tisdag, mars 11, 2008

The Gang's All Here

Over at the OMB Watch blog, where I'd gone to read a reaction to a Wall Street Journal article on potential late Bush administration plans to lessen regulations on animal waste lagoons--I'm not kidding; that's actually why I went there--I found the following quote:
"[P]eople acting in a group can accomplish things which no individual acting alone could even hope to bring about." - FDR
I need to look that quote up, if only to puzzle out the use of brackets on only the p of people. Is this to suggest that President Roosevelt uttered a different letter? Did he actually cry out "Feople"? Or did he stutter or something?


I understand the quote and I do appreciate it. I very much like FDR's speeches. But what perhaps amazes me about that quote is its neutrality in its decontextualized presentation.

Is this to be a hopeful statement? Are we to believe that in numbers we can accomplish great things?

If that's the case, Barack Obama's campaign is proof. People eating yogurt with the pink lids and mailing in the tops for securing charity donations is proof. Hell, even the way my family and relatives get together to clean up the common property and cabins each year is proof.

But there's also a rather grim side to that quote. Mob mentality has never, to my knowledge, been used as a hopeful thing. And, as such, the actions that the many can achieve over the individual can be pretty ugly.

* Lynchings
* The development of the nuclear bomb.
* The election of George W. Bush. TWICE.

Not long ago I reread Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle about the endlessly competing aspects of science and relgion--how they compete with one another and within themselves. Atomic energy is both awe-inspiring and horrific. Religion is both inspiring and unforgivably capricious.

More than 2000 years ago Socrates said he was smarter than everyone else because he at least knew that he knew nothing, whereas the rest of us fools went about believing we had at least real knowledge about something.

I don't think we've ever found a snappy comeback to that old dog's thought. No wonder we made him drink hemlock.