A common theme emerged over the weekend: contempt for the masses.
I’ve been reading Ayn Rand’s We the Living. I’d only read Anthem before it, and I’m only part way through. Rand’s contempt for the common folk – the great mass of society who lack the imagination, the will and the drive which she so admired – is blatant and unrepentant. But for the most part she only takes notice of them when they get in her (or her alter ego’s) way.
The contempt of her sworn enemies, the Communists, is less obvious but no less thorough. To them the proleteriat is more a convenient symbol than a group of real people; a great undifferentiated blob of ignorant potential that needed to be guided, taught, indoctrinated, cajoled, hoodwinked, or coerced into doing what was best for themselves. It is no wonder that Kira, Rand’s heroine, and Andrei, her staunch Communist friend, understand each other so well – neither has any respect for the common people; but one merely sees them as a means to an end, where the other sees them as nothing more than an obstacle.
I also started reading Walden, by Thoreau. Thoreau looked around himself in New England, and saw only misery, blind grasping after wealth, spiritual death, “quiet desperation”. He had some ideas about how to fix that condition. What he didn’t seem to have was any inkling that the farmers and traders he observed might find satisfaction in their simple, dull, unimaginative occupations.
I spent an evening in conversation with my uncle. He is distressed by the spiritual shallowness of most Americans. Something bothers him about the fact that they aren’t pursuing the deep questions of Truth with diligence. More and more, religious Americans are unfamiliar with what sets their faith and sect apart from others, and merely attend services for a quick spiritual fix or for a feeling of cultural continuity. This lack of spiritual rigour troubles even, it seems, offends him.
I am no stranger to this attitude. It’s been near at hand as long as I can remember. My contemporaries, from gung-ho young Christians to political radicals, have bemoaned the mob of dull-witted, short-sighted “sheeple” which make up the majority of the American, indeed the world’s, population.
And I am not immune. I know I will never be one of the football-watching, TV-addicted masses, and I have grown up detesting lowbrow American suburban culture. And yet… and yet. Sometimes I wonder if I am the only person who, upon sighting an exemplar of Americanus Mediocritus, feels simultaneous thrills of disdain and gratification. Because I don’t see them as examples of wasted potential. When I witness the Average Joe, with his 2.5 whining children, his horrid slobbering dog, his pisswater American beer, his NASCAR and his pickup truck and his Laz-E-Boy and his 80 extra pounds, I think this is what our founders fought for. And not in an ironic or a disgusted sense. This is no perversion or degredation of the American Dream, it IS the American dream. This — the ability to live a life without needing to know or understand world affairs; to eat meat every day without being a member of the elite; to go to Church without quite knowing why without fear of condemnation; to acquire moderate luxury without being a genius or well-connected; to have no higher aspirations than a family and a cold one at the end of the day, and to have those aspirations fulfilled; to get fat, watch porn, and get plastered on the weekends; in short, to muddle along unmolested in flagrant, ignorant, satisfied mediocrity for the whole of one’s life – THIS, more than anything else, is the right all freedom-fighters have striven for. Without this, it’s all meaningless, because if only the Great can achieve fulfillment it is not true freedom.
I love these people, even as I fail to understand them and am occasionally exasperated with them. Here and in every country (and if you think that we Americans have a monopoly on this group, you are a fool; all you have to do is look outside of the big cities in Europe, or to the recent failure of the EU constitution), they have been demonized, pandered to, patronized, herded, preached at, used as rhetorical ammunition; but oh so rarely have they been simply respected. And yet they aren’t going away, and somehow we have to learn to live with them. More than ever I am convinced that I am right in my convictions, because in the marketplace of ideas, mine are among the few which do not seek to change or eliminate the stupid masses, but simply to allow them to be who they want to be, and to harness the power of stuborn, simple, insular selfishness for good rather than try hopelessly to stamp it out.
The problem with Americanus Mediocritus is that when our freedom is threatened, as it has been very much recently, they are the ones who allow it to happen.
The founding fathers were not Americanus Mediocritus, nor did they themseles have much respect for such people. They wanted a world where people were free to pursue their dreams, ideals, and beliefs. It never would have occurrred to them, and I think they would be horrified if they heard, that the extent of those dreams was to be able to go out and drink beer every friday night.
That said, I don’t think one can judge Americanus Mediocritus by profession. I know several happy farmers and other blue collar people who quite like their lives. The problem lies in the other half of people, who do not like their lives, and so engage in self-destructive (and therefore societally destructive) lifestyles. The white bread elite are just as prone to this (if not more) than the blue collar citizens.
The thing is, I don’t see this as a problem with the people so much as a problem with the government which, while giving power to the masses, was put in place (as you point out) and is maintained by people who were/are distinctly not average members of the masses. We don’t need to change the masses in order to protect ourselves; we merely need a system that enables us to coexist with them peacefully without making compromises in our freedoms. I don’t believe this is impossible, in the long run.
I’m assuming your third paragraph was not intended as counterpoint, since it is in complete agreement with what I wrote.
get upset with the masses for their cultural choices… i.e. I have no problem with the fact that they like to drink beer (so do I), like to watch Football (so do I), go to Nascar races (Not in a million years), and generally go to church semi-regularly (been there, done that, done with it..)..
In none of these things is there any kind of problem. And I will state categorically that I get rather upset with cultural elitists who look down on these groups.. whether they are right wing or left wing..
However, the problem that I have with a particular subset of the masses–the ones that I would call sheeple.. is when they decide that because they are the majority that there version of “lifestyle” is the only appropriate one and they go out of their way to punish those who do not live their way…
I.e. when they refuse to extend the tolerance to my choice of how to live even though I do the same to them.. that is when I get upset…
And often, this kind of oppression gets justified in terms of “normality” etc etc..
That is when I get contemptful.. actually.. I don’t get contemptful.. I get angry and I will argue with people to know end..
I do not hate the masses.. I know they’re there.. and that’s good.. but when some of them (not all… I have a good number of friends that are part of this group or came from this group) decide that because they are in the majority that it is okay for them to discriminate against women and to declare homosexuals as less than human.. then I will not stand for it..
I need to stop writing so fast.. sorry for the grammar errors.. (there instead of their, know instead of no…)
Re: I don’t…
See my latest entry for my reply.
“I spent an evening in conversation with my uncle. He is distressed by the spiritual shallowness of most Americans. Something bothers him about the fact that they aren’t pursuing the deep questions of Truth with diligence. More and more, religious Americans are unfamiliar with what sets their faith and sect apart from others, and merely attend services for a quick spiritual fix or for a feeling of cultural continuity. This lack of spiritual rigour troubles even, it seems, offends him.”
The ancient Masters
didn’t try to educate the people,
but kindly taught them to not-know.
When they think that they know the answers,
people are difficult to guide.
When they know that they don’t know,
people can find their own way.
Tao Te Ching
I deal with significant dissonance
…with my family.
I’m the first to get an undergraduate education in any direction in the family tree.
While I’ve collected and read much of Paul Tillich’s theology, I also have a nearly complete Motorhead collection; it’s all about balance.
Rand always sounded a snob, from The Fountainhead, and Atlas Shrugged. Her exaltation of the human mind goes about as far as an Alzheimer’s victim. However, Jesus Himself drove|drives people to be shepherds, not sheep, dare the vast lump in the middle of the population distribution to RTFM.
I fully agree with you that every American has a constitutional right to be a lump. I do grow frustrated, though, when the masses whine, and you ask them a simple, calm series of questions that shine a light on the tactical laziness that breeds strategic disaster, and all you get is a bunch of finger pointing.
Does it not say in Proverbs or so, “who digs a pit will fall therein”? The true American, at the bottom of the pit accepts blame where due.
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