Strakon Lights Up, No. 109

Minus 40


I wrote recently that, after the 911 attacks, all too many Americans seemed to lose 40 IQ points overnight. I'm sure that came as no surprise to Paul Fussell, perpetrator of such thoughtcrimes as the books Wartime  and Dumb. Assessing in one venue or another the cultural impact of the "good war" preceding this one — World War II — Fussell has had some instructive things to say about the crudely propagandized mentality that wartime creates and the overall "dumbing down" that is inherent in that. One of those instructive things is this: the dumbing down persists long into peacetime.

But maybe I shouldn't bother mentioning that point. I mean, we may never again see anything resembling peacetime.


The established media are warning unofficial visitors not to take cameras down to Ground Zero, because the Authorities are forbidding people to snap pictures from beyond the police tape and, like button men at a Mafia wedding, are even robbing unapproved photographers of their gear. "After all," the newsreaders remind us, "it's a crime scene."

To employ the elegant patois of America's white suburban youth: "Whass up wif dat ?" In English, now: So what if it is a "crime scene"?

The official explanation of why a private person dasn't take pictures in the vicinity of Ground Zero makes no more sense than some such non sequitur as, "You can't take pictures here! It's Monday!" or "You can't take pictures here! It's raining in New Zealand!"

Wouldn't it be wonderful to live in a country with a free, independent, and rambunctious news media that would ask the obvious questions when the Authorities tried to feed them, and us, obvious buncombe? Hey, I know what we need. Let's all agitate to put an explicit guarantee of a free press into that Constitution thing!

Did the fellow who secretly taped Rodney King's beating commit a crime? That was certainly a crime scene. The cops involved might have wanted to pound the videographer as well as Mr. King, had they but known he was recording their actions for posterity; but the Establishment celebrated the taping as a triumph of citizen's justice, and no one talked (in public, anyway) about robbing the surreptitious taper of his video camera.

Notice that the same people who are parroting the official line about the photo ban are the same people whose photographers are officially licensed to take pictures at Ground Zero. Funny: I was already wondering whether it was about time to trade in my stock phrase "established media" for the more-explicit "official media."

You know, if a fellow were some kind of mad conspiratorialist, he might be inclined to wonder what They're all trying to hide.

By the way, since when is Ground Zero a "crime scene"? I thought it was a "war scene." Wasn't the attack of September 11 the first "battle" of the "first war of the 21st century"? Was Pearl Harbor a crime scene? Did Hawaii 5-0 go out and poke around in the wrecked battleships? If we must have a party line, I wish the regime would hurry up and tell us which one it is.


One of the most ridiculous and irritating sideshows that raised its tent after the 911 attacks is the campaign by many state attorneys general and "consumer protection" bureaucrats to bully or, indeed, prosecute service-station operators who "gouged" customers by hiking the price of gas to unapproved levels. Why, people were queuing up to pay $5 or even $10 a gallon!

Now, I hope someone will correct me if I missed this — as I've suggested, the official media often omit crucial elements from their reporting — but to my knowledge no one held a pistol to those customers' forehead and forced them to buy gas at those prices.

What it was, was evolution in action, that's all. Or as our grandparents would put it: "A fool and his money are soon parted." And that's the way it ought  to be and must  be, if life is to be intelligible. The bullying campaign over "gouging" does no one a favor, except cops and bureaucrats who want to swagger about and expand their power. Like so much of what government does, the current bullying seeks to separate cause from effect; it seeks to relieve actions of their natural consequences. It rewards, and therefore teaches, heedlessness.

Even those who look upon government as the adult parent of all us children may want to reflect that there is a difference between yanking a child from the path of an onrushing truck and keeping him sealed in a plastic bubble all his life. He'll never grow up that way.

But I suppose that's the point of it all, isn't it? Reducing us to the status of children and keeping us there.


I caught an interesting, not to mention true, comment by a business analyst the other day on the cable news. He was sneering at the official injunctions that one should do one's "patriotic duty" and buy stocks. He said "patriotic buying" is "the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard." You undertake investments, he said, in the rational expectation of making a material gain, period. In passing he noted that, whether you buy, sell, or hold, "your 100 or 1,000 shares or whatever aren't going to make any difference to this market."

Now, if anyone were to say that the "patriotic duty" to vote is a similarly ridiculous notion, someone would be sure to object, "But if everyone  voted for So-and-So, it would  make a difference!" I won't get into the difference it would or wouldn't make — I've already written at length about that. I'll just observe that that predictable response is a good example of how real-life thinking differs from fantastic political thinking: "statish" thinking, as I once called it. People just switch off their minds when they start thinking about politics and elections. If they did that when they bought stocks, they'd learn the hard way not to do it again. But decades — centuries, now — of hard lessons don't prevent them from marching back into that voting booth every year or two.

The analogy between buying stocks and voting isn't perfect, to be sure. For one thing, in elections we're talking about one lousy, measly vote per customer, not 100 or 1,000. For another, if you do plunk down your money for a stock — for "patriotic" reasons or otherwise — you do, at least, really get that stock.

October 1, 2001

© 2001 by WTM Enterprises. All rights reserved.

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