Mark Twain’s “Corn-pone opinions.”

Back in 1901, Mark Twain wrote an essay titled, “Corn-pone opinions.” In this essay he said that people often vote like their friends do. I think that’s still true in 2020 as much as it was in 1901.

He said that politics for Americans is much like fashion. You look around to see what others are doing or saying and you try to do it or say it too. If your friend does something or believes something you feel in accord with them. As we face a media that sows discord among us, this Twain essay comes to mind.

Here’s a few quotes from Twain’s essay that seem as perfect to describe our politics today in 2020 as they were in 1901.

“A political emergency brings out the corn-pone opinion in fine force in its two cheif varieties–the pocketbook variety, which has its origin in self-interest, and the bigger variety, the sentimental variety–the one which can’t bear to be outside the pale; can’t bear to be in disfavor; can’t endure the averted face and the cold shoulder; wants to stand well with his friends, wants to be smiled upon, wants to be welcome, wants to hear the precious words, “He’s on the right track!” Uttered, perhaps by an ass, but still an ass of high degree, an ass whose approval is gold and diamonds to a smaller ass, and confers glory and honor and happiness, and membership in the herd.”

“Men think they think upon great political questions, and they do; but they think with their party, not independently; they read its literature, but not that of the other side; they arrive at convictions, but they are drawn from a partial view of the matter in hand and are of no particular value. They swarm with their party, they feel with their party, they are happy in their party’s approval; and where the party leads they will follow, whether for right and honor, or through blood and dirt and a mush of mutilated morals.”

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This Twain essay also reminds me of some summer reading I did.

One of my summer books was Blueprint: The Evolutionary Origins of A Good Society, by Nicholas A. Christakis. In this book there’s a discussion of a study involving people of various ages but especially children that showed that people all seem to have a propensity to grab onto a group affinity. They will self-sort based on a characteristic as simple as t-shirt color. If someone hands out four colors of t-shirts, the people wearing each color will group together. And they seem to want special things just for their group to mark it as a special group to belong to. They don’t just want to out-compete others in a contest but they also want perks that no other group gets. It is a human characteristic to bear in mind as we face political turmoil today.

A few days ago, I was thinking about the negative views that are being expressed all across society today. Some groups are described as bad and others are good. And as we hear these sentiments expressed as hatefully as possible, I hope that you will think of Christakis’s book’s study and of Twain’s essay. Keep in mind that you may be suceptible to believing negative viewpoints that are fashionable among some today but that hold little real merit or truthfulness.

I heard a Special Forces General speak on the radio a few days ago and he said that he sees psy-ops tricks being played against Americans in our press and in our public today. I looked up psy-ops operations against America on-line and I found a long list of examples that seem familiar in the everyday news. You could do well to look-up that topic of psy-ops on-line too.

When you consider these three sources of information, I hope they will influence you to set aside your strongest feelings and beliefs as you watch political strife in earnest trying and sometimes succeeding to tear us Americans apart.

Take time away from on-line social media or main stream media. Focus on another philosophy in Western culture, the “do unto others as you would like them to do unto you” belief set. Make space in your heart if you can for tolerance. Tolerance and the idea of avoiding doing harm to another person is an idea that is separate from Twain, Christakis and Special Operations Generals. It’s an old technology of humankind’s past that can help people to look out and prevent doing harm to others today and everyday.

Sources: Joyce Carol Oates, Robert Atwan eds, The Best American Essays of the Century, Mark Twain, “Corn-pone opinions,” copyright 2000, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, New York.

Nicholas A. Christakis, Blueprint: The Evolutionary Origins of A Good Society, copyright 2019, Little, Brown Spark, New York, Boston, London.

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