Mencken and Socrates and St. Paul on Political Doxa

Mencken on American voters:They like phrases which thunder like salvos of artillery.  Let that thunder sound, and they take all the rest on trust.  If a sentence begins furiously and then peters out into fatuity, they are still satisfied.  If a phrase has a punch in it, they do not ask that it also have a meaning.  If a word slides off the tongue like a ship going down the ways, they are content and applaud it and await the next.” – From page 43 of the 1996 Johns Hopkins University Press edition of H.L. Mencken’s 1956 collection, On Politics: A Carnival of Buncombe

Socrates on “the greatest sophists of all” — “they educate most completely, turning young and old, men and women, into precisely the kind of people they want them to be…When many of them are sitting together in assemblies, courts, theaters, army camps, or in some other public gathering of the crowd, they object very loudly and excessively to some of the things that are said or done and approve others in the same way, shouting and clapping, so that the very rocks and surroundings echo the din of their praise or blame and double it. In circumstances like that, what is the effect, as they say, on a young person’s heart? What private training can hold out and not be swept away by that kind of praise or blame and be carried by the flood wherever it goes, so that he’ll say the same things are beautiful or ugly as the crowd does, follow the same way of life as they do, and be the same sort of person as they are?” — Plato’s Republic, translated by GMA Grube, revised by CDC Reeve, Hackett Publishing, 492a-c

St. Paul on “itching ears”: For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.” 2 Timothy 4:3-4 (NIV)

5 thoughts on “Mencken and Socrates and St. Paul on Political Doxa

  1. Mind blown again. Mencken quote makes me think of Antony in Shakespeare’s Cesar. It seems that it almost didn’t even matter what he said after his opening line. How do we, if driven by emotion, come to reason? Modern psychology of marketing/sales is a fascinating subject pertaining to this. The inner conspiracy theorist wants me to think that some one is pulling our strings and controaling us through media/news, but in respect to Hanlon’s razor it might just be that we are the unguided puppet masters of ourselves. Not sure.

    In a recent post of mine I mention that from the subjective experience of traveling it seemed most often people became what they knew. I like “What private training…” I do think that it may be better for one to be exposed to culture but this may be paradoxical in that there is also a general paradigm which in a sense is also narrowing in view (the open mind is a narrow mind) At the same time I value tradition not just for obvious social and interpersonal benefits. The point being again if I’m so indoctrinated, reinforced by social forces in this case, how to overcome them. Or how to know that I should in the first place?(if I should) Note: in contradictory. Some people may reject the norm, either by self or imposed ostracization, in which case they may form just as strong of a justification for their reason. so How to know when the mob/tradition is more correct or our personal objections to such?

    This goes back to your previous post for me and the topic of validating our bias. I do love it when some one tells me I’m right or in some way validates my opinion. We can form a we are right and you are wrong club perpetuating our belief 😦 I can only imagine that to over come this takes carful study (slow reading) with willingness too. Why is it so hard to convince me that I’m clearly wrong? (assuming you are actually more correct) on a second note this is quite a dangerous concept when considering mob mentality. It is a total mystery to me that individuals don’t see danger rising when in this mode. I may have taken a leap in Paul’s intention but It just shows my inability to condense broad subjects to comunitable form.

  2. Epistemologist, I think it comes down to what our conception of knowledge is and how it relates to the desire that motivates us to pursue it. If I conceive of knowledge of something that can be possessed independent of others and the possession of which is a sign of superiority over the others, like a trophy, then what I think of as *my* knowledge will be defended against loss in a win/lose contest. This conception of knowledge is entirely wrong — what I have to defend angrily against the assaults of the other is always just opinion. My knowledge has nothing to fear from rival opinions; my opinion has everything to fear. So, if you notice yourself getting angry when another disagrees, then you should back off and confess the fact that you just don’t know, that you are stuck defending opinions — the anger is a clear symptom.

  3. Perfect and simple wording-I’m going to learn someday. someone said something to the effect that a long, heated debate is evidence that both sides are wrong. Makes sense. A speculation/curiosity… could our anger over indifferent opinions be some inherent/primal instinct to defend the reality that we have built our lives on? Am I afraid that if I loose that foundation I will loose the foundation on which I built my life. If my opinion that I hold onto so dearly is broken does that mean I am broken? If I steped back and said I don’t know does that mean I don’t know who I am?…… oh just incase…. I was just using myself as an example I don’t really get upset or want to start a club. For some reason I like to say I instead of you or some people on occasion. on my front paige I say that I love loosing an argument as aposed to the disappointment of winning one.

  4. Yes, I think anger has a lot to do with the feeling that one’s constructed reality is under threat. Remember our opinions often represent a hard won and genuine victory over the dissatisfaction of doubt/ignorance. The problem is we then treat the return of a feeling of ignorance/doubt as a threat, so we reassert the opinion as a way of warding off that threat, just like it did the last time we felt the ignorance. We sacrifice the ignorance to our constructed idol like a primitive superstition. But the ignorance that we have genuinely overcome feels the same as the ignorance we have yet to overcome — they are phenomenologically the same. We need to learn to distinguish them and realize that truth that would redeem our opinion confronts us in the shape of felt ignorance. (Hence the name of my blog!)

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