The Know Nothing Appeal

I dislike the celebration of the common man in present politics, not from a rejection of the common man, but for the demeaning of the common man that is embraced in the supposedly celebratory tropes. Real Americans in the parlance of conservative politics seem to be a rather small group, congratulated for the virtue of ignorance, of willful blindness, of confined and confining thought and emotion. They are celebrated in part for not thinking, for refusing to analyze, for obeying their gut and for feeling the truth, not finding it.

The intellectual, the thinking political participant and citizen, is denigrated and made un-American in this discourse, with all evidence of an "egghead" nature, of a will to reach out and analyze, is made proof of a compromised patriotism. To think, to engage with the world and with one's fellow citizens outside of the catch-phrases of appropriate patriotic slogans and pro-Christian catch-phrases, is a social negative, a liability that makes one suspect and less truly American than dull obedience and blindly supportive statements of the "my country right or wrong" pattern.

Why does this anti-intellectual, and worse than anti-intellectual, anti-thinking, anti-social, and anti-freedom, rhetoric have such appeal? Why has it become the go-to portrait of the good American? I don't know. Whether one goes to college or not, receives a degree or not, the possibilities of intellectual expansion, investigation, and active analysis of one's society, its present and its future, our relationships with one another and their meaning, remains possible and available. Thinking is a skill developed by use, but not an exclusive possession of intellectuals and academics. In fact, our democracy will only be functional if we, as citizens, think, analyse, and make the understanding of our world, political policies, and possible consequences of political action our duty, and thus pursue an engagement with the political, social, and intellectual streams of society. Citizens, in order to act in a responsible manner, must be men and women of brain as well as persons of feeling. Citizens in a democracy with a polity drawn from multiple ethnic and religious backgrounds and beliefs must be tolerant, must be willing to allow others the freedom to pursue their own lives and morals, save in those few areas where the action of one harms another. Harm is a specific, serious concept. One is not harmed by being disturbed, by disagreement, or by revulsion. One is harmed by violence to one's dignity or person. Where harm is ambiguous or absent, we must, as believers in freedom, in liberty, in human rights, allow that to which we do not give our assent or support.

It is easier to celebrate as tolerance the permission we give to those ideas and expressions with which we agree, that which we recognize as having a positive value expressed in a comfortable form. However, this is not truly tolerance. Tolerance exists where ideas and expressions which are antithetical or challenging to one's own view are permitted in the public and private space. One tries to understand them. There are disagreements, some serious and deeply held, others less emotional and tense, but there is no elimination of the unpopular from view or discussion. The content of 'American' remains open to interpretation and adjustment, it remains a fluid area of contest, debate, and questioning. As citizens, we recognize that we are not done, that the end of history and the end of the human are not yet.

Liberty is not safe, nor comfortable. This is not liberty's purpose, nor its virtue. Safety and order are better served by other forms of government, though even under those governmental forms they can be assured only to a minority of insiders, elites, and subjects. This is an important distinction--that between the subject and the citizen. Subjects obey; regardless of the form of government under which the subject exists, the relative virtues or vices of the individual dictator, compulsion lies at the center of the political and social reality. A subject has no direct responsibility for what the dictator wills or does; the action of the government is not inherently limited by the will of the subjects. A citizen has a wholly different relationship with the political and social reality of the leader and the state. The citizen is responsible, even when he/she does not desire that responsibility, for the actions and intentions, the will and the consequences, of its leadership.

I didn't vote for George Bush II. I did not trust him. I did not like him. I did not like his policies. I was disturbed by his desire not to think combined with his commitment to act. I am, nevertheless, despite my personal rejection of him, as a citizen of this country, responsible for those things my country did under his leadership, under the leadership of the Congress that served with him. It is my country. I cannot escape it, nor the consequences for belonging to it, Sometimes I would like to escape, to find some easy scapegoat to be wholly responsible in my place--someone like Cheney, for example--but I know the comfort of the scapegoat is illusory and does not solve, nor really address, the issues involved in my disappointments and regrets.

I do not understand, and I cannot respect, the drive to promote ignorance, emotion, and jingoism as suitable, indeed laudable, characteristics of the voter and the citizen. It is composed of a rhetoric that does more than accept the presence of ignorance and fanaticism. This rhetoric actively promotes it. It says that being ignorant, being uneducated, following one's feelings without thought, and responding to people based on assumptions, often racist and/or culturally blind, are positive qualities, signs of good values and solid American-ness.

I have looked at the Republican women who hold positions on the national stage as representatives of that gender in Republican politics. Are these women--Palin, Bachman, Ann Coulter--the best conservatives can attract? Are these the women conservatives want to present to Americans as the best and brightest of American females? Certainly, they are not the best, nor the brightest. Many women I have met outside of the national spotlight are brighter and present a better image of the American woman than do they. Why, then, is it these women that we watch and whose opinions and mis-statements, often malicious deceptions, become part of our daily ration of political blathering? Where are the other Republican women--Republican women who are not hiding behind cute phrases like 'grizzly mom' or waiting for God to tell them what to do? Where are the Republican women who can form complete, cogent sentences? If we take feminism to mean a position which celebrates women as equal members of the human species, then where are the Republican feminists who could present themselves as conservative women, equal in dignity, intelligence, and coherence to their male counterparts?

I do not know where we are going as a country. I know, however, that we will not feel our way there; guts are not a good mapping tool.

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Comments 19 comments

mio cid profile image

mio cid 4 years ago from Uruguay

The de facto leader of the republican party, Rush Limbaugh calls schools screwels , and his twenty million ditto-head listeners who determine the destiny of the republican party despise education and intellect.


Josak profile image

Josak 4 years ago from variable

'Merica F**K YEAH!!!

No I am completely with you on this one this presumption on truths being fundamental and not worthy of even thinking about changing and that the best people of our country are believers in "God and the American way" is just cliched backwards populism which encourages self enforced ignorance. Voted up and interesting + following.


HSchneider 4 years ago from Parsippany, New Jersey

The thinking human being will question their Conservative dictates and this is a threat to them. "Ignorance is Bliss" is their motto and what sustains them. This way they are still able to convince these people to vote for them when all of their policies are for the wealthy and not the Common man. Great Hub, Ed.


Josak profile image

Josak 4 years ago from variable

Thank god we had a conservative to come and make such a reasoned, educated and well thought out counter argument, how can you disagree with such excellent rebuttal?


Josak profile image

Josak 4 years ago from variable

AHAHAHAH JSChams you are so expertly demonstrating the exact point of this article, "my truths don't require explanation they are simply the truth" and why is that? Because usually there is no good explanation or argument for them.


ackman1465 profile image

ackman1465 4 years ago from Cape Coral, Florida

JSc: It's truly an honor to see your submittal. It almost PROVES just how accurate and valuable is Ed Michael's Hub..... Thanx.


Ed Michaels profile image

Ed Michaels 4 years ago from Texas, USA Author

I am a liberal. I am not ashamed of that, but I know it is not the only possible considered position in the political spectrum. I have conservative friends with whom I am able to disagree while remaining civil. We recognize that what we desire is the best future for our children and our nation, that we may err but do not do so from any innate evil in our natures. we disagree, we discuss, and we tolerate our differences, recognizing our mutual integrity and our mutual commitment to the country and its citizens. It is this ability to engage in a considered, respectful, responsive discourse and discussion of important and fundamental issues facing us as citizens of the nation and the world that is woefully absent in our current political environment.


adagio4639 profile image

adagio4639 4 years ago from Brattleboro Vermont

An excellent article. Celebrating stupid seems counter-productive to me.


adagio4639 profile image

adagio4639 4 years ago from Brattleboro Vermont

"Liberal progressive poppycock and propaganda from beginning to end including the last three comments."

That isn't much of a critique. You haven't provided anything specific that you find "poppycock". In fact, you're kind of proving the point of the article. It's really easy to say something is "poppycock". It's much harder to prove why it is.

The author says this:"They are celebrated in part for not thinking, for refusing to analyze,". Refusing to analyze. Your critique shows no thinking and no analysis. Again, you prove the case that he makes.


adagio4639 profile image

adagio4639 4 years ago from Brattleboro Vermont

"The truth can be pretty simple and can be delivered without footnotes."

Then it should be easy to demonstrate. So go ahead. Demonstrate it for us.


adagio4639 profile image

adagio4639 4 years ago from Brattleboro Vermont

"There is nothing original about any of it. I was raised a Democrat and was fine until Marx and Alinsky took over."

What do you actually know about Saul Alinsky? Alinsky did not join political parties. When asked during an interview whether he ever considered becoming a Communist party member, he replied: "Not at any time. I've never joined any organization—not even the ones I've organized myself. I prize my own independence too much. And philosophically, I could never accept any rigid dogma or ideology, whether it's Christianity or Marxism. One of the most important things in life is what Judge Learned Hand described as 'that ever-gnawing inner doubt as to whether you're right.' If you don't have that, if you think you've got an inside track to absolute truth, you become doctrinaire, humorless and intellectually constipated. The greatest crimes in history have been perpetrated by such religious and political and racial fanatics, from the persecutions of the Inquisition on down to Communist purges and Nazi genocide." Do you find a problem with what he said, and if so...what is it?

Republicans were fine until they signed onto Macchiavelli and Ayn Rand. Dump that and come back to rationality and you might have something.


adagio4639 profile image

adagio4639 4 years ago from Brattleboro Vermont

JS...there is no ad hominem (no y)The ad hominem takes on this form:

Person A makes claim X.

Person B makes an attack on person A.

Therefore A's claim is false.

Bill: "I believe that abortion is morally wrong."

Dave: "Of course you would say that, you're a priest."

Bill: "What about the arguments I gave to support my position?"

Dave: "Those don't count. Like I said, you're a priest, so you have to say that abortion is wrong. Further, you are just a lackey to the Pope, so I can't believe what you say."

Ed appears to be making the argument that there is great distrust of any form of intellectualism in this country. Conversely there is a celebration of the Gut. The "Gut" is a repository of dark and ancient fears. It knows what it knows because it knows how it feels. Intellect is pitted against feeling, on the ground that it is somehow inconsistant with warm emotion. It is pitted against character because it is widely believed that the intellect stands for cleverness, which transmutes easily into the sly or the diabolical. If something FEELS right, it must be treated with the same respect as something that actually IS right. If something is felt deeply, it must carry the same weight as something that is TRUE. If there are two sides to every argument - or more to the point, if there are people willing to take up two sides to every argument - they must both be right or, at least, equally valid. Dress it up and the Gut is "common sense" which rarely is common and even more rarely makes sense. It often comes down to assessing what Everybody Knows, even though Everybody might be false as the sun rising in the west to the truth of things.

In light of this, you claim "The truth can be pretty simple and can be delivered without footnotes." If there are two sides to each argument and both must be right, then truth is relative, and there is no truth. Do you think that truth is relative?? I don't. I think that truth is objective but I also think that it cannot be possessed. If truth is actually important to you, then don't you think that it's more important then holding onto an ideology that can't demonstrate itself as being true? Don't you think that finding truth is more important than clinging to an ideology? The best means I've found in locating truth is by eliminating those things that are false. What is left...is truth. You'll never find that if you think you already own it.


Josak profile image

Josak 4 years ago from variable

Yeah it has unfortunately become clear that not only does JSChams have no idea what he is talking about but he is also paranoid and delusional, Alinsky, Marx and the Democratic party all have nothing to with each other.


adagio4639 profile image

adagio4639 4 years ago from Brattleboro Vermont

"and the tactics Alinksy outlines in his book are used frequently.....even in places such as this."

Did you know Adam Brandon, a spokesman for the conservative non-profit organization FreedomWorks, which is one of several groups involved in organizing Tea Party protests, says the group gives Alinsky's Rules for Radicals to its top leadership members. A shortened guide called Rules for Patriots is distributed to its entire network. In a January 2012 story that appeared in The Wall Street Journal, citing the organization's tactic of sending activists to town-hall meetings, Brandon explained, "his tactics when it comes to grass-roots organizing are incredibly effective." Former Republican House Majority Leader Dick Armey also gives copies of Alinsky's book Rules for Radicals to Tea Party leaders.

How would you organize against such power figures that own the levers of government? How would you deal with policy makers that are funded by enormous money interests? I suppose you might just sit back and say, let them do what they want even if it grinds me into the dirt. Republicans don't like Obama and have always had issues with him as a "community organizer" and of course Alinsky was a great community organizer, so what becomes obvious is demogogue Alinsky as a community organizer as something "other" and foreign, and bad, and then point to Obama as linked to Alinsky and let people connect the dots that you put before them. Even if you or the Tea Party use the same tactics.

"Do you feel comfortable with your elected leaders praising a book that was dedicated to Satan? Whether you are Christian or not?"

I don't know of any of my elected leaders that are praising this book. But you seem to be referring to this;

Saul Alinsky's choice of epigraph in "Rules for Radicals":

"Where there are no men, be thou a man."

-- Rabbi Hillel

"Let them call me rebel and welcome, I feel no concern from it; but I should suffer the misery of devils, were I to make a whore of my soul..." -- Thomas Paine

Lest we forget at least an over-the-shoulder acknowledgment to the very first radical: from all our legends, mythology, and history (and who is to know where mythology leaves off and history begins -- or which is which), the first radical known to man who rebelled against the establishment and did it so effectively that he at least won his own kingdom -- Lucifer. -- Saul Alinsky

No. I don't have a problem with that. Since I don't believe in that stuff it's nothing but metaphore to me. Fighting the establishment has been going on since the beginning of time. As you can see, the suggestion that he "dedicated" his book to Satan is quite an exaggeration. One could just as easily say he dedicated it to Thomas Paine or Hillel.


phdast7 profile image

phdast7 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

ED- What an incredibly well-written and well-argued essay. I couldn't agree with you more and I too, find the celebration of ignorance and feeling in America both incomprehensible and disturbing. Thank you for the time and energy you invest is promoting rational thought and for doing it in such a civil manner. SHARING


Mr. Happy profile image

Mr. Happy 4 years ago from Toronto, Canada

Greetings Mr. JSCharms,

I think the writer's concerns with today's Conservative mindframe are fair and debatable. Statements such as:

"They are celebrated in part for not thinking, for refusing to analyze, for obeying their gut and for feeling the truth, not finding it."

Now, the attack here as I see it is for not being reasonable and for not making valid, factual arguments. The fact that Mr. Bush the Second often talked about following his gut feeling is a fact. That he is a Conservative is also a fact.

And in response, You say: "Liberal progressive poppycock and propaganda from beginning to end including the last three comments."

Well, You just proved the point that many Conservatives go for personal attacks not based on much. Empty insults ...

Moving on, You said that: "The truth can be pretty simple and can be delivered without footnotes."

I will strongly disagree and use a famous quote here: "The truth is rarely pure and never simple." - Oscar Wilde

I am not sure how narrow your horse-blinders/winkers are but taking them off might help in seeing a larger world than the one You perceive at the moment.

In all sincerity, I wish You all the best. May Wakan Tanka guide your path.


Mr. Happy profile image

Mr. Happy 4 years ago from Toronto, Canada

I enjoyed your article Mr. Michaels. Thank You for writing it - food for thought is always good.

And thank You to Mrs. Theresa (Phdast7) for letting me know about it.

All the best to everyone! : )


Wesley Meacham profile image

Wesley Meacham 4 years ago from Wuhan, China

I think that any person who identifies with a party and allows the doctrines of that party to shape his thinking to the exclusion of anything else especially independent thought; has effectively given up on the concepts of intelligence, or thinking.

At that point common sense is no longer the gut feeling that a person has, as you described it, but rather is the gut feeling that someone else told that person that they have had.

I was once a republican. I no longer am because I've always been an independent thinker and because I realized gradually that half of the republican platform is a set of ideas that are either the opposite of my own beliefs or simply things that I don't care about.

Though I am no longer a republican I can not join the democratic party because they have many of the same faults that I see in the republican part. I would be trading one set of ideas that I don't agree with for a different set of ideas that I don't agree with. It seems that to be a part of either group you must accept a bucket of ideas that the group believes in as a whole. You can't really pick and choose among those ideas. For me this is what hinders independent thought and produces mindless kool-aid drinking zombies on both sides of the aisle.


Ed Michaels profile image

Ed Michaels 4 years ago from Texas, USA Author

Wesley, I agree with you. I identify with more liberal ideas than conservative ones, but do not find that the current democratic party truly represents me or my beliefs, nor that it pursues what I believe is the good of the country, though they, like the republicans, are very good at pontificating and presenting sound-bytes to appeal to their constituencies. My parents are democrats, and they remain democrats, in part, because they are tied to the memory of the party that was, what it formerly stood for, and its former actions. I failed to identify with either party at any time, and am comfortable without those allegiances.

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