Walt Kelly Was More Right Than He Knew

“We have met the enemy and he is us.” – Pogo
In the comments to Tam’s Thursday post, The Truest Thing On The Internet, Tam said:

I know a bunch of people who seriously believe that we are on a collision course with Destiny. Unfortunately, they’re only a plurality of the people I know.

I don’t think that the people who don’t know these things are “sheeple” or “useful idiots” (and I’ve been mulling a post on that topic, actually; I had planned to post it this morning) but I think that a large percentage of people are invested in one sector or another of the status quo.

Being too tightly focused on women’s reproductive rights or racial injustice or the defense against Muslim terrorists or the protection of America’s economy against immigrants, or whatever, can blind a smart and well-meaning person to broad and overarching trends…

To which Justthisguy asked:

“broad and overarching trends…” Oh, do you mean all those guys in positions of authority who get a charge out of minding other peoples’ business and telling them what to do?

And Tam responded:

No.

I mean all those guys who want to fix the problems their constituents beg them to fix. The problem is from the bottom up, not the top down.

Yes, exactly.

And it’s not a new problem. It’s the reason our Founders set up our Federal government as a Representative Constitutional Republic of limited and defined powers – they looked at history and knew what democracies become.  My regular readers – an admittedly tiny, self-selected group of people who are by definition paying more attention to the world around them than the ordinary person – will be familiar with this quote:

Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There is never a democracy that did not commit suicide.  —  John Adams

And possibly this one:

Tyranny naturally arises out of democracy.    — Plato

This one was new to me:

Our country’s founders cherished liberty, not democracy.  — Ron Paul

Can I get an “AMEN!”?

But here’s the key quote:

Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education. — Franklin Delano Roosevelt

That’s a tall order, and one never yet met.

So our Founders designed a system to circumvent that particular weakness.

And failed.

By the time FDR ran for office, our government was essentially no longer a republic.  Passage of the Seventeenth Amendment (direct election of Senators) in 1913 destroyed the last vestiges of our republican form of government in favor of a representative democracy wherein “the people” elect representatives  to “fix the problems (their) constituents beg them to fix” in both houses.  The freedom to make “wise” (and therefore possibly unpopular) choices in the upper house of Congress had been removed by the 17th Amendment.  Now running for Senate didn’t mean you needed the respect of your peers in the House, it meant you needed to promise whatever it took to the populace to get their votes – just like every other politician.  Thus Mencken’s observation:

A professional politician is a professionally dishonorable man. In order to get anywhere near high office he has to make so many compromises and submit to so many humiliations that he becomes indistinguishable from a streetwalker.

And since then our government has been the battlefield between two completely incompatible philosophies, one of which has captured the halls of academe, and through that vector, the public education system and popular media, and through those vectors, the voting public – the “us” in Walt Kelly’s classic line.

I’ve harped on the topic of philosophy before, too.  The best explanation of the importance of philosophy remains (IMHO) Ayn Rand’s speech to the 1974 graduating class of West Point, Philosophy, Who Needs It?  Excerpt:

As a human being, you have no choice about the fact that you need a philosophy. Your only choice is whether you define your philosophy by a conscious, rational, disciplined process of thought and scrupulously logical deliberation — or let your subconscious accumulate a junk heap of unwarranted conclusions, false generalizations, undefined contradictions, undigested slogans, unidentified wishes, doubts and fears….

Philosophy is not a subject formally taught in American primary or secondary schools, it’s something one can study on one’s own or take as an elective in college.  Regardless, our system of education still teaches philosophy, producing subjects with “junk heap(s) of unwarranted conclusions, false generalizations, undefined contradictions, undigested slogans, unidentified wishes, doubts and fears” that are reinforced by the popular media that surrounds us.

And we vote.

I don’t believe that the big men, the politicians and the capitalists alone are guilty of the war. Oh, no, the little man is just as keen, otherwise the people of the world would have risen in revolt long ago! There is an urge and rage in people to destroy, to kill, to murder, and until all mankind, without exception, undergoes a great change, wars will be waged, everything that has been built up, cultivated and grown, will be destroyed and disfigured, after which mankind will have to begin all over again.  — Anne Frank

And instead of penning another 5,000 words, I invite you to (re-)read The United Federation of Planets on the topic of philosophy.

Objective reality is coming, fast. The collision isn’t going to be pretty.

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