Actually, the full title was Resistance to English 102: A Formal Explanation On My Decision Not To Write An Essay On The Writings Of Henry David Thoreau. I handed this 5-page, double-spaced explanation to my second semester English professor in stead of an essay on Thoreau, hoping that by throwing myself into the gears of the machine through rational argument, I might pave the way for the elimination of second semester English as a requirement for Bachelor of Science majors. The text follows:
To the Esteemed Dr. Erec Toso:  

   For the most part, I like to think of myself as someone who is open-minded in regard to the ideas of others, 
even when their ideas result in some form of unpleasantness for me.  I try my best to understand other 
people’s points of view, if for no other reason than to convince myself that other humans are at least decent 
and somewhat rational.  For example, I am often extremely annoyed whenever I look at my pay stub and 
discover that a decent chunk of my earnings have been sucked up by the state and federal governments.  I 
realize, though, that big government spending is not truly the fault of any of the individual politicians in 
Washington, but the result of a snowballing effect that started with FDR after the Depression.  To name 
another example, I’m sickened by most of the garbage that the prominent television networks broadcast at 
all hours of the day.  But I realize that the executives who decide what shows make it to the airwaves make 
decisions based on what sells best, and it just turns out that when the average American wants to relax, he 
does so by indulging in programs that require little mental activity.  

   In a similar manner, I try to keep an open mind about the various aspects of my college life.  Doing repetitive 
calculus problems for hours on end may be rather tedious, but my professors know that that’s the only way 
I’ll know the material solidly enough to get a passing grade on the final.  Maintaining this attitude allows me to 
stay sane when confronted with all the various annoyances that started appearing after I came to college.     

    However, no matter how much I examine the situation, I cannot justify any reason why a requisite for earning 
a B.S. in Electrical Engineering is completion of the course English 102.  Having already demonstrated 
sufficient competence in the use of the English language to get an ‘A’ in English 101, I think that I ought not 
be forced to waste another 3 credit hours learning primarily about literary analysis, something no engineer 
would ever have to do.  For this and other reasons, it is my decision that I shall not write a text-in-context essay 
on Thoreau’s Walden and “Resistance to Civil Government.”

   My sole regret in making this decision is the realization that I rather liked the essay “Resistance to Civil 
Government”; I identified fairly well with the ideas it put forth, and would probably enjoy writing a paper on it.  It 
would be a refreshing experience after having been forced earlier in life to write on much more tedious writings 
from the 19th century, most notably some of the works of Melville and his peers.   “Resistance” is much 
different from these, and I daresay it was nearly revolutionary.  It is not groundbreaking for its ideas on 
political reform:  Thoreau lived during a revolutionary era, and saw Emerson’s “Politics” and Hawthorne’s 
The Scarlet Letter published.  What makes Thoreau’s essay so much more interesting and influential 
is, to quote Barry Wood, “the artistic power of his work and the sense of drama running through all his 
writings” .  Wood also notes that in Thoreau’s writings, “Whatever ideas appear are enfolded in a story, so 
much so that the narrative structure is often the key to the ideas”.  What holds any reader’s interest in 
“Resistance” is how it is told as a story; as Sandor McNab states in The Rebirth of Myth, “A human being 
is a featherless, storytelling animal.”  Storytelling was the primary means of passing down information about 
life and culture even long after man learned to write, and it will always be deeply rooted in human instinct, as 
innate as man’s capacity for language itself.  Thoreau uses story to transform the ideas he shared with his 
contemporary intellectuals into a work of art that all could appreciate.

   But within this masterfully constructed piece of literature is the message: “Let your life be a counter friction to 
stop the machine.”  If it were not for this passage, I might be compelled to give in and write on the topic.  But as 
it is, the irony of submitting to the whims of the university machine by completely ignoring the underlying 
message of “Resistance,” while nevertheless claiming to write a paper demonstrating my understanding of it, 
would be intolerable.  Writing an essay on Thoreau would be a betrayal of his ideas, an insult to my own 
intelligence, and an abandonment of the hopes and ideals of all those who fight to better the world. 

   Don’t take that last sentence lightly.  Each of those reasons holds considerable weight by itself, and the fact 
is, there are very strong connections between the three.  Thoreau’s ideas, and especially the essay of his in 
question, have been inspirations to a number of the most influential reformers of the 20th century.  Mahatma 
Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., and the protestors at Berkeley during the 1960’s were all very familiar with 
Thoreau’s work, and they all took it to heart.  And there is nary a soul alive in America today who isn’t familiar 
with at least two of those three.  Popular culture even features allusions to these: a recent episode of 
Felicity featured a sit-in at a college campus much similar to those which occurred at Berkeley, and 
an episode of The Drew Carey Show from a few years back showed the main character pretending to 
emaciate himself as did Gandhi in order to prevent a corporation from plowing over a residential area.  Any 
serious reformer in today’s world has been exposed to Thoreau’s ideas, at the very least indirectly through 
those who put his theories into practice.

   You are now wondering, I imagine, how it is that my intelligence is related to the ideas present in 
“Resistance” and to the world’s reformers, as I implied in the last paragraph.  That relation I will tell you 
presently.  To quote James Allen, “A man is literally what he thinks, his character being the complete 
sum of all his thoughts".  My intelligence, which is simply a description of the nature of my thoughts, is then 
molded by society in the same way that my character and my beliefs are.  Because early in life I was taught by 
my parents to stand up for the things I believe in, and later on taught by my peers to disrespect those whose 
opinions differed from mine, my character is one of an activist. 

   Even the music I listen to and the other forms of entertainment I enjoy convey the message set forth in 
Thoreau’s essay.  “Fuck you, I won’t do you what you tell me”, singer Zack de la Rocha shouts at me, even 
as I write this explanatory note.  There exists an entire subculture within American youth, whose members all 
conform to the idea of nonconformity.  Sadly, most of these people understand the idea of resistance only as 
the ideology they happen to subscribe to, or else think that by breaking laws, they are somehow subverting 
the system.  They remind me of Thoreau’s unknowingly hypocritical townsmen:

     I have heard some of my townsmen say, “I should like to have them order me out to help put down an       
     insurrection of the slaves, or to march to Mexico, -- see if I would go;” and yet these very men have each,        
     directly by their allegiance, and so indirectly, at least, by their money, furnished a substitute.  The soldier is 
     applauded who refuses to serve in an unjust war by those who do not refuse to sustain the unjust                   
     government which makes the war; 

Unknown to both the angry youth of today and the self-proclaimed rebels of Thoreau’s day is the idea that 
organized, peaceable disobedience can result in any kind of change in the system; if they would stop to 
discover that this system, no matter how abstract and faceless it often seems, is “not wholly a brute force, but 
partly a human force,” and so “appeal is possible.” (Thoreau)

   Speaking of these youth and their 19th century counterparts, I find it interesting how easily parallels can be 
drawn between the archetypes Thoreau creates in “Resistance,” and groups of people who actually exist in 
modern America.  Says Thoreau, “But the rich man… is always sold to the institution which makes him rich.”   
So are the affluent of today’s society sold to the machine of America, to the point where they are even offended 
by Thoreau’s call to rebel against its injustices.   Evan Carton writes in “The Price of Privilege” of the 
responses to “Resistance” from his students at the University of Texas, which he describes as “members of 
or plausible aspirants” to “the roughly 20 percent of Americans for whom the last two decades have brought 
growing shares of opportunity and wealth.”  They attack his argument, calling him “an anarchist,” “an 
egotist,” “an isolate,” and “a fraud.”

   In another interesting parallel, the University of Arizona mirrors the federal government, demanding taxes in 
the form of general education classes in addition to the classes I take as a resident of the College of 
Engineering and Mines.  I could go on and on trying to demonstrate the duality between Thoreau’s world and 
mine, but the point is that I have now been placed in very nearly the same position as Thoreau was with his 
tax-collector, and I find, just as he did, that “It costs me less in every sense to incur the penalty of 
disobedience to the State, than it would to obey.”

  To conclude, the reasons why I have decided to opt against writing the assigned essay are as follows.  For 
one, I fail to see a reason why I am even forced to enroll in this class.  For another, I would be demonstrating 
ignorance and a full misunderstanding of the text if I gave in and wrote the paper anyway, for more than 
anything, Thoreau writes so that his audience might be enlightened and develop non-conformist ideas.  Lastly, 
at this point it would be a wasted effort:  just in this writing explanation, I’ve already demonstrated my 
understanding of “Resistance” and presented it how I’ve applied this understanding within the context of my 
own life; I might as well say this is my essay as actually write one.

PS  If you would like to research further into the works I have referenced above, here is a brief list of them, 
alphabetized by author, with information on publication, &c.

Allen, James.  As a Man Thinketh.  1992, Barnes & Noble Books, New York.

Carton, Evan.  “The Price of Privilege”  The American Scholar 
Autumn '98  v. 67 no4 p. 105-12

McNab, Sandor.  The Rebirth of Myth

Rage Against the Machine, Rage Against the Machine
1992, Epic Records, New York

Thoreau, Henry David.  Walden and Resistance to Civil Government, 2nd Ed.
1992, W.W. Norton & Company, New York

Perhaps it was the last line, "I might as well say this is my essay as actually write one", that did me in. The professor mis-took my politically motivated refusal to write a paper as an essay itself, not even stopping to consider the validity of my points. The whole thing was dismissed as a sophomoric attempt at satire and irony, and he wrote in a few ignorant side comments and slapped a low 'A' on the paper before handing it back to me. His final comment included the following gems:
  • I have to agree with you in many places, while disagreeing in others
  • (in reference to the College of Engineering) Aren't they large institutional forces as well that will push you to submit to their purposes and authority?
  • I guess we all give some allegiance to something - literacy is mine.
  • I also like to see my role less as coercive than liberating, but I guess it's all a matter of perspective.
The only side comment in which the good doctor acknowledged one of my arguments and attempted to refute it was in response to my claim
that engineers have no need of understanding literary analysis: "Don't engineers have to write? to interpret (data)? to analyze? to present ideas, proposals, reports?" The implied analogies between data interpretatation (largely formulaic and deductive) and literary interpretation (speculation at best, bullshit at worst) is perhaps the most blatant display of idiocy I'd ever seen. In despair, my youthful hope in reforming the system completely destroyed by disillusionment, I grudgingly accepted the 'A' on the paper and cried for days on end, so greatly saddened by the lack of intelligence in the teachers in our "higher education" system.

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