Thoreau’s imprisonment

One night in July 1846, henry david thoreau, a young farmer living on the banks of Walden Lake in the United States, was going to the city to fetch a repaired shoe from a shoe store. At this time, the tax official came to him and asked him to pay the poll tax, because he had not paid the poll tax for six years. He said he did not intend to pay the money because he opposed slavery and the Mexican war. So the police arrested him and put him in a prison in Concord. The next morning, an undisclosed person paid the tax – someone verified it to be his aunt, and he was released from prison. After his release from prison, he did not go home, but casually went to the shoe store to get the repaired shoes and put them on, and joined a group of cowberry collectors. After half an hour, he was in the vast mountain orange forest. This is the famous ” Thoreau’s imprisonment” in American history.

The reason why this incident is famous is that it is not a simple civil anti-tax incident, but a political petition by an impotent individual to use tax to express disobedience to the state. The reason why anti-tax is used is because tax is almost the only chance to face the government directly for a low-income people. Three years later Thoreau published his famous paper ” Resistance to Civil Government”. In his works published after Thoreau’s death, this article was published under the title ” On Civil Disobedience”. Since then, civil disobedience as a political movement has been closely linked with Thoreau.

Generally speaking, people have a natural obligation to safeguard justice. In other words, when a justice system comes into being and operates in our society, each of us has the obligation to obey. Even when some specific legal provisions only slightly deviate from the standards of justice and do not exceed the basic limits acceptable to us personally, we should tolerate them, at least not use illegal means to attack them. Because absolute justice only exists in God’s hands. Justice in human society is only a gradual process, not an absolute result. In this process, no one can create an ideal kingdom of justice, and then force all the people to destroy their homes and save their money to go there with difficulty. Secondly, everyone’s view of justice is different. All parties must compromise to reach an order close to justice. In a democratic society determined by the majority, the government must respect the right of individuals to express dissent, and individuals must also respect the procedures and results of the majority ruling. That is to say, dissidents must tolerate their dissent, otherwise, no one can have real freedom and rights.

The question is whether we still have the obligation to obey the law and system when they are not slightly deviated from the track of justice, but to a large extent deviated from the individual’s conscience and moral law. Or, more seriously, when a society’s legal system completely deviates from the universally recognized principles of justice and even openly tramples on laws made by themselves, should individuals still obey? If you do not obey, what method should you take?

The Chinese have rich experience in dealing with despotism and various unjust laws under its wing, such as self – abasement, weakness, crying poverty, seclusion, perfunctory, prevarication, faking illness, feigning death, feigning madness, pretending to be deaf and dumb, traveling, practicing alchemy and nourishing qi, praying for god and Buddha, Zen meditation, eating tea and drinking, cockfighting lackeys, and getting stuck in the women’s heap … all of which are different, but they can be summed up in two aspects: one is resignation, and the other is violent resistance.

Compromise is actually a state of acquiescence to evil. This state of affairs is caused by fear of power and powerlessness towards oneself. Its essence is numbness and irresponsibility. Violent resistance is the opposite of resignation. However, this is only a temporary way to survive. In the long run, violence cannot solve the problem but only creates more problems. Hatred will not dissolve hatred, but will only bring more hatred, just as wolves will not produce sheep, but will produce more wolves, vultures will not hatch pigeons, but will hatch more vultures.

So, is there a third way to go other than going along with the flow and turning violence into violence? Yes, that is the path of non-violent resistance pioneered by Thoreau, Gandhi and others and carried forward by Martin Luther King. Non – violent resistance not only overcomes the laissez-faire of party crimes, but also avoids the bloody consequences of violent resistance. It not only has the rational characteristic that the submissive person does not aim at the other person’s body, but also absorbs the violent rebel’s resolute strike attitude to the crime. Its essence is to seek the understanding of opponents through their own suffering, not revenge. Through their own patience to stimulate the opponent’s sympathy, rather than mercy; Its goal is to solve problems through dialogue, not to destroy and humiliate opponents. In a word, its essence is love, not hate. In Thoreau’s example, we can see that Thoreau did not attack the tax official. He knew that between him and the government, the tax official was just an intermediary appointed to exercise his power. His real opponent is the state government and the huge country behind it. The governor and the president will not come out to meet him, so he can only express his dissatisfaction through this country representative he can see – an ordinary tax collector in concord city. He knew it was illegal. So when the police asked him to go to prison, he went to prison. When someone paid the deposit, he came out. But this does not in any way represent his obedience. As a citizen, he must express his disobedience to this country that claims to be the freest and most democratic in the world: that is, a country that allows slavery to exist is not my country, and I cannot use my taxes to support a country’s army to invade other countries, just as I cannot hire and kill people.

This is of course an illegal act. Although practitioners often express their loyalty to the law by being willing to accept legal punishment, it is still an illegal act. Even if the violation is driven by one’s conscience and is based on one’s ” higher standards”, the violation is illegal and one should bear the corresponding consequences. These violations include both direct resistance to laws he is dissatisfied with and indirect resistance to laws he is dissatisfied with. ” Indirect resistance” means that there is no direct relationship between his behavior and the target law of resistance. Generally speaking, as long as a citizen can find the means of ” direct resistance”, he will not use indirect means.

Taking Thoreau as an example, we can see that Thoreau opposes slavery and the US war against Mexico. According to the principle of ” direct resistance”, Thoreau should release the slaves, provide them with food, clothing and medical insurance, but the problem is that he has no slaves to release. Otherwise, we will have to wait until the state wants him to capture or suppress slaves before resisting, but the problem is that the state did not want him to do so. If he encounters such an opportunity, it turns out that he will not let it pass. For example, when he lived on the banks of Walden, he once pointed out the direction of Polaris to a black slave who ran away from the southern manor to help him escape. However, the problem is that he seldom meets runaway slaves, and that not everyone can find the location of the Arctic star. Therefore, he must take more effective measures. It is also true to oppose the war, but according to the principle of ” direct resistance”, he can only resist when the country forcibly recruits him, or directly drags him into the army, and orders him to fire guns at Mexico. However, the problem is that the country has not let him become a soldier, let alone let him fire guns. As a white man, he is not a victim of slavery, nor will he start a war, nor does Mexico have any relatives. In other words, he is neither the victim nor the enforcer of the unjust laws he opposes. According to the judgment that a citizen can only carry out ” direct resistance” and cannot carry out ” indirect resistance”, he can only stand idly by while observing such evil laws that are neither initiated by himself nor have nothing to do with himself. In Chinese, it is called ” it’s none of our business, it’s hanging high”. But the biggest difference between man and animals is that man has ideas. In the long run, thoughts, not interests, guide a person or a civilization. Once one knows what is right, one cannot but do it. So Thoreau had to go to prison. China said, who will go to jail if he doesn’t go to jail?