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Saturday, April 27, 2019

A Mere Eighth of an Inch

Dear Hearts and Gentle People, 

So close we have come, and yet -- so far away! We had healed all the ancient wounds. We had arrived at ourselves. But detente is over. We are restored to our trenches. We are faced, as King Louis taking on the infidels, echoing his friend St. Thomas, with the mortal decision: to prevail "on the reasons of the philosophers themselves" as a real philosopher can argue, or else to "thrust a sword through his body as far as it will go." But while our pointedness and tendentiousness are set to the maximum power, whooping and gesticulating, who of us advocates any great principle, any transcendent philosophy, the sacred sound of the universe? No, we hold forth merely each of us our own coarse interests. But who else, prithee, is going to do so? There were those who shrieked and caterwauled in the great cause of liberty. But liberty is mere self-preservation with superior branding. To fight for liberty is to fight for protection of the intelligent few against the teeming mob of idiots. But we had now arrived! With some light redrawing of the ancient arbitrary lines we now have majorities -- great majorities, large majorities, army-sized majorities, enthusiastic and excitable and fightsome majorities -- who are enlightened. What need have the enlightened of liberty, or of philosophy? Who needs St. Thomas when we have Sir Dawkins? The age of liberty is past; the age of intelligent and enlightened and right rule is arrived. Liberty never needed more than a bit of doggerel barked at the low majorities. It cannot reach the trained ear of the elevated. And now we are the majority! 

Nevertheless, let us not take too much flattering unction to our souls. It is not because of any merit of our own, but simply by the providence -- not of God, certainly; the sacred sound of the universe, perhaps, or of Dawkins -- that we are not such boobs and suckers as other men are. How thick, after all, is the partition which separates us from the capitalists, the nationalists, the Trumpistas, the Constitutionalists, the Christians, the gun nuts, the MAGA-hat-wearers, the liberal-tear-drinkers and hot-dog eaters? Not more than an eighth of an inch. A slight shove in early youth and we would have burst through it, and so come out as deplorables and bitter-clingers. Think how narrow the escape! And then give thanks for it in all humility of spirit. 

Furthermore, let us not underestimate these lowly brothers, for they, too, serve their benign uses in the world, and have human needs and feelings. Even a right-winger, for all his stupidity, contains the same dignity as an MS-13 gang member. (The proper authorities on this have been consulted.) He may labor diligently at some necessary, though perhaps ignoble, trade, art or profession—for example, valet to Taco Bell food robots, or dispenser of free syringes in San Francisco, or Uber-driver for Facebook engineers. His wife may love him, and even venerate him. His children may look up to him as to a pillar of wisdom. He may be esteemed in his submerged circle for qualities which do credit to his heart however they may expose and denounce his head. He may go, in the end, not to Heaven, surely, but wherever the likes of Adam Smith are now to shine and oil their celestial robots for all eternity. Such a man is not to be sniffed at. He may be foolish, but he is surely not quite degraded.

I know, in fact, a number of such knuckle-draggers. They approach a capacity for human reason very closely; they are at least anthropoid; mammals without a doubt, they bring forth their young alive, and their ideas in passable English. I hope I am not one to sneer at these worthy creatures. A few seidels of authentic Pilsner would convert the best of them into excellent second-rate men.

I did not start out, however, to defend the deplorables, but to protest gently against a too contemptuous view of the boneheads of the world. Secure behind the ramparts of our superior sagacity, let us look down upon them with kindly feeling and genuine bonhomie. They do their darndest with their meager machinery and a New Atheists could do no more. It is surely nothing against them that their skulls are somewhat tight, and so give little play to the peristaltic action of their pituitary bodies. You and I, for all our amazing acumen, would be in the same boat if some footpad were to sneak up behind us when we were in our cups, and dent our trapeziuses with a blunt weapon. In brief, our infallibility resides chiefly in a purely physical accident, or, at any rate, in a physical immunity, and so we should be no more uppish about it than we are about our bulk or our loveliness. The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. Well, not the Lord, surely. Dawkins, I mean. 

What do we want?
When do we want it?
After we win the next election!

[Adapted from H.L. Mencken's Jan. 4, 1915 column.]


Anonymous said...

Reminds me of Robert Burns' Holy Willie's Prayer

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