Friday, May 29, 2015

HL Mencken on Occupy Wall Street

Varieties of Envy
H.L. Mencken
Baltimore Evening Sun
June 15, 1936

The central belief of every moron is that he is the victim of a mysterious conspiracy against his common rights and true deserts.  He ascribes all his failure to get on in the world, all of his congenital incapacity and damfoolishness, to the machinations of werewolves assembled in Wall Street, or some othe such den of infamy.  If these villains could be put down, he holds, he would at once become rich, powerful and eminent.  Nine politicians out of every ten, of whatever party, live and have their being by promising to perform this putting down.  In brief, they are knaves who maintain themselves by preying on the idiotic vanities and pathetic hopes of half-wits.

What is thus promised, of course, always falls far short of fulfillment.  The politicians devote themselves ardently enough to robbing A, who is an honest and useful man, eager only to pay his way, in order to bribe and flatter B, who is lazy, stupid and incompetent, and a very large part of the national income is dissipated in the process.  But B still remains clearly inferior to A.  He was inferior as a blastocyte, and he continues so as a nascent cadaver at a rally of Townsendites or New Dealers.  He is therefore easy meat for the rascals who promise to give him, not merely a dole, but irresistible power.  He dreams of becoming so mighty, en masse, if not on his own, that the nation will tremble at his tread, and Wall Street will entreat him for peace terms.  In brief, he puts on a night-shirt and joins the Ku Klux Klan, the Black Legion, or some such amalgamation of crooks and fools.

It seems to be little noticed that this yearning to dragoon and terrify all persons who happen to be lucky is at the bottom of the puerile radicalism now prevailing among us, just as it is at the bottom of Ku Kluxery.  The average American radical today likes to think of himself as a profound and somber fellow, privy to arcane not open to the general; he is actually only a poor fish, with distinct overtones of the jackass.  What ails him, first and last, is simply envy of his betters.  Unable to make any progress against them under the rules in vogue, he proposes to fetch below the belt by making the rules over.  He is no more an altruist than J. Pierpont Morgan is an altruist, or Jim Farley, or, indeed, Al Capone.

Every such rescuer of the downtrodden entertains himself with gaudy dreams of power, far beyond his natural fortunes and capacities.  He sees himself at the head of an overwhelming legion of morons, marching upon the fellows he envies and hates.  He thinks of himself in his private reflections (and gives it away every time he makes a speech or prints an article) as a gorgeous amalgam of Lenin, Mussolini and Genghis Khan, with the Republic under his thumb, his check for any amount good at the bank, and ten million heels clicking every time he winks his eye.  Not infrequently he throws in a private brewery or distillery, belching smoke in his personal service, and a girl considerably more slightly than he can scare up by his native magnetism.  When such grotesque megalomania reaches a certain virulence a black wagon dashes up, and its two honest deckhands, Jack and Emil, haul off another nut to the psychopathic hoosegow.  But not many of the patients go that far.  They retain all their ordinary faculties.  They can eat, drink, talk, sweat, walk, dance and hope.  They read the New Masses, sing “The Internationale,” and lecture on “Das Kapital” without having read it.  A vision enchants them, and perhaps one should allow that, considering their natural gifts, it is as beautiful as any they are capable of.  But it will come to nothing.  Like the dupes of the Black Legion, they are doomed to be fooled.

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