Do you think my theory on anecdotal experience-reliant “self-reliance” overestimation is valid?

I have this occasionally recurring argument with a friend (you know the one… the one that always says stuff like, “Unless you’ve been there and seen it with your own eyes, man, you just can’t understand…”) (… My friends always say ‘man’ like Tommy Chong because these arguments usually occur over heavy bong... show more I have this occasionally recurring argument with a friend (you know the one… the one that always says stuff like, “Unless you’ve been there and seen it with your own eyes, man, you just can’t understand…”) (… My friends always say ‘man’ like Tommy Chong because these arguments usually occur over heavy bong sessions…) While I appreciate photographs for example commonly struggle to accurately convey the immensity of mountains compared to firsthand observation, it certainly does not mean any given subject is incapable of appreciating ‘immensity’, and do any of us doubt we can all reasonably enough imagine the experience of flying like a bird (literally) even though it is physically impossible?

I say anecdotal experience is not only unnecessary for empathy, ‘understanding’ and ‘appreciation’ but probably a frequent prejudicial influence because of the lasting and intense impression experience can initiate. (From two high profile ‘self-reliance’ enthusiasts), Emerson says, “… none but he knows what that is which he can do, nor does he know until he has tried.” while Thoreau says, “… I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach…” and again it sounds to me as if they are also suggesting they do not think we can understand or appreciate even so much as perhaps LIFE itself in general without direct anecdotal experience in some specific prescribed activity. I think in the case of Thoreau in particular, he led an arguably privileged childhood and youth, and when he “went to the woods” then performed some mundane act of constructive physical labor -- probably for the first time in his life -- the experience was so alien to him, it felt like an epiphany so now he thinks he possesses some special expertise that qualifies him to lecture all us common working stiffs on “the value of self-reliance”.

-so… that’s my ‘theory’. What do you think? Are the most vocal “self-reliance” promoters really just privileged, unsympathetic and overly impressed with themselves because they chopped a cord of wood?
Update: Sowcratees: No, I think it's more that I'm missing the point. My question is too unfocused and broad but I think you may have inspired me to craft a new question from a different angle. Please stay tuned.
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