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

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!

1 Comment

  1. Heh, I know how you feel. This weekend one of my in-laws asked me if I wanted to borrow his copy of Bowling For Columbine. My husband later thanked me for not blowing my top and instead just politely (but tersely) saying, “No thanks, I’m not a Michael Moore fan.”

    Comment by Sarah — January 27, 2004 @ 8:49 am

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