Someone once defined a "fool" as a person who keeps responding to the same situation in the same way, expecting a different result. Perhaps the best illustration of this infirmity is found, every two years, in the system known as voting, wherein millions of people are induced to go the polls and vote for candidates who keep promising to carry out the unfulfilled promises they made in the previous election! How many presidents, senators, and congressmen have been sent to Washington by promising to "get big government off our backs" or to "lower taxes?" When these people do not deliver on their promises, and the burdens and failures of government continue to escalate, the boobeoisie can nevertheless be counted upon to stumble into voting booths at the next election to cast their votes for the same charlatans making the same promises! The principle article of faith of the electorate comes down to the proposition: "this time for sure!"
One can observe this practice in the biennial fleecing of voters by members of the government school syndicate. Government schools have been a remarkable failure when it comes to helping children learn to think critically, analytically, and creatively. Someone sent me an e-mail that summarizes the state of learning in our society: "Fifty years ago, they taught Latin and Greek in high schools. Today, they teach remedial English in colleges." Who but a fool — particularly one who had been trained in the government schools — would think it the essence of socially responsible behavior to continue funding this obscene racket? Counting upon the collective simplemindedness of the electorate, school systems throughout the country are able — year after year after year — to induce voters to approve of yet another proposal to increase government funding in order to improve the quality of learning! "This time for sure!"
A number of ancient monarchies had a day of celebration known, in some societies, as the “feast of fools.” It was customary to select a fool to play the role of king for that day, a ritual that, no doubt, helped to create the illusion that ordinary people were not as distant from the fount of power as they otherwise experienced in their daily lives. The fool "king for a day" could engage in a number of peripheral royal functions and, as long as he didn’t try exercising real authority — such as declaring war on Ruritania, freeing all jailed prisoners, or abolishing taxes — the charade posed no threat to the established order.
Modern societies employ a variant on the "feast of fools," one that takes place not annually, but every two years: the democratic election. The role of the fool has been collectivized into that of the "electorate," and on election day, foolish people like to pretend that, on this one day at least, they get to make important political decisions; that they run the state. This is a delusion the statists not only tolerate, but insist on promoting, for it helps to hide the real locus of authority in society. This is why Western governments have such an obsession with promoting "democracy" throughout the world: not for the purpose of decentralizing political authority, but to render such power less threatening to men and women who have been bamboozled into thinking they are the state! As with their medieval predecessors, as long as the foolish electorate doesn’t get carried away with their sense of power and vote for a proposition that is inimical to the interests of the power structure — an occasional miscarriage of judgment that is quickly corrected by the courts declaring such a measure "unconstitutional" — the illusion is happily indulged in by fool and master alike.
I was amused to watch television newscasters reporting on Saddam Hussein’s re-election in Iraq, observing that he was unopposed for office. I wonder how many of them have ever entertained the thought that the two-party system in America provides just as predictable an outcome — for the power structure — as obtains in one-party systems. The system offers you two candidates — Tweedledum and Tweedledummer — along with the illusion that, having such a "choice," you are controlling the governmental structure! The fallacy in such thinking was well-revealed in how quickly virtually all members of both major parties fell into line in support of George Bush’s post-9/11 legislative proposals. Foolish people have yet to discover that, no matter who you vote for, the government always gets elected!
It has been thirty-four years since I indulged myself in the fantasy of thinking that any significant change in the nature of politics could be brought about by voting. Still, the thought has crossed my mind that, as long as our lives are burdened by political systems, we might find in the ancient "feast of fools" a more beneficial way of selecting government officials. Perhaps recourse could be had to a lottery system — such as is used for jury duty — in which names are selected, at random, to fill all elective offices. A hay farmer from Nebraska, or an accountant from Cleveland, or a convenience store clerk from Baton Rouge, might receive a letter informing them that their name had been selected, by a computer, to be President of the United States for the next four years. I suspect that persons conscripted into the presidency would lack the ambition for mischief of present or prior holders of that office. As with their jury duty counterparts, such men and women would likely be content to count the days remaining in their captivity!
Wouldn’t it be fitting, for a society in which the interests of technology preempt those of people, to have political leaders chosen by computers rather than by mere humans with all of their foibles? I know, however, that my modest proposal will never generate any enthusiasm on the part of others. Because chance leads to a great deal of unpredictability, the power structure will always prefer a massive base of well-trained fools upon which to rely for the preservation of its rule. It has been the purpose of the government schools and the media to generate this constituency of fatuousness by consciously dumbing-down the content of their services. What politician doesn’t appreciate the efforts of these entities in having laid the groundwork for popular acceptance of the most fantastic legislative proposals? Each knows that his or her political career depends upon the proposition so well expressed by Mark Twain: "Hain’t we got all the fools in town on our side? And ain’t that a big enough majority in any town?"
One can witness the continued gulling of the public in so-called "news reporting." Only the most disingenuous can pretend that the attacks on the World Trade Center were anything other than a violent reaction to expansionist American foreign/military practices. In spite of this fact, the statists — with the aid of their media flacks — persist in nurturing the illusion that increased military action will promote peace and security at home! Members of what H.L. Mencken labeled the species homo boobus roll themselves up in their flags and demand that America get even tougher with the rest of the world!
When the "sniper" was ambushing people in the Washington, DC, area, the purveyors of foolishness again trotted out their gun-control sophistries. The chant was taken up: "privately owned guns bad/government owned guns good." Forget that a belief in the "evil" nature of guns is to return to animistic doctrines that attributed willfulness and soul to inanimate objects; put aside the evidence that private gun ownership greatly reduces violent crime; disregard the fact that the "sniper" — who had been trained by the US military — had chosen to carry out his murderous actions in the Washington, DC, area, the city with the toughest gun control laws in the nation. Such reservations denote intelligence and reflection, and have no place in a "brave new world" in which thoughtfulness can lead to the questioning of established practices which, in turn, can foster change.
A few days ago, a teenager in Oklahoma allegedly went on a shooting rampage, killing at least two people and wounding a number of others. Apparently his killings began in a disagreement with neighbors about his driving habits. He then visited a car dealership where he shot more people, and later began shooting at other cars while driving on a highway. Nor should we forget that the Washington "sniper" allegedly conducted his murderous campaign from the rear of a customized automobile.
While the Oklahoma news story will doubtless provide more fodder for the gun-control addicts, I suspect that we will hear no proposals for abolishing the private ownership of automobiles. Tens of thousands of people are killed by cars every year — far more than those killed by guns — and, in this case at least, this teenager’s alleged actions were focused on automobiles. If guns are too dangerous to be entrusted to individuals, isn’t the case for restricting car ownership equally compelling?
You will not witness any "car-control" campaigns among politicians or within the media. While it serves the interests of the political establishment to further disarm and weaken individuals, controlling access to automobiles does not. Automobile manufacturers, oil companies, insurance and banking institutions, would all suffer financial hardship or ruin by the prohibition of private vehicles and, consequently, no such campaign of indoctrination will be undertaken by the political order. Homo boobus will remain free to drive around in his automobile, altogether convinced that such is the system’s recognition of his innate "liberty" and "dignity" as an individual! His opinions in this matter are subject to change, however, should this same system decide to deprive him of such ownership — perhaps in the interests of "homeland security" — and turn the media loose to indoctrinate him in a modified gospel of social reform.
While a fool is prepared to believe in the proposition that wet sidewalks cause rain — or in any other doctrine that it would be useful to the political establishment to have him espouse — he is unlikely to incorporate such an idea into his thinking until he has been sufficiently conditioned to accept it as a politically and socially correct mantra. The fool doesn’t want to look foolish, as he would if he began asking questions or expressing opinions that deviated from the collective mindset. To this end, he is subjected to the same kind of repetitious, rote conditioning as any well-trained circus animal, until he is able to express the new institutional catechism with such unerring cadence as to give him the assurance that he is the originator of the proposition!
Having thus learned to boldly confront and defy reality, to reconcile contradictions, and to elevate airy hope above the harsh demands of causation, homo boobus is prepared to participate in that modern "feast of fools" known as "election day." Believing in the illusion in which they have been carefully conditioned, namely, that they are controlling the direction of the state, they will be seen conducting their biennial pilgrimage to the voting booth, there to vote for the candidate who promises to restore prosperity, and end crime, corruption, and the threat of terrorism. "This time for sure!"
Butler Shaffer [send him e-mail] teaches at the Southwestern University School of Law.