22 August 2009

Three Possible Courses of Action

"Any man who afflicts the human race with ideas must be prepared to see them misunderstood."

The above quote comes from a prominent journalist and social critic whose work (in short snippets and excerpts) I've enjoyed reading over the years.

This person actually was the most influential literary and social critic of his time (the Roaring '20s was his heyday) and he made household names of such now-reknowned authors as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Sinclair Lewis, Joseph Conrad, and James M. Cain.

He wrote on food and drink, music, philosophy, politics, religion and a myriad other topics... and always with an iconoclastic flair, which is obviously why I resonate with things he "said".

But, despite his vast influence on American letters, H.L. Mencken is virtually unknown to most American readers today.

Like the person who I should thank for reviving my awareness of him (kudos, Doug Casey, for bringing him up), we both think Henry Louis Mencken (1880 - 1956) is a hero and a genius.

Recently, Doug Casey — an investment newsletter writer — made reference to another free-thinking intellectual... a man named Murray N. Rothbard (1926 - 1995).

Rothbard, arguably the greatest Libertarian theorist of the 20th Century, was refererncing some of Mencken's ideas in an article he wrote about government oppression, economics, and individual choices.

Yep, can you see how this is the making of one big circle of fellas who understand that ideas do matter?

Well, maybe you will, when I get in on the act too :)

Below is an excerpt from Rothbard's article, and in between are some quick thoughts from yours truly.

"Any man who is an individualist and a Libertarian in this day and age has a difficult row to hoe. He finds himself in a world marked, if not dominated, by folly, fraud, and tyranny. He has, if he is a reflecting man, three possible courses of action open to him:

"(1) he may retire from the social and political world into his private occupation: in the case of Mencken's early partner, George Jean Nathan, he can retire into a world of purely esthetic contemplation;
Barry's Note: Sadly, something a great many fanatical spiritual-growth enthusiasts DO in excessive amounts, even as they're trying to get a leg up in a world that requires them to add value by producing something for... well, for the world to obtain or use. More on that here...
"(2) he can set about to try to change the world for the better, or at least to formulate and propagate his views with such an ultimate hope in mind; or,
Barry's Note: Yes, sometimes the quest does seem so futile. Then again, when we see the masses with their heads in the sand, and very few public forms for people to engage in in order to consider new mindsets, toss around different ideas, and tweak perspectives, we're thrilled to be giving "outer world change" a good ol' fashioned college try.
Hey, speaking of that: is formal education cranking out a bunch of linear-minded, rule-following robots, or something better? Find out here...

"(3) he can stay in the world, enjoying himself immensely at this spectacle of folly.

"To take this third route requires a special type of personality with a special type of judgment about the world. He must, on the one hand, be an individualist with a serene and unquenchable sense of self-confidence; he must be supremely 'inner-directed' with no inner shame or quaking at going against the judgment of the herd.

"He must, secondly, have a supreme zest for enjoying life and the spectacle it affords; he must be an individualist who cares deeply about liberty and individual excellence, but who can — from that same dedication to truth and liberty — enjoy and lampoon a society that has turned its back on the best that it can achieve.

"And he must, thirdly, be deeply pessimistic about any possibility of changing and reforming the ideas and actions of the vast majority of his fellow-men. He must believe that boobus Americanus is doomed to be boobus Americanus forevermore."

"Put these qualities together, and we are a long way toward explaining the route taken by Henry Louis Mencken."

From: Murray N. Rothbard, H. L. Mencken: The Joyous Libertarian, The New Individualist Review, vol. 2, no. 2, Summer 1962, pp. 15–27.