5. The Human Factor: Individuals vs. Mobs
Let’s talk sense to the American people.
—Adlai E. Stevenson (Accepting the Democratic presidential nomination in 1952)
Humans are very smart animals that routinely act in truly dumb ways that are counter to their own vested interests. But if you take a serious look at the really dumb behavior, you’ll see that most of it occurs when people are in groups, and especially so when relatively uneducated, simple-minded, often highly religious, and seemingly insecure men are in leadership positions. When alone, individuals usually act in much smarter and more rational ways than when they are in groups, mainly because individuals don’t always have as much power as groups, and furthermore, individuals have memory, which groups evidently do not. Finally, individuals typically have some sense of reluctance to get engaged in dangerous acts; groups—especially groups of men—seem to possess an illusion of power that overrides individual judgment when it comes to danger.
A corollary to this assertion of the difference between groups and individuals is that a truly well-educated, emotionally secure, and mature king is probably better for a nation than a highly ideological, populist, and anti-intellectual elected president. If you are a terrorist, and want to accomplish your goal of destroying the United States, then you should be working overtime to make sure that mature, well-educated, and emotionally secure men and women do not rise to public office in America. You don’t have to assassinate such people; you simply have to dehumanize them somewhat by ridicule, especially if you start when they’re at an early age and can find any way to later label them as “liberal” or “socialist.”
If you’re a terrorist, you have plenty of help in this subversive endeavor aimed at neutralizing the United States’ human resources. That help comes largely in the form of social institutions that tend to promote conformity and, in the process, often enhance one’s self esteem or sense of worthiness: certain religions, athletic teams, etc. The help also comes from our preoccupation with money—perhaps the most powerful of all homogenizing forces—although it’s fairly common knowledge that any claim for the destructive effects of such money-worship goes back at least to Biblical times, namely, to the Apostle Paul in his letter to Timothy (I Timothy, 6:10). Paul’s warning about the love of money being the root of all evil is actually a statement about this homogenizing force and he could just as easily have been talking about religion, including his own, as a means of making people behave like a mob.
It is simply a fact of life that we easily convert just about anything, including any social phenomenon, into common currency, and then can easily converse in such terms. The word “tax” for example, is sure to polarize any discussion of civic needs and responsibilities, and to do so very quickly, regardless of the really interesting relationships between people and their governments. But let’s really be honest, ladies and gentlemen: money is boring, and I do mean really boring. Indeed, money may be one of the most boring of all human constructs, although admittedly it is also one of the most useful of all technologies, one that contributed most significantly to the rapid distancing of ourselves from our lower primate relatives.
Humans differ in many ways from monkeys and apes, but possession and use of this technology called “money” is among the most distinctive and powerful of these. Money allows us not only to exchange items of value over vast distances and great lengths of time, but also to accumulate power and property far in excess of a fellow primate. Money is also largely symbolic, and trafficking in money is actually a highly metaphorical activity because there is very little about humans that cannot be bought or sold, including their time, talents, property, and even body parts.
Monkeys can’t do this kind of exchange with their currency, which is largely food. Lower primates exert power by use of their body size, coloration, emotional intensity, and age, all of which eventually disappear and cannot be saved, used to generate more, or passed on to heirs, although obviously some behaviors and physical traits are inherited. Humans, however, exert power largely by use of money, property that could be converted into currency, or legal access to other people’s money. A politician does not have to be rich in order to dabble in money; all he or she has to do is have words and ideas that make other people want to traffic in money, either through giving it up willingly, spending some that doesn’t belong to them, or saving some of their own.
Paul’s warning to Timothy is probably based on our readily observed ability to subordinate everything tangible to its descriptive language or image, an ability most strikingly manifested in computers and digital files. Thus money was an early version of symbolic information. For example, a scrap of paper with poetry written on it is of no intrinsic value regardless of the fact that it might be of extreme value to the person who wrote the poem, although a few close friends and lovers may also greatly appreciate the item. Depending on the personality of the poet, anyone with enough money could buy it, including all rights to the use of it forever, copy that poem into an e-mail message and send it all around the world in a few seconds.
Conceivably, what originally appeared on that scrap of paper, which could easily have been a bar napkin, could be read by millions of people within an hour or two. Conceivably, those lines of verse could end up as song lyrics, recorded, and thus converted into lots of money. Many more millions of people would then hear the music and enjoy it for whatever personal reasons induced them to listen in the first place, having no clue that the sounds began as pencil marks on a bar napkin. If you think this scenario is unlikely, visit the National Country Music Hall of Fame museum in Nashville, Tennessee, and see some of those familiar platinum-record lyrics as they were first composed, often on bar napkins or coffee-soaked cheap motel receipts, by an individual.
But none of those millions who bought or listened to the music or read the poetry would know what it was like—mentally, emotionally, intellectually—to sit in that smoky bar, sipping a glass of wine, looking over the bare shoulder of your gorgeous girl friend at the long-haired college student, slumped in another booth scribbling something on a napkin, something that turned out to be that poem about a lost love, before dropping his head down on the table top and heaving with sobs and knocking his half-finished draught of Sam Adams onto the floor. Money does the same thing to our humanity that, in this example, the Internet or the recording industry has done. Both homogenize, dehumanize, and cleanse us of our individuality. Money and communication technology take away our memory, our individual emotions, often our creativity, our willingness to act in a manner counter to that endorsed by prevailing cultural influences, and our sense of shared responsibility for the natural world that supports us.
See also the following titles, available on smashwords.com, kindle, nook, and as nice paperbacks from createspace.com.:
(1)TEN MINUTE ECOLOGIST: TWENTY ANSWERED QUESTIONS FOR BUSY PEOPLE FACING ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES
(2) INTELLIGENT DESIGNER: EVOLUTION FOR POLITICIANS
(3) PIECES OF THE PLAINS: MEMORIES AND PREDICTIONS FROM THE HEART OF AMERICA (paperback from J&L Lee, Lincoln, NE)