by Barry Edelson
Become a Patron


Incoherence: A Guide

The bizarre, unlikely trajectory of this election year has left many ordinary citizens bewildered, dispirited and even frightened by the potential outcome. Beyond the members of the punditocracy, who befoul the daily waters of human discourse with their utterings and mutterings, and the zealots of right and left, who are so bespattered by rhetorical muck that they no longer notice the stench, the general public, such as it is, has been stunned into a weary silence.

There is much that one could say about the political tide, but, as always, our forebears have already said it better than we could ever hope to do. The following brief collection of wisdom spanning the ages may shed a bit of light on the current insanity, for the benefit of the respectable masses watching at home. Taking these well-established precepts to heart may help to soften the blow of even greater villainies to come, and hopefully transform ingrained habits of abstract thinking into seeds of (suddenly much-needed) moral courage.

They may also offer a shred of reassurance that, even were things in the country to go very, very badly, it will hardly be the first time in history that enlightenment has taken a back seat to barbarism; but also that the end of civilized public discourse and the end of civilization are not one and the same catastrophe.

"Republics decline into democracies and democracies degenerate into despotisms."

"The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis."

James Madison:
"The means of defence against foreign danger, have been always the instruments of tyranny at home."
[Constitutional Convention, 1787]

"Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities."

Edmund Burke:
"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."

John Adams:
"A mob is no less a mob because they are with you."

Mark Twain:
"Hain't we got all the fools in town on our side? And ain't that a big enough majority in any town?"
[Huckleberry Finn]

Abraham Lincoln:
"America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves."

The New York Times:
"When and if fascism comes to America it will not be labeled 'made in Germany'; it will not be marked with a swastika; it will not even be called fascism; it will be called, of course, 'Americanism'."
[an uncredited reporter, 1938]

Upton Sinclair:
"It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it."

Howard Zinn:
"We may, in the coming years, be in a race for the mobilization of middle-class discontent."
[A People's History of the United States]

Robertson Davies:
"The truly historical view … was not a tale of man's progress from barbarism or superstition to modern enlightenment, but a recognition that enlightenment has shown itself in the long story of man in a variety of guises, and that barbarism and superstition were undying elements in the human story."

Tom Stoppard:
"If enough things that are untrue are said about you, no one will know what really is true."

Frank Rich:
"The politics of resentment are impervious to facts."
['None So Blind', July 11, 2009, about Sarah Palin]

Christopher Hitchens:
"What can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence."

Oscar Wilde:
"By giving us the opinions of the uneducated, journalism keeps us in touch with the ignorance of the community."

H.L. Mencken:
"For every complex problem there is a simple solution, and it's wrong."


June 5, 2016


Become a Patron

Go to top of page

Return to home pageSend an e-mail

All writings on this site are copyrighted by Barry Edelson. Reprinting by permission only.