In a letter to a friend, Alexander Hamilton once wrote, “The American people have all the passiveness of the sheep and all the folly of the ass in their composition.” I happen to agree with this sentiment, but not because I think the people are innately stupid or weak ( Hamilton also referred to the people as “a great beast”). Rather, sixty years of consumer capitalism has conditioned them be passive and ignorant. They have been subtly and relentlessly brainwashed by the most sophisticated propaganda organ in history, namely, the modern advertising industry.
As I write, the people of every country in the world are rapidly descending to the same level of stupidity and ignorance as their American counterparts. We just happened to get there first because America is the most advanced country in the world. Case in point: When I studied in Russia, my instructors lamented that “kids today” no longer read Pushkin and favored American TV shows instead.
At any rate, the other Founding Fathers more or less agreed with Hamilton, and the government they created was carefully designed ensure that only the best sort of people, meaning rich white men like themselves, would rule. They would have defended the system by telling you that governing should be the responsibility of educated men with enough leisure time to study politics and who could therefore make rational and informed decisions. Somewhat conveniently, that meant rich white guys exactly like themselves, because nobody else in the eighteenth century had any education or leisure time at all (although many people were allowed to drink beer on the job, the lucky sots!).
The people, on the other hand, were ignorant and susceptible to irrational hysteria and prejudices. If they were given too much power, they might do crazy things, like chop the heads off the rich and steal their property! No, it was much better to have intelligent elites run the show.
So how has it worked out? Let’s see. Intelligent elites, knowledgeable people who went to the best schools, studied the issues, and can be trusted to make wise and informed decisions about matters that are beyond the comprehension of the common folk, have given us: VIetnam, bank deregulation, and the wise and far-sighted policies that produced the blowback of 9/11. They responded to that by giving us the USA Patriot Act — an hysterical, paranoid over-reaction if there ever was one, the kind of thing the irrational masses might do if left to their own devices! And, of course, our expert elites, in command of all the facts and utilizing the soundest judgment, gave us the invasion of Afghanistan and the invasion of Iraq.
It was the slickest, sharpest, most well-fed and well-educated brains in the US that introduced the world to sub-prime mortgages and credit default swaps. Their brilliant maneuvers created the conditions that ruined the world economy and are gradually turning the country into Burkina Faso.
It seems to me that the unwashed masses aren’t the ones driving stupid and dangerous policies. The biggest fuck-ups of the last fifty odd years have been the result of the calculated and deliberate policies of our most eminent and well-qualified elites.
Is it possible we need to re-think this situation? Do you think we need to change this paradigm? Is it possible, to paraphrase a prominent elite fuck-up, that the model of how we think the world should be organized is wrong?