by a Great Divine Soul
which permeates all of Reality, though most are too caught-up
in the system to see it… and simultaneously I like to walk around
in the woods and stuff rather than… y’know, ehh… working?”

“Ahh yes… excellent!
You are a true philosopher, indeed!
And as such, I have no doubts that you will be able to complete
your publication requirements…”

“Well… I will do my best, but I can’t say for sure
what might come out of me as I am in fact guided
by the earlier mentioned Spirit…”

“Please Thoreau, let’s save the Skepticism for the ancients, ehh?
Now… I assume you’ve read the materials we’ve sent you?”

“Well… the entire world is both Material and immaterial
i.e. pervaded by Light and the Noumenon…”

“Mmmm… OK, I’m going to take that as a No…
Well, to put it simply what we want you to do
is first write an essay about how everything other people
are doing around you sucks… because they are inconsiderate
naive selfish jackasses.”

“OK, I can do that.”

“Wonderful. And second, we know you like to walk around a lot
so… let’s go ahead and just write some essays about that,
don’t worry about the title… you can call it “Walking” or “Meandering”
or “Rambling” or… whatever you want.”

“OK… that sounds… good.”

“And also, if you could…
we’d like you to write an essay about a Tree…
or Trees, as you prefer…”

“About… trees?”

“Yea… but don’t make it too sappy…”

“Aaaahhhh… OK. Anything else?”

“Yea… lastly we’d like you to live in isolation from society
near a Lake or a Pond… whatever
and uhh… to keep a diary of your activities.”

“Umm… what?”

“Yea. We at the Department of Philosophers believe it would be valuable
for one of our Transcendentalists to go ahead and live out
in the middle of… wherever, and to write their thoughts on… whatever.
And we have chosen you because of your… well,
because you don’t really have much going on right now.”

“Ahh… I see. Well, that sounds kind of difficult…”

“No, no… it’s a piece of cake. Listen, y’know your buddy Emerson?
We already talked to him, you can build a cabin on some of his property
you’ll only be 2 miles from Concord, you can go into town whenever
you want… and uhh… some of the kids will come visit you…
Really, it’s not a big deal… I mean it is… y’know, symbolically
because you’re voluntarily doing so…
I mean I guess not technically since we’re asking you
and would be forced to review your status here with the
Department of Philosophers if you didn’t comply…
but you know what I mean…”

“OK… umm… I guess I could do that.”

“Fantastic! Y’know, you’re not as intransigent
as everyone will think! You are actually quite pleasant to deal with…”

“O why thank you.”

“Mmm… OK, so lastly umm… yea we’re going to want you to
not pay your relatively not-so-inconvenient annual poll tax,
so that you will be put in prison,
so that you can likewise write an essay about that…
if you wouldn’t mind…”

“You mean… you want me to be Civilly Disobedient?”


“But I don’t want to go to Jail… do you know what goes on in there?
I was watching this TV show about the inside of San Quentin
and let me tell you… that’s not my cup of tea,
philosopher or not… I’d just presume keep my mind open
and my bottom closed if you know what I’m saying…”

“O Thoreau! Don’t worry!
You’ll only be going to the local town holding cell…
it’s actually quite pleasant, you’ll have your own room,
you’ll only be there for one night… and your mom
will pick you up in the morning.
We have it all arranged!”

“Oh, OK… that doesn’t sound so bad…”

“Yea, no it’s not… but later generations will romanticize it
considerably, so… a lot of bang for your buck if you know what I mean.”

“OK, umm… that sounds good to me.”

“Great! Well thank you Thoreau for coming in
and… do make sure to do a “thoreau” job on those essays? Ehh?”
Ha-ha! No, we’re just kidding… write whatever you want
no-one’s going to read them anyway…
except maybe some Hippies in the ’60s or ehh…
Martin Luther King or Gandhi or something like that…”

“Alright, I will do so right away.
O, I do have a question: does the Department of Philosophers
care if I write really abstractly and esoterically…
with heavy use of symbolism and metaphor…
or would they prefer I use more down-to-earth language?
Or what about some lofty turns of phrase, or I could even
border on being complete incomprehensibility
or writing sheer gibberish?
Y’know, I moonlight as a writer, so I got range…”

“Yea sure, whatever you come up with is fine…
In fact, that’s our motto here at the Department of Philosophers.”

well… that both is and isn’t re-assuring at the same time…
OK then, see you later!”

“Yes… and uhh… despite your thoughts on the real
or illusionary nature of existence, please shut the door
behind you.”

“Umm… OK.”

“And as we tell all our Philosophers,
may God provide you with great insight if you believe
in that sort of thing… or if not… then umm…
some other generalized but seemingly-substantial
motivating statement of your choice!”

“Oooo… could you say May the Great Spirit pervading
the World fill me with the Love and Desire to Commune
with Nature and Fulfill the Divine Wish as the Cosmos Intends me too?”

“Umm… yea, no. I’m not going to say that…
I mean I’d love to patronize you… but yea…
I’m just a bureaucrat and quite frankly they don’t pay me enough…”

“Ahh I see… well alright then.”

“Goodbye Thoreau! And beware of the Nihilists on the way out…
they’re a bit… well… you’ll see…”