Baa Baa Baa

This past month has been pretty exciting, eh? Lots of talk about conspiracies…. I was listening to the Alex Jones ahow a couple of days ago, and he was talking about the “V for Victory” campaign. He said that the remedy for 1984 is 1776, which may or may not be true. But what I started thinking about is the whole business of conspiracy theories in general.

In conspiracy circles, at least among some of the most eager of adherents, some, during their most vitriolic moments, often refer to the American people as “sheeple”. Sheep+people=sheeple. What they mean is that they think that most Americans follow whoever leads them like sheep. Most people are exactly as Nietzsche said, motivated by the “herd mentality”. The sentiment is that, after decades of being feed mind-numbing diets of MSG, aspertame, high fructose corn syrup, dumbed-down infotainment, and substandard political “leaders” the American public has been rendered passive, accepting whatever directive GOVERNMENT tells them, led like sheep to slaughter. Because most people are inclined to blindly follow any sweet-talking demagogue, following rather than questioning, many conspiracy theorists tell their cohorts to beware of the herd. It’s not just conspiracy theorists who have had this point of view.

Socrates and Nietzsche both rattled the cages of conformity. George Orwell wrote of a society led by “groupthink”. Right now, I’m hearing The Police song “Synchronicity II” in my head (listen to the 2nd verse). Everybody’s got their list of examples of herd mentality triumphing over common sense. If everybody jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge, would you? This is a problem for us because Americans aren’t supposed to be conformists. We’re supposed to be a nation of self-sufficient, self-determined, self-made, rugged individuals. We’re a people who praise the self-made man who, with the sole support of his own bootstraps, pull themselves from the bottom rungs to the highest reaches of success. This is the American story. Of course, there’s plenty of philosophy to back this up: Rousseau wrote of the state of nature where man relied on his own smarts and autonomy to provide for himself. In fact, Rousseau wrote that man is by nature so independent, that he only need companionship for the brief duration that it requires to complete the reproductive act.

The deal is, is this totally independent man never existed. Nor does he exist now. When you think about it, the idea that man is by nature solitary sounds kind of counter intutitve. It seems that a creature that does not need anyone other than himself would never feel loneliness, but we do. In Sunday school, we’re taught that we’re our brother’s keepers, and that we will be judged by how we treat others. Getting in to Heaven is more of a group effort then we’d like to admit. We tell ourselves that people who spend too much time alone end up nutty. A lot of the talk, besides talk about conspiracy theories, about the unpleasantness in Arizona has been a lot of asking why no one that knew that dude did anything to get that guy help.

We might not want to admit it, perhaps for fear of being overtaken by the herd, but humans are herd animals. We call our herds families or society or our culture. We know that conformity is a good thing. If we did not conform, our social bonds would dissolve and we’d end up in the bad kind of anarchy. You know, the kind where only Mel Gibson can help us out anarchy. Americans are a label-loving society. And the fact that we are such conformists makes us all the easier to label. We love keeping up with the Joneses and hate being the odd man out. We say that we love those who march to the beat of a different drummer, but only if that person plays a tune that we like.

I don’t know if I’m coming up with anything revelatory here, but I noticed that even those who are down on the public at large on their onformity rely heavily on conformity when it comes to their own beliefs. Conspiracy theorists want to be heard. They want to be believed. Dare I say, they want to be followed. That’s why they put out videos, have radio shows, and go on TruTV talking about the goings on at Bohemian Grove. I don’t know how many people have seen this, but I’ve had the supreme displeasure of witnessing duelling conspiracy theorists (this one is easy to set up: find one friend that thinks that the WTC was brought down by explosives and one who does not. Sit back and watch the tempers flare and the sparks fly). I think that any conspiracy theorist would have to admit this, but it’s not the problem whether people are “sheeple” or not. What the issue is who they choose to follow. It’s whether you believe that we’re being assaulted by the New World Order or whether you choose to believe that nothing nefarious is afoot. Each side wants conformity to their point of view. To get the people to rise up and overthrow the puppet masters, you need people who will follow — that’s a brute fact.

You know, now that I’m thinking about it, there’s something else that seems quite odd about the whole 1984/1776 thing… In Orwell’s 1984, Big Brother had a slogan, “Freedom is Slavery”. And the answer to Big Brother’s message is 1776. That’s of course, a reference to Thomas Jefferson’s words in the Declaration of Independence, where he wrote that all men have a right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness”. So, the solution is to follow the words of a man who actually owned slaves, right? I mean, 1984was just a book. But, then, that’s a whole other conversation.

Amazing What You’ll Find… When You Look

I never thought that I’d be saying that Sarah Palin is right about something, but when former Alaska governor and Vice-Presidential candidate, Sarah Palin, was asked during an interview which of which of the founders was her favorite one. She answered, “all of them”. I don’t know if what she said wasn’t a bullshit answer (because it’s impossible to know exactly what’s inside someone’s head), or whether it is even possible to like all of the founding fathers, but I’m not exactly on the, “there goes that Palin being stupid again bandwagon”.

Some took her answer as a sign of her political ignorance; that Sarah palin is one of those way-too-many Americans who have no clue about their country’s political institutions, yet feels the need to prattle about them as if they’re an expert on all matters foreign and domestic — the type of people who, when you ask them who their favorite founding father is, answer, “all of them”. Like I said, I don’t know Palin personally, so I can’t speak to the degree of her political ignorance.

There are plenty of people who are extremely unaware of what their government does. I’m not even getting anywhere near the more obscure political questions like, “who are the 9 Supreme Court justices?” or, what year was the 16th Amendment passed, and why do some people object to its constitutionality, or, name your representative. Look, I know that there is a great deal about this country that I don’t know (and I have a political science degree). And I know that there are plenty of people who think that Thomas Jefferson wrote the Constitution who are more politically active and know the ins and outs of the political process than people who have spent their academic careers studying government. By the way, Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, not the Constitution. Now, because I had to write papers on the subject, I know that the Constitution was inspired not only by the Native American tribes, like the Iroquois, but also tips its hat to the philosophy of pre-Enlightenment thinkers such as John Locke. Not to mention, that the American public got its first gander at the Constitution through The Federalist Papers, written by James Madison, John Jay and Alexander Hamilton, collectively known as Publius. And of course, Publius “borrowed” its name from one of the founders of the Roman republic, Publius Valerius Publicola.

I’d venture that most Americans are unaware of that fact. That’s kind of sad, because it’s really worth knowing. I can’t say for sure that Sarah Palin is one of them, but there are too many Americans who don’t know much about their government. There are too few people who are acquainted with American political philosophy and the nation’s owner’s manual, the Constitution, not even in civics class. I didn’t read the Constitution until I reached college. Seriously. I only know what I know now because I got myself a polysci degree ( I mention for the second time. Trust me, I’m not bragging). Given what I’ve heard from the mouths of people on both sides of the political spectrum, I’d say that there are plenty of other people who got cheated in civics class, just like me. There are people who say, “the Constitution says this” and “the founders said that”, and they have no idea what in the hell they’re talking about. All you do know is that they’re busy paraphrasing some Left or Right-wing talk show host who has no idea what they’re talking about. All you hear these days is regurgitated Glenn Beck, Noam Chomsky, Sean Hannity, Alex Jones, or Amy Goodman. It’s frightening what people don’t know because they’ve not looked for themselves. There are people who are unaware not just of the basic how-to of the government, but are completely devoid of what the philosophy is behind the founding documents.

People might not think that it matters to know that Enlightenment philosophy (partially) influenced the Constitution, but it does matter more than we may think. It’s important to know where the ideas come from. It’s important to know that our founding fathers thought that a free and just government was the most obvious choice of government, despite what Socrates had to say about democracy. It’s important to know that, in the wake of the failure of the Articles of Confederation, the founders knew that a country cannot function without a strong central government (yes, I said a strong central government). Thomas Jefferson wrote that governments are created to protect the rights of men. Govenrment cannot secure rights if men do not feel secure enough to pursue the higher ends of his nature. Harry Jaffa says that the primary question of the American government was how to secure the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

By the way, it’s very fashionable to go about speaking as if a strong government is inherently bad. It is not. Jefferson and the Founders knew that a strong government is necessary to secure the ends of government, namely protecting the right of the people to life, liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. To enjoy any of our inalienable rights the people must (first) feel secure. The only way to ensure security is to have a strong centralized government. Of course, the intention isn’t that the government be so strong that the rights of the people are trampled over by a tyranical government. The founders were smart enough to provide for countermeasures — voting, free press, right to assemble, balance of power and judicial oversight, to name a few tricks in the bag, as Publius quotes Montesquieu, “there can be no liberty where the legislative and executive powers are united in the same person, or body of magistrates” (Federalist 47).

So what does this have to do with Sarah Palin? The thing is, is that not all of the founders thought the same. Jefferson is a darling of the Libertarian set, who claim that the best government is the government that governs least. On the other hand, Alexander Hamilton was a fan of the elite who wanted to install Washington as a king. John Adams was a Christian. Benjamin Franklin was a member of the Hellfire Club, a organization infamously connected to the idea of hedonism as a way of life. They weren’t all the same, yet each has influenced how we, as a nation, have developed (for better or for worse) in to the nation we are at this point in our history.

When I look back at the contributions of the founders, how each has influenced what we have here right now, it is difficult to pick out just one. There is so much to admire in many of them. Perhaps sarah Palin wasn’t so much ignorant as she was taking a broader view. She might have appreciated the contributions of the founders as a whole, rather than nitpicking over which one is better, like ranking which character of Jersey Shore is your favorite or whether you think Brad and Angelina or Brad and Jennifer make a better couple. If this is indeed the case, it might do us all some good to be more like Sarah Palin. …… it might.