What does the quote "I am ashamed to think how easily we capitulate to badges and names, to large societies and dead institutions," from Self-Reliance mean?

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Emerson opens this paragraph by stating:

Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist. He who would gather immortal palms must not be hindered by the name of goodness, but must explore if it be goodness.

He says in the quote "I am ashamed ..." that we are, however, likely to accept the mere outward form of goodness. We tend to "capitulate" or give in to some outward marker of respectability that states a person, cause, or institution is "good."

Emerson says this is shameful, and we must look deeper. Just because someone, for example, is working for an abolitionist cause doesn't mean he is a good person: Emerson states that if the person is bigot, he should be called out for it. He states too:

Every decent and well-spoken individual affects and sways me more than is right.

By that, Emerson means he is overly influenced by outward appearances and implies that others are as well. Just as Emerson wants young people to look into their own hearts to be guided in what they do with their lives, rather than following tradition or doing what their families tell them to do, he wants people to closely examine prestigious causes and societies to see if they are worthy of their reputations. He urges people to question authority rather than just accept the words of "large societies and dead institutions" because they happen to appear to be good.

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The word, “capitulate,” means to give in or surrender. In this quote from Self-Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson, Emerson details his disgust for conformity and giving in to society’s values.  The names and badges are the labels or stereotypes in which society marks and judges people.  Whether through race, social status, or name, we, as a society, are reliant on a system (like the system of slavery) that categorizes peoples’ worth. We also put our faith into institutions like religion and government.  We surrender our own individuality and self-reliance to these institution’s values in order to conform and fit in. Emerson doesn’t feel you will find your true self in these institutions, and that it is only through your own integrity and self-awareness that you will learn to not capitulate to society’s wishes. 

Emerson is ashamed of how easily we give up our individual freedoms and live for “dead” institutions and ideas.  Emerson believes in a more progressive individual who does not surrender to a society that believes in conformity over self-reliance.

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