Popular delusions: shades of past follies

"In short, it is the favourite slang phrase of the day a phrase that, while its brief season of popularity lasts, throws a dash of fun and frolicsomeness over the existence of squalid poverty and ill-requited labour, and gives them reason to laugh as well as their more fortunate fellow in a higher stage of society." —Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds

Many a progressive ought to understand the irony and ridiculousness of leftist fallacies.

Take, for instance, the latest leftist cause célèbre: that "anti-racism" and "transgenderism" are of supreme importance and hyperbolic urgency.

To gain some perspective, I refer back to 1840s London and its "Popular Follies of Great Cities" as described by Charles Mackay in the book Extraordinary Popular Delusions and The Madness of Crowds (p. 619).

According to Mackay, witty terms would circulate among the public and spread virally, staying a while as popular memes.  "London is peculiarly fertile in this sort of phrases, which spring up suddenly, no one knows exactly in what spot, and pervade the whole population in a few hours, no one knows how" (p. 620).

"Quoz!" and "Does your mother know you're out?" are two fine examples.  "Who are you?" had a brief tenure on the streets, though Mackay notes how the phrase had a resurgence after a courtroom scene involving a judge and a gallery rogue (p. 626).

"Flare up!" and "What a shocking bad hat!" are among many other phrases that were lighthearted in comparison with those in fashion with the current leftist individual.  Early Victorian memes had been an underground phenomenon, whereas the memes of today are top-down dogma.

As we saw in 2020, ideas do have consequences.  And such memes do certainly agitate the progressive "protester" picketing crowd.  However, after-protest looting would often follow in due course, without adequate denunciation from leftist leadership.

In this vein, the reader may refer to the chapter just following Mackay's "Popular Follies" in Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds: "Popular Admiration of Great Thieves" (p. 632).

In "Great Thieves," Mackay notes that Robin Hood was a particular hero of the English mob.  Dick Turpin, who robbed "with an uncouth sort of courtesy," and Jack Sheppard, who "escaped from Newgate with fetters on his limbs," were widely praised as well.

Why Mackay placed these two chapters together, with the popular meme topic preceding the cool-criminal theme, may be unknown.  However, Jim Henson's The Dark Crystal film does consciously make this point, as it sets off the peaceable Mystics against the mean Skeksis.  Similarly, Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged novel features the anti-heroic Mystics of Mind and the coordinate Mystics of Muscle.

Perhaps today's progressive, who emphasizes justice over mercy, and denies personal redemption, currently pays no price for his mystical belief in leftist neologisms and the resulting righteous destruction of the mob.

Perhaps he will let go of his blind faith in the meme of the day and choose to wonder: "What if the fundamentalism that I find so abhorrent in conservatives is really truer of the progressives?"

Perhaps such a change of heart will begin to end this intellectual commieflu, to encourage this moronavirus fever to burn itself out.

Like the sign on the wall in the "Jailhouse Rock" scene of The Blues Brothers — "It's Never Too Late to Mend" — there will always be opportunities to reject each fallacy of socialism in turn, and to embrace the myriad virtues of capitalism, freedom, and independence.

Whether black or white, male or female, one may always choose to grant oneself permission to change one's mind.

Rather than worry about popular delusions, one may focus on what is good in life, including the defense of American free enterprise and individualism via lower taxes and less regulation.

Place economic freedom first, and the social freedoms will follow in their natural order.

Joseph Davis (librarian@heartland.org) is the head librarian at The Heartland Institute, a libertarian think-tank located in Arlington Heights, Illinois.

Image: Pieter Brueghel.

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