Bunker Mulligan "Let us endeavor so to live that when we come to die even the undertaker will be sorry." ~Mark Twain

October 11, 2004

Who we are

Filed under: Mark Twain — Bunker @ 7:17 pm

In 1897, Sam Clemens wrote about a Frenchman who had come to America to write a book about Americans–What Paul Bourget Thinks of Us. Clemens was not impressed.

To return to that first question. M. Bourget, as teacher, would simply be France teaching America. It seemed to me that the outlook was dark — almost Egyptian, in fact. What would the new teacher, representing France, teach us? Railroading? No. France knows nothing valuable about railroading. Steamshipping? No. France has no superiorities over us in that matter. Steamboating? No. French steamboating is still of Fulton’s date — 1809. Postal service? No. France is a back number there. Telegraphy? No, we taught her that ourselves. Journalism? No. Magazining? No, that is our own specialty. Government? No; Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, Nobility, Democracy, Adultery — the system is too variegated for our climate. Religion? No, not variegated enough for our climate. Morals? No, we cannot rob the poor to enrich ourselves. Novel-writing? No. M. Bourget and the others know only one plan, and when that is expurgated there is nothing left of the book.

For those who look to Europe for our salvation, I think it is a moral imperative to read Mark Twain. When Europeans, or others around the world, look at us, they don’t see the soul. Twain was never quite sure there was any such thing as a soul, but he had insight.

The Observer of Peoples has to be a Classifier, a Grouper, a Deducer, a Generalizer, a Psychologizer; and, first and last, a Thinker. He has to be all these, and when he is at home, observing his own folk, he is often able to prove competency. But history has shown that when he is abroad observing unfamiliar peoples the chances are heavily against him. He is then a naturalist observing a bug, with no more than a naturalist’s chance of being able to tell the bug anything new about itself, and no more than a naturalist’s chance of being able to teach it any new ways which it will prefer to its own.

What can a European tell an American about being an American?

April 23, 2004

A Rival Magician

Filed under: Bunker's Favorites,Mark Twain,Politics — Bunker @ 6:38 pm

Mark Twain wrote about this Presidential election in 1889.

Sir Boss has just performed a miracle (using his practical scientific skills), yet the very next day everyone shuns him in favor of a “great new magician.” Sir Boss trips up the impostor with several simple tests, yet the fraud continues to hold his audience.

How quick some are to abandon what we know for what we hope, in spite of overwhelming evidence contrary to that hope.

Bush is Sir Boss. Kerry plies many incantations to no real effect, yet people still follow.

The extended entry link below contains Twain’s text.

February 22, 2004

A Pen Warmed Up in Hell

Filed under: Mark Twain — Bunker @ 11:40 am

Mark Twain is remembered most for his wit. But what he wrote was generally allegorical even in its simple humor.

Many of his more critical writings are contained in a small volume with this name. I’ve also found an interesting Twain site maintained by Jim Zwick. There is a great deal on Twain regarding his views opposing imperialism. At the time, the US was on an imperialist quest, especially in regards to Spanish possessions around the world.

After being accused of being a traitor by Dr. Van Fleet prior to a speech, Twain replied he had been “criticized by better men before Dr. Van Fleet was born.”

The site has much to recommend it. Including Sam’s entry into this year’s Presidential race as a third party candidate.

January 26, 2004

Corn-Pone Opinions

Filed under: Mark Twain,Politics,Society-Culture — Bunker @ 7:12 pm

Mark Twain’s Corn-Pone Opinions: “Its name is Public Opinion. It is held in reverence. It settles everything. Some think it the Voice of God.”

I was surfing a bit last night and migrated to some Mark Twain sites. As I did so, his Cone-Pone Opinions piece caught my eye. I’ve read virtually everything published by Sam Clemens, from A Pen Warmed Up in Hell to Huckleberry Finn, although there are probably still many things I’ve missed. This one takes the winding route to a conclusion through down-home stories.

Of course, his wry humor has always been an attraction, but his insight is what always fascinated me most. He was the greatest observer of human nature ever. Ever. He had the ability to cut through the haze of perception with common-sensical logic, and could explain circumstances and human success/failure with either homespun anecdotes or high-minded rhetoric. And he always chose the more appropriate tone.

In this essay, Twain judges that people hold opinions based on the group they belong to. It would be unwise to do otherwise, culturally and financially. It addresses a subject I feel strongly about, and one Dave Barry talks about in one of my earlier posts: Group-think.

I don’t like groups. I belong to as few as possible, and am involved as little as need be. I don’t identify myself by any of these associations. Identification with a group requires subordination of one’s ideals which are not a part of that group’s reason for being. For example, Zell Miller is a Democrat. He has always been a Democrat. But he disagrees with some of the views of the Democratic Party. The DNC has concluded he shouldn’t be part of that organization. Even though he shares opinions on some 80-90% of the DNC platform, he is an outcast–you must support 100%. Diversity is for other people.

The same can be said for the Right-to-Life movement. You can agree with them that abortion is wrong, but you had better believe a woman has no right to terminate a pregnancy for any reason. Otherwise, you are an outcast and your opinions mean nothing. The Women’s Rights groups are polar opposite–abortion is okay regardless of circumstance.

I cannot think of a single group where this isn’t the case. Sure, many folks will proclaim a willingness to accept differing opinions. Eventually, though, someone who regularly disagrees, even if only on a single point, will be ostracized either de facto or de jure.

Opinion polls are the current rage. News shows devote a lot of time to various polls, and not simply the ones tracking the primaries. They have on-air polls for everything. Many web sites do the same. The psychology of people contributing responses must range from solid believers to folks simply adding their input to see what the results are. I have to wonder, though, how many folks engage in this activity to get a sense of what they should believe.

(Twain explored this a bit in his essay. And searching for more info on this work I ran across this other, very interesting site. This is a collection of essays written and posted by a group, and I intend to “join” this one by reading some more of their work tonight. They have an essay of their own posted regarding this psychology and Twain’s treatment, but I will let you read it for yourself. )

I believe Twain was correct. We all care about how people view us, to lesser or greater extent, and any personal feelings we have may be overcome without our even realizing it. The best we can hope to do is understand this, and try to keep our feet solidly on the ground.

Corn-pone opinions run rampant during political campaigns, and this election is far too important to allow ourselves to be swayed one way or the other by the desire to be part of a group. Personally, I do not trust any of the Democratic candidates other than Lieberman to continue doing what it takes to maintain our sovereignty. That is MY opinion. This weekend, I’ll have to defend it strongly against my in-laws!

January 19, 2004

Mark Twain

Filed under: Mark Twain — Bunker @ 8:17 am

Mark Twain quotations is a web site I want to peruse more closely (I must go play golf, first!).

I just discovered an interesting capability of Trackback. It allows establishment of a category which can check the web regularly for posts on that category. As a devotee of Mr. Sam Clemens, I thought it would be interesting to see where the links take us. Thus, the heading “Mark Twain” in the right column. Anything which shows up there (up to the ten most recent) is a link to something which may be of interest to Twain fans.

Who knows if I understand this correctly. I guess we’ll see!

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