Compare those people and the way they define themselves—as products (a BMW, an iPad)—to the way Walt Whitman defined himself, just before Industry won the Industrial Revolution:
I know I am solid and sound.
To me the converging objects of the universe
All are written to me,
and I must get what the writing means.
I know I am deathless.
I know this orbit of mine cannot be swept
by a carpenter’s compass,
I know that I am august,
I do not trouble my spirit to vindicate itself
or be understood.
I see that the elementary laws never apologize.
My foothold is tenoned and mortised in granite.
I laugh at what you call dissolution,
And I know the amplitude of time.
It is time to explain myself. Let us stand up.
I am an acme of things accomplished,
and I an encloser of things to be.
Rise after rise bow the phantoms behind me.
Afar down I see the huge first Nothing,
the vapor from the nostrils of death.
I know I was even there.
I waited unseen and always.
And slept while God carried me
through the lethargic mist.
And took my time.
Long I was hugged close. Long and long.
Infinite have been the preparations for me.
Faithful and friendly the arms that have helped me.
Cycles ferried my cradle, rowing and rowing
like cheerful boatmen;
For room to me stars kept aside in their own rings.
They sent influences to look after what was to hold me.
Before I was born out of my mother
generations guided me.
My embryo has never been torpid.
Nothing could overlay it.
For it the nebula cohered to an orb.
The long slow strata piled to rest it on.
Vast vegetables gave it substance.
Monstrous animals transported it in their mouths
and deposited it with care.
All forces have been steadily employed
to complete and delight me.
Now I stand on this spot with my soul.
I know that I have the best of time and space.
And that I was never measured, and never will be measured.
I’m sure he owned more stuff than “a rainproof coat, good shoes and a staff cut from the wood.” But hey, maybe not. But whatever he had, what he did mattered more. Here’s what he does for each of us:
Each man and woman of you I lead upon a knoll.
My left hand hooks you about the waist,
My right hand points to landscapes and continents,
and a plain public road.
Not I, nor any one else can travel that road for you.
You must travel it for yourself.
It is not far. It is within reach.
Perhaps you have been on it since you were born
and did not know.
Perhaps it is everywhere on water and on land.
Shoulder your duds, and I will mine,
and let us hasten forth.
If you tire, give me both burdens and rest the chuff of your hand on my hip.
And in due time you shall repay the same service to me.
Long enough have you dreamed contemptible dreams.
Now I wash the gum from your eyes.
You must habit yourself to the dazzle of the light and of every moment of your life.
Long have you timidly waited,
holding a plank by the shore.
Now I will you to be a bold swimmer,
To jump off in the midst of the sea, and rise again,
and nod to me and shout,
and laughingly dash your hair.
I am the teacher of athletes.
He that by me spreads a wider breast than my own
proves the width of my own.
He most honors my style
who learns under it to destroy the teacher.
Do I contradict myself?
Very well then. I contradict myself.
I am large. I contain multitudes.
I concentrate toward them that are nigh.
I wait on the door-slab.
Who has done his day’s work
and will soonest be through with his supper?
Who wishes to walk with me.
I too am not a bit tamed. I too am untranslatable.
I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.
I submit that wild and free customers are far more potent participants in the marketplace than “consumers” of “brands.”
You know, like this:
The time has come to choose your species. If you’re just what you own, you’re veal.