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Critical Response to Self-reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson

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In Self-Reliance Ralph Waldo Emerson describes self-reliance as the perception of one’s interpretation of reality, or truth. “What I must do, is all that concerns me, not what the people think,” Emerson says. He emphasizes on the dignity of the individual and advocates that every individual is capable of discovering truth on his/ her own, through their intuitions. He believes that human being is the master in his true form. Emerson encourages readers to conceive the truth in their own voice, and, not the one that society or government dictates them.

In this regard, I agree with Emerson to certain extent ,and in this essay I will describe my views on it. Emerson contends that foundations such as religion and society are truly useless in forming behaviors; individuals should only ‘trust thyself’. In my view, individuals are unique and they should be able to express who they are and what they want. In addition, it is their right to choose truth and share them with society. People do not need to be seen as identical entities. Even though individuals who speak out against this, were seen as wrong or abnormal and there is a price to be paid for non-conformity. “Let a man then know his worth, and keep things under his feet. Let him not peep or steal, or skulk up and down with the air of a charity-boy, bastard, or an interloper, in the world which exist for him”. While we are doing better with accepting the idea of difference, there are some social settings where conformity is an absolute.

However, Emerson’s understanding would pose a serious danger to society. Today we live in a Post-Truth world where debate is framed largely by appeals to emotion. Such culture involves government’s dismissal of evidence-based reports and instead choosing to develop a truth, or policy, that aligns with their own views because people tend to believe information which confirms their current biases. One can presuppose that we are living in a world where political culture is largely informed by political debate that has been framed to appeal to emotional beliefs instead of discussion around policy. In other words, we are no longer living in a political world where the truth matters — but did it ever?

Social media is a revolutionary tool that has enabled information to spread globally. Anyone who has access to a social media platform is able to voice their opinion, and this has led to the emergence of new actors in the public, political, and global spheres. Although the idea of propaganda and spreading misinformation has been around for centuries, the emergence of the Internet and social media has made it much easier for fake news to disseminate. The New Information Environment plays a role in destabilizing the truth as we know it since it has an impact on the voting behavior of citizens, which can be seen as a threat to individual security because it could lead to the destabilization of liberal democracies. 

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