I’ve made fun of Thoreau’s popular image a couple times, but Peter France, in his book Hermits, excerpts a passage of his with which I can nod along in agreement:
I would not have anybody adopt my mode of living on any account; for, besides that before he has fairly learned it I may have found out another for myself, I desire that there may be as many different persons in the world as possible; but I would have each one be very careful to find out and pursue his own way and not his father’s or his mother’s or his neighbor’s instead.
Of course, this could easily read as a generic exhortation to the sort of trivial individuality expressed through, say, different brands of consumer products. I mean, look, people, by definition, you can’t all be regular hikers along Frost’s road-less-travelled-by. But I prefer to interpret such statements as a fundamental challenge to Kant’s categorical imperative, which strikes me as the Golden Rule on steroids; that is, as the deeply ingrained urge to proselytize for one’s own preferences, to see differences of opinion as conflicts in need of resolution, to always seek a common denominator.
I’m not talking about cultivating contrarian rebelliousness or aggressively antisocial behavior, though. My ideal is rather a sort of self-contained, laodicean lack of concern for keeping up with and being accepted by the group. A hermit in my own head.