Posts Tagged ‘Niccolo Machiavelli’

H.L. Mencken in Tahir Square: Democracy or Destruction?

Friday, February 25th, 2011

As I said in my last post, a lot has happened over the past six months, and I’ve been sorely remiss in blogging about it.  The developments in the Middle East are particularly fascinating.  They bring to mind the disintegration of the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union in the late 1980s and early 1990s.  Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, et al might become Arabic versions of post-Communist Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic.  They could just as easily turn into killing fields like Bosnia and Kosovo, or decadent, weak Weimar Republics, teetering on the edge of oblivion.

Watching the videos of the vast, truculent crowds, I wondered what H.L. Menckenwould’ve made of it.  When imaging what HLM might’ve felt about something, it’s essential to remember his cynicism and misanthropy.  Yes, he wrote “I know of no other man who believes in liberty more than I do,” but he maintained that freedom was something that only a select few could endure.  He loathed the common man and democracy. 

Mencken would wonder, as I do, whether there’d be uprisings if countries like Egypt were well-run and prosperous.  Notice that I didn’t say democratic.  Most people would happily live under authoritarian regimes if there was plenty of work, cheap food, and public services.  I’m not casting judgment.  Freedom doesn’t count for much when you can’t afford coffee and a donut.  “All the revolutions in history have been started by hungry city mobs,” Mencken observes in Notes on Democracy.  “When the city mob fights it is not for liberty, but for ham and cabbage.”  Although I don’t think the crowds in Cairo, Tunis, and Tripoli have a taste for the former.

My thoughts became a lot clearer after reading of CBS correspondent Lara Logan’s sexual assault.  As most of you already know, while covering the February 11 celebrations over Hosni Mubarak’s resignation in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, Logan was separated from her crew by a mob of more than 200.  According to a statement four days later by her network, Logan “was surrounded and suffered a brutal and sustained sexual assault and beating before being saved by a group of women and an estimated 20 Egyptian soldiers.”
Disgusting stuff, but also quite a story.  You’ve got to wonder why CBS sat on it for so long.  Gawker pointed out that the multiple typos in the original release (since corrected) suggest the news was about to break.  The Jewish Week and TownHall.com have their own thoughts why the story was held.  Although it’s very intriguing to contemplate, that question isn’t my focus.

Richard Cohen of The Washington Post wrote

As I’m sure even Logan would admit, the sexual assault of woman by a mob in the middle of a public square is a story. It is particularly a story because the crowd in Tahir Square was almost invariably characterized as friendly and out for nothing but democracy. In fact, some of the television correspondents acted as if they were reporting from Times Square on New Year’s Eve, stopping only at putting on a party hat. In those circumstances, a mass the sexual assault in what amounted to the nighttime version of broad daylight is certainly worth reporting.

We’d like to believe the Middle Eastern crowds are driven by the noblest impulses.  But are they?  Probably not.  From from the Coliseum to the Reign of Terror, from the Deep South lynchings to the L.A. Riots, the mob is idiotic and sadistic.  As Mencken explains in Notes

What does the mob think?  It thinks, obviously, what its individual members think.  And what is that?  It is, in brief, what somewhat sharp-nosed and unpleasant children think.  The mob, being composed, in the overwhelming main, of men and women who have not got beyond the ideas and emotions of childhood, hovers, in the mental age, around the time of puberty, and chiefly below it.

And what is the crux of those “ideas and emotions”?  Fear.  Fear of the unknown, of strange people, of new ideas.  “The process of education is largely a process of getting rid of such fears,” Mencken writes.  But sadly, the fact is “that the vast majority of men are congenitally incapable of any such intellectual progress.  They cannot take in new ideas, and they cannot get rid of old fears.  They lack the logical sense; they are unable to reason from a set of facts before them, free from emotional distraction.”

The men who assaulted Logan didn’t have liberte, egalite, fraternite on their minds.  They were driven by hatred, a hatred born of fear; hatred of Logan as a Westerner, an infidel, a woman, and—in their imagination—a Jew.

According to the New York Post, her assailants chanted “Jew, Jew” as they beat her.  (For the record, Logan is not Jewish.)  The attack may have been fueled by Egyptian state media reports of Israeli spies disguised as overseas news teams.  Or it could’ve been driven just by the will for destruction.

Mencken would’ve read of Logan’s attack and shook his head.  “There’s ‘your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,'” he’d mutter.

No, I’m not saying that everyone in the crowd that night was a hateful moron.  But I dare say there were a lot more troglodytes than one might care to imagine, and that there are a lot more troglodytes wordwide than we dare to dream.  They’re not just among the poor and downtrodden, although don’t kid yourself with the Christian/Marxist myth that “poverty” is a synonym for “enlightenment.”  As Mencken explained,

Thus the plutocracy, in a democratic state, tends to take the place of the missing aristocracy, and even to be mistaken for it.  It is, of course, something quite different.  It lacks all the essential characters of a true aristocracy: a clean tradition, culture, public spirit, honesty, honour, courage—above all courage. . .  Its most puissant dignitaries of to-day came out of the mob only yesterday—and from the mob they bring all its peculiar ignobilities.

I’ll come out and say it: Most people—black, white, rich, poor, powerful, weak—are stupid, and quite dangerous if given the opportunity.

And that’s why Mencken wouldn’t have high hopes for the current Mideast upheaval.  It’s possible some good will come of it.  Even Niccolo Machiavelli, the godfather of amoral analysis, thought republics were preferable to principalities.  Under a republic people feel more invested in the fruits of their labors, and consequently have more reason to work hard and innovate.  But there’s no point in pretending that mobs are comprised of Pericleses, Joan of Arcs, and Patrick Henrys. 

Do you honestly think Average Joes and Janes concern themselves over ideas like fair representation, consensus, and the free exchange of ideas?  Do you really believe people behave more honorably and wisely in democracies than in other societies?  Hardly.  I’m reminded of Luis Bunuel’s classic film, Viridiana.  A novitiate takes in a group of beggars and dedicates herself to feeding and uplifting them.  They repay her kindness by breaking into her home, and later attempting to rape her.

Viridiana

Uploaded by tagnuevo. – Independent web videos.

Go to a bar, a football game, or a shopping mall and see what comprises the crowd.  Morlocks, as far as the eye can see.

Sometimes fairly articulate people make it unintentionally clear how they, and most others, dwell in an Egyptian Night.  “Spruce Panther of Kemet” offers a sterling example.

In a February 16 YouTube video entitled “Lara Logan Raped: But Was She?” she urges viewers to ask themselves

was she indeed raped.  I’m just now hearing about this story on the Internet now but apparently this happened almost a week ago.  And we need to put this in context: she is a white South African, therefore she is directly implicated in the oppression [and in the perpetration] of atrocities against the black population of South Africa.  Indeed, the white population used rape against black women as means of intimidation, violence, control, oppression to keep the black population in line.  So is this an act of karmic retribution?  These questions should be asked and analyzed.

 

At the bottom of the video in red lettering runs “The real rape is Kemet’s Black African cultural treasures being plundered right before our eyes by barbarians” and later “Lara Logan’s ‘rape’ a false flag attack?”
Spruce Panther is a capable speaker, but her worldview is on the level of a superstitious, illiterate peasant.  What she says is on a par with medieval blood-libel and witch-hunting.  She’d fit right in with the nice folks in Tahir Square.  And quite possibly so would you.