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.