… or Who Knows? The Horse Might Learn to Sing
Reading back through the last couple of week’s postings, I see a decidedly dark cloud without much of a silver lining. Henry Louis Mencken, one of my favorite people to quote, once said
“Every normal man must be tempted at times to spit upon his hands, hoist the black flag and begin slitting throats.”
Well, I can certainly agree with that. He also said,
“Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.”
“Every decent man is ashamed of the government he lives under.”
“I believe that all government is evil, and that trying to improve it is largely a waste of time.”
“The most dangerous man to any government is the man who is able to think things out… without regard to the prevailing superstitions and taboos. Almost inevitably he comes to the conclusion that the government he lives under is dishonest, insane, intolerable…”
I return to Mencken’s quotes from time to time. My memory may be perfect, but my recall leaves a great deal to be desired, so each time I re-read his stuff I find something, one or two quotes, that illustrates or punctuates something I’ve recently thought or written about. Like these three in relation to the thread over at Deltoid I wrote about Wednesday and Thursday:
“The most costly of all follies is to believe passionately in the palpably not true. It is the chief occupation of mankind.”
“Most people want security in this world, not liberty.”
“I believe in only one thing: liberty; but I do not believe in liberty enough to want to force it upon anyone.”
No, I’d rather lead them to it, show it to them, and let them choose between it and the “palpably not true.” Problem is, nobody seems to want to follow.
“The public, with its mob yearning to be instructed, edified and pulled by the nose, demands certainties; it must be told definitely and a bit raucously that this is true and that is false. But there are no certainties.”
I don’t offer certainties. I’m right up front about that. Liberty is risky. Liberty is hard. Liberty offers no certainties. No wonder so many people want to believe passionately in the palpably not true. The truth is unsettling, uncertain and apparently not safe. But trying to make your world safe requires that you build a cage around yourself, lock the door, and hand the key to someone else who you will then be dependent on. Someone else who is under no compulsion to care for you at all. The cage might be big or small, plush or plain, but it’s still a cage, and someone else is in control.
I’m like Don Quixote, tilting at windmills.
“The urge to save humanity is almost always a false front for the urge to rule.”
Well, not in my case. I must be the exception.
“Whenever you hear a man speak of his love for his country, it is a sign that he expects to be paid for it.”
“It is inaccurate to say that I hate everything. I am strongly in favor of common sense, common honesty, and common decency. This makes me forever ineligible for public office.”
“I believe that it is better to tell the truth than a lie. I believe it is better to be free than to be a slave. And I believe it is better to know than to be ignorant.”
I have said, in more than one post, that it appears to me that the system we live under is damaged beyond repair. The duct tape, chewing gum and bailing wire aren’t going to hold forever. Many of the components of tyranny exist and we’re happy to build more, tearing chunks out of the Constitution as building blocks, cheerfully and deliberately avoiding thinking about how easy it will be for someone in the future to assemble those new components into a working whole. “It won’t happen,” we think. “This is America – Land of the Free, Home of the Brave. Besides, my cage is big and plush. That’s someone else’s problem.”
I’ve said that I think a crash is coming, but then people brighter than I have been predicting the same throughout the centuries. (That’s comforting until you realize that some of them were right.) I said in the comment thread over at Feces Flinging Monkey this morning, “When a sitting Supreme Court Justice admits defeat, “Game Over” indeed. All that’s left seems to be the bloodbath.” Well, yes. But that doesn’t mean I’m ready to hoist the black flag and start slitting throats. (The urge is there, but I’m 42 and out of shape.) Besides, like Don Quixote I tilt at windmills, I don’t slit throats.
There’s an old joke about a man who was condemned to death for stealing a kiss from the King’s daughter. He told the King that if his life was spared, he would teach the King’s favorite horse to sing. Instead, the King made a bargain.
“I’ll spare your life for one year,” the King said. “If in that year you teach my horse to sing, you will go free. If not, your sentence will be carried out.”
Later in the stables the condemned man, chained in the stall, was brushing the horse and crooning in its ear when a stablehand came up. “Why’dye make sooch a harebrained bargain?” he asked.
“A lot can happen in a year,” the man replied. “The King could die. The horse could die. I could die. And who knows? The horse might learn to sing.”
I think our freedoms are going – slowly, incrementally, inexorably. I think it’s self-inflicted. I no longer think the Courts are the answer. I don’t see an answer. The one I thought would save us is, I’m now convinced, just another mechanism of that inexorable slide.
But I could be wrong. The horse might learn to sing, so I’ll keep standing here crooning in its ear.