Holier-than-thou Thoreau. The über-Hippie. The one who lived a stone throw away from his momma's kitchen. And from the Emersons'. From the civilization in general.
Oh yea, aimma gunna say it the first thing that "I didn't want to get away from people in the first place". But then aimma gunna do my very best to sound like the quintessential hippie who lives on his own, on his own land, in a house he built with his own hands, raising crops, far from civilization, all but isolated from the modern-life predicaments.
Yes, for the love of man, people can (and still do) live with very little means. It can be done. Still. Should a man absolutely need to - or want to.
The question is why should we as a species aim for such a life?
Would it be more sustainable? No. There's now over 7 billion of us on the planet. To even have the audacity to hint that everyone could (and should!) live on a small parcel of land and live off of crops (and possibly fish), is beyond idiotic, it's positively lunatic (even in 1850 when there were some 1.2 billion humans).
Would it be more enjoyable? No. You can simply refuse to do stuff you see no value in. Quit facebooking, quit reading news that don't matter, quit reading shitty book, listening to shitty music and so on. Quit mingling with people you have no respect for. Quit doing work that is of no use to anyone. Quit buying junk.
That part is easy. The part where you must be able to some way, some how come up with a daily caloric intake (without stealing) 24/7 all year every year by yourself in a small patch of land (that may or may not be suitable for farming to begin with) is unimaginably hard, disease ridden and dull life - and 9 people out of 10 couldn't cut it even if they really, really wanted to.
But let's just f*cking do it anyways because every other hippie says it can be done and we'd all be better off because of it. Praise Gaia!
PS. I do think that a "quiet desperation" is a fitting expression. I would hesitate to apply the term to the bulk of mankind, however. I fear that mostly people simply choose to go with the flow because going against it tends to be much harder. Even so much so that it can positively get you killed. We all know that the easy way may not necessarily fulfill our dreams or even our moral standards, but since it is at least a surer guarantee of some measure of quality of life, we tend to take it than risk everything and gain nothing.