Fear of Thinking


Men fear thought as they fear nothing else on earth, more than ruin, more even than death…Thought is subversive and revolutionary, destructive and terrible, thought is merciless to privilege, established institutions, and comfortable habit. Thought looks into the pit of hell and is not afraid. Thought is great and swift and free, the light of the world, and the chief glory of man.

Bertrand Russell
Principles of Social Reconstruction (1916)

Why We Fund Education

Michele Bachmann visits a meat locker, Des Moines, Iowa, 20 September 2011

That which the fascists hate, above all else, is intelligence.

Miguel de Unamuno

Photo: Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann visits a meat locker, Des Moines, Iowa, 20 September 2011

Related: Michele Bachmann Suggests Eliminating Department of Education

On Schools and Jails

High-security prison at Be'er Sheva, Israel, 1971

Every time you stop a school, you will have to build a jail. What you gain at one end you lose at the other. It’s like feeding a dog on his own tail. It won’t fatten the dog.

Mark Twain

Photo by Micha Bar Am: High-security prison at Be’er Sheva, Israel, 1971

Related: Stories of alienation emerge from UK riots

One Way to Make a Revolutionary

On the Shortage of Adult Minds

The Young Cicero

Not to know what happened before was born is always to be a child.


Telling observations of the human condition don’t become obsolete. Cicero in the first century B.C. forges the strength of Roman history into a weapon with which to defend the Republic against Sulla’s rage, Pompey’s vanity, Antony’s lust, and Caesar’s legions. “Life is not merely a matter of breathing,” said the great orator in one of his last philippics against tyranny. “The slave has no true life. All other nations are capable of enduring servitude – but our city is not.” Cicero’s eloquence failed in its assaults on the enemies of what was left of the Roman constitution – his severed head displayed in the Forum, his right hand nailed to the Speaker’s Platform, his tongue torn out and pierced with hairpins – but in the essays and speeches that compose his doomed enterprise, he formulates a prose style bequeathed to Montaigne and Edward Gibbon, gives voice to the ideals that nearly two thousand years later breathed life into the American Declaration of Independence.

For Cicero as for Arthur Schlesinger, history was not a nursery rhyme. Actions have consequences, one thing leads to the next, and sooner or later somebody’s head shows up on a scaffold or a coin. Children don’t see why they should be bothered to work out either the logic or the mechanics of the problem. Why take the trouble to remember what happened yesterday on channels 5 through 9 when tomorrow is available on channels 12 through 24? The national shortage of adult minds suits the purposes of a government that defines its task as a form of child-rearing and guarantees the profits of the consumer markets selling promises of instant relief from the pain of thought, loneliness, doubt, experience, envy, and old age. A country so favored by fortune is one in which no childhood gets left behind. A self-regarding electorate asks of its rulers what the rich ask of their servants: “Comfort us.” “Tell us what to do.” The wish to be cared for replaces the will to act, and in the event of bankruptcy or rain, travelers stranded on the roads from here to there can send an owl with a message to Harry Potter.

Lewis Lapham
Time Travel
Harper’s Magazine
, May 2007

Painting by Vincenzo FoppaThe Young Cicero Reading (c. 1464)



“As you grow older in your observation of the peoples of this Earth world, it becomes more noticeable that stupidity is the reigning virtue. The masses are always willing that somebody take the responsibility of caring for them.”

Paul Twitchell, The Far Country

Some scientists claim that hydrogen, because it is so plentiful, is the basic building block of the universe. I dispute that. I say there is more stupidity than hydrogen, and that is the basic building block of the universe.

This is not a matter of ‘pessimism’ vs. ‘optimism’ – it’s a matter of accurate assessment.

Not only is there more stupidity than anything else in terms of universal quantity, but there is a wonderful quality to this stupidity. It is so intensely perfect that it completely overwhelms whatever it is that nature has piled up on the other pan of the scale.

Stupidity is replicating itself at an astonishing rate. It breeds easily and is self-financing.

The person who stands up and says, “This is stupid,” either is asked to ‘behave’ or, worse, is greeted with a cheerful “Yes, we know! Isn’t it terrific!”

When Hitler was doing his shit, a whole bunch of people thought he was terrific, too. How could they be wrong? There were so many of them; they thought they looked good together – their arms all went up at the same time.

It seems to me that Americans in the eighties exhibit a remarkable willingness to embrace Fascism, especially when it is presented to them on a TV tray with balloons and bunting all over it.

It would be easier to pay off the national debt overnight than to neutralize the long-range effects of OUR NATIONAL STUPIDITY.

Forget about Iranian stupidity, or Chinese, or Russian, or South American, or Canadian stupidity – our very own homemade incompetence gets The Grand Prize.

We’re not talking light-hearted foolishness here – when we go for stupid we go for BIG STUPID – like people who shoot at you on the freeway, or the Rambos and Ramboettes who blow people away in shopping malls and fast-food restaurants with automatic weapons.

Here it comes, folks! Watch it grow! One day, the BIG STUPID goes to a PTA meeting, winds through the PTL Club, wends its way to the White House, spreads out from the Oval Office like a cow flop into the judiciary system, dribbles over onto the desks of BIG BUSINESS, and the next thing you know we’ve got THE VERY BIG STUPID.

THE VERY BIG STUPID is a thing which breeds by eating The Future. Have you seen it? It sometimes disguises itself as a good-looking quarterly bottom line, derived by closing the R&D Department.

I can’t think of any developing nation with a genuine ‘fondness’ for America. People in these countries see America as a threat to their national security; they see US as an ‘Evil Empire.’ Everything Reagan said in the early days about Russia is easily descriptive of our country, viewed by a developing nation.

Because we possess THE VERY BIG STUPID, they know there is always the possibility that we might use it on them – accidentally.

Folks, over the years we have developed a first-strike capability with this hideous weapon, and have already deployed it several times, disguised as Reagan Administration ‘foreign policy.’

Some people in the Imaginary Heartland of America might say, “Who gives a shit? They ain’t going to get us. They ain’t coming over here. Why, some of em don’t even have air-o-planes.”

That kind of guy has bought stock in the THE VERY BIG STUPID, and has reaped a philosophical dividend which states on its face that, as a Special Christian Nation, we have the right to stomp all over the other guys (Manifest Destiny). God is on Our Side, and we’re supposed to do this, because we’re the only creatures sophisticated enough to bring peace and sanity to the rest of the world. Pheeeeeeeeuuuuuuuuwwwwwwwww.


The Exaltation of Ignorance

Stupidity has a certain charm – ignorance does not.

It has been said that ignorance is bliss – I’m not so sure. Perhaps I have been deprived in this regard but, never having been truly ignorant, I find it difficult to speak with any authority on the topic of such a ‘blissful state.’

I have, however, observed a lot of other people who were certifiably ignorant, and I wouldn’t say they were in a state of ‘bliss.’ They were having a good time, but I wouldn’t call it ‘bliss.’

When we celebrate Ignorance, and make that the National Standard of Excellence, we embarrass ourselves.

We celebrate it in hit records, TV sitcoms, most films, most commercials and, to a great extent, in our schools.

Our school systems train kids to be ignorant, with style – functional ignoramuses. They do not equip students to deal with things like logic; they don’t give them the criteria by which to judge between good and bad in any product or situation. They are groomed and launched to function as mindless buying machines for the products and concepts of a multinational military-industrial complex that needs a World of Dumbbells to survive.

As long as you’re just smart enough to do some kind of job, and just dumb enough to swallow the bunting, you’re going to be ‘all right’ – but, if you venture beyond that, you run the risk of mysterious stomach problems and migraine headaches.

I believe that U.S. schools have a Search and Destroy program, aimed at any hint of creative thinking exhibited by students. Somebody plans this curriculum. Somebody writes those textbooks. Somebody sets those standards. Somebody watches to make sure it all goes well. Somebody pays big bucks for this shit.

 Frank Zappa
The Real Frank Zappa Book (1989)