HL Mencken (1880-1956), often called the Sage of Baltimore, though Curmudgeon would have worked as well had he not been mostly right about the debased condition of his countryman as well those residing in the rest of the world. A century ago when he was in his prime there was no lack of deranged thinking to serve as source material for his barbed commentary on human behavior. Today, he would have to clone himself to keep up with the rampant lunacy loosed upon on much of the world.
“Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public,” is likely his pronouncement most often repeated and best known. Recognizing the current bebased state of intelligence is a good way to make a lot of money even if underestimating mental acuity is impossible. Just peruse the internet and social media and estimate the various ways that people are readily separated from their money with little return. If asked if there were intelligent life in the universe, Mencken would likely likely ask which universe you had in mind as you couldn’t be thinking of the one we are assigned.
Mencken was a true original — a journalist, scholar, an observer of his species who had remarkable perspicacity, and an aversion to cant that was uniformly applied. During the twenties he was the darling of progressives owing to his distaste for the conservative government that ran the country as well as his embrace of reason, some parts of science, and evolution. When he was equally dismissive of FDR and the New Deal in the thirties he was dismissed as an out of touch reactionary by the same crowd that had favored him a decade earlier. Of course, he sometimes went too far in his skepticism and embraced ideas that he would come to regret.
“I believe that all government is evil, and that trying to improve it is largely a waste of time,” was not constructed to win him the favor of even the most marginal member of a governing class, even if it were only the PTA. Nothing that’s happened over the ensuing decades has contradicted his negative view about governance. Indeed, the 21st century has suggested that he was too easy on our rulers. The consent of the the governed, the rule of law, individual rights all seem fiction from a rejected screenplay in today’s world of make believe.
Mencken invented Boobus Americanus to personify the lazy, gullible, poorly informed, and bigoted American whom he believed to be representative of much of the country. Today
Mencken did allow that at least a modicum of intelligence was occasionally to be found at infrequent intervals and at odd locations. His positions were always eccentric sometimes to the point where his basic sense of true decency was questionable. But on balance he functioned as a purgative to the body politic and the society from which it sprang.
Hemingway said one needed a bullshit detector to successfully navigate the travails of life. Mencken had a BS device which never went below hyperdrive. He’d doubtless be bemused by the failure of our educational system to do anything save clog the gears of reason. The author of The American Language would likely swallow his cigar if asked what pronouns he identified with and how many genders there were. He’d not be surprised that the democracies of the English speaking world had taken a hard turn towards authoritarianism. Modern monetary theory and its destructive debts would seem to him to be the laxative Boobus Americanus deserved.
He would remain afloat on the current sea of silliness to the amusement of many and the consternation of even more. A self educated master of literature and its techniques and quirks he would see the corrupt and dysfunctional western university as the inevitable consequence of wannabe bolsheviks, teachers unions, school boards, and lazy and ill informed parents who see a college education as purely a product to be funded by those who don’t get one. Of course, he’d be canceled or vilified in some typically putrid and uptodate fashion. I doubt that he’d care or concede any of his outre positions. America is probably to far into decay to produce someone of his unique view, so we’ll have to make due with the residue of his life and work.
Remember that anything that can end wll end. That should provide both comfort and dismay to everyone. Keep it in mind when your electric car goes dark along with the grid to which it’s putatively connected.