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January 24, 2008

Larrys, Moes, And Curlys

Rick Perlstein-heads will definitely want to check out a profile of him in the Chicago Reader, discussing ideas in his books Before the Storm and the soon-to-be published Nixonland:

Conservatism isn’t just a temporary delusion or a wacky distraction. In Perlstein’s view, it’s a deep-seated expression of human nature. He recalls the Gilbert and Sullivan song from Iolanthe about two kinds of babies: “I often think it’s comical / How nature always does contrive / That every boy and every gal / That’s born into the world alive / Is either a little Liberal / Or else a little Conservative.” His point: “We’re not going to eliminate them. The best we can do is to win our 51 percent. What’s fascinating is that we share this country together.”

I agree, mostly. People don't really have political ideologies. Instead, they have one of a small number of different psychologies, which manifest themselves in ideologies but actually have nothing to do with ideology. People who are fervent "conservatives" in the U.S. would have been fervent "communists" in the Soviet Union. Fervent Israeli "Likudniks" would, if born Palestinian in Gaza, have been fervent "Islamicists." And so on, across the planet.

Here's how Thomas Jefferson put it:

Men by their constitutions are naturally divided into two parties: 1. Those who fear and distrust the people, and wish to draw all powers from them into the hands of the higher classes. 2. Those who identify themselves with the people, have confidence in them, cherish and consider them as the most honest and safe, although not the most wise depository of the public interests. In every country these two parties exist, and in every one where they are free to think, speak, and write, they will declare themselves. Call them, therefore, Liberals and Serviles, Jacobins and Ultras, Whigs and Tories, Republicans and Federalists, Aristocrats and Democrats, or by whatever name you please, they are the same parties still, and pursue the same object. The last appellation of Aristocrats and Democrats is the true one expressing the essence of all.

Less optimistically, there's the view of the Church of the SubGenius:

There are three kinds of people -- I call them Larrys, Curlys, and Moes. The Larrys don't even know that there are three types; if they're told, it's an abstraction, because they cannot imagine anything beyond Larry-ness. The Curlys know about it, and recognize the pecking order, but find ways of living with it cheerfully...for they are the imaginative, creative ones. The Moes not only know about it, but exploit and perpetuate it.

The naive, pleasant believers of all kinds are Larrys -- ineffectual, well-meaning do-gooders destined always to be victims, often without once guessing their status. Like sheep, they don't want to hear the unpleasant legends about "the slaughterhouse"; they trust the strange two-legged beings who feed them. The artists, unsung scientific geniuses, political writers, and earnest disciples of the stranger cults are Curlys -- engaging, original, accident-prone but full of life, intuitively aware of the Moe forces plotting against them and trying to fight back. They can never defeat the Moes, however, without BECOMING Moes, which is impossible for a true Curly.

The Moes, then, are the fanatics, the ranters, the cult gurus, the Uri Gellers AND the Debunkers; they are the Resistance Leaders and the Ruling Class Bankers. They hate each other, but only because they want to control ALL the Larrys and Curlys themselves....Larrys and Curlys die in wars started by rival Moes -- the Larrys willingly, the Curlys with great regret.

I think this is closer to reality than Jefferson's view, but I also hold out hope the Larrys are merely sleeping Curlys, and can be awakened.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at January 24, 2008 02:38 PM

Generalizations are fraught with problems however there is some truth to them. What you really seem to be saying is that there are manipulators and the manipulated and that some are more aware of being manipulated than others.

I do wish people did not describe other people as sheep or sheeple. It is a worn out device used by conservatives and liberals alike to describe anyone who does not agree with their views as if their view had some special value that others do not.

On the other hand, being the consummate hypocrite that I am, I do tend to agree with most things you say Jonathan. For instance I think it would be nice if we stopped killing each other and it would also be nice if we did not have a monetary system which creates the different classes that causes us to kill each other more than we would otherwise.

Posted by: at January 24, 2008 04:04 PM

There are only two kinds of people: those who believe there are only two kinds of people, and those who don't.

Posted by: John Caruso at January 24, 2008 04:17 PM

And what do you recommend for the Iggys? I can't decide between awakening or sedating. They've got a lot of energy but it sure can be destructive.

Posted by: klatydob at January 24, 2008 04:44 PM

Wow! Sure, per the first comment, generalizations have their limitations, but I find these useful. Thanks.

Posted by: Batocchio at January 24, 2008 04:57 PM

Springsteenians believe: "A poor man wants to be rich, a rich man wants to be king, and a king wants it all".

Posted by: JW at January 24, 2008 05:21 PM

and for John Caruso, here's a joke my daughter happened to tell me this morning:
There are three kinds of people in the world -- those who can count, and those who can't.
(whoop whoop whoop)

Posted by: Whistler Blue at January 24, 2008 05:26 PM

I'll sign on to John Caruso's statement. Dichotomies are dumb. Especially dichotomies into "liberal" and "conservative", both of which are such incredibly ill-defined quantities, despite being tossed around with abandon, that they're nearly devoid of meaning. Which one of Jefferson's categories best describes "liberals"? Which best describes "conservatives"? I would bet that both self-identifying liberals and conservatives would state that their party is that which "trusts the people".

Posted by: saurabh at January 24, 2008 05:35 PM
Which one of Jefferson's categories best describes "liberals"? Which best describes "conservatives"? I would bet that both self-identifying liberals and conservatives would state that their party is that which "trusts the people".

Sure, of course they'd say that. But for the most part, in America both conservatives and liberals count as aristocrats. That's why there's really not that much difference between them. The real difference is between conservatives/liberals (aristocrats) and radicals of various types (democrats).

Posted by: Jonathan Schwarz at January 24, 2008 05:50 PM

Everybody wants to rule the world-nuk nuk nuk nuk

Posted by: Mike Meyer at January 24, 2008 06:44 PM

there are 10 kinds of people in the world, those who understand binary notation and those who do not.

Posted by: stupid baby at January 24, 2008 07:01 PM

What about the "Shemps"?
Outsized, awkward, good-natured, always the outsider, an inadvertent immanent critique...

Posted by: konopelli/wgg at January 24, 2008 07:04 PM

What about the "Shemps"?
Outsized, awkward, good-natured, always the outsider, an inadvertent immanent critique...

Posted by: konopelli/wgg at January 24, 2008 07:06 PM

Although it violates the premise (Larry's don't know about the types) I think what's missing here is the Larrys who believe they are Moes or aspire to Moe-ness. They are neither pleasant or naive but they don't wield any real Moe power. A neo-Moe if you will.

I don't know enough about the Stooge pantheon to say whether these are Shemps or not.

Posted by: JH at January 24, 2008 09:58 PM

“The modern conservative is engaged in one of man’s oldest exercises in moral philosophy: that is the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.”

-- John Kenneth Galbraith

Liberal and conservative have had their meanings beaten out of them. At most basic, they don't say much. Liberal: believing that, at bottom and utterly, the state exists for the sake of its people and as such -- a really important and as such -- must be a responsive tool of said people. Conservative is even more beaten up. Its strict, methodological definition merely supposes that any change in government should have benefits that clearly outweigh losses; e.g., it rates uncertainty as a great danger. But we all know that conservatism in practice has nothing to do with that.

The best way to describe political leanings is by judging one's selfishness. You could dispense with labels then. If you're a complete prick then your politics probably help you on your way to being a complete prick.

And those who are oblivious to politics aren't merely oblivious because they are stupid: like the vast majority of humans in our history, they may rightfully recognize that there isn't much they can do about politics without the trust and efforts of their peers, and, frankly, we just don't trust each other that much. You're not a sheep if you recognize that you're powerless. You're doomed. Best not to dwell on it.

Posted by: No One of Consequence at January 24, 2008 10:43 PM

[Moes] are the Resistance Leaders and the Ruling Class Bankers.

Any worldview that can't distinguish between Cesar Chavez and Robert Rubin isn't worth thinking about.

Posted by: SteveB at January 24, 2008 10:46 PM
You're not a sheep if you recognize that you're powerless. You're doomed.

Ain't we all doomed?

Words are power, so there's that detour to immortality.

Posted by: Ted at January 25, 2008 12:07 AM

Arise, Larrys-- you have nothing to lose but your Moes!

Posted by: Jonathan I say: "No mo'!" Versen at January 25, 2008 12:08 AM

The Three Stooges are bumbling slapstick schemers, what better way to describe the human social condition. Wonder where Harpo fits into the mix?

Why, he's a Marxist, natch.

Posted by: sglover at January 25, 2008 12:51 AM

Nah. It's true that US "conservatives" would've been "communists" in the Soviet Union, but not because of any "different psychologies", just simple old-fashioned indoctrination.

Posted by: abb1 at January 25, 2008 08:14 AM

And what Jefferson appears to be talking about is two different styles in politics: elitism and populism. OK, sure, but it has very little to do with the regular folks.

Posted by: abb1 at January 25, 2008 08:20 AM

It's true that US "conservatives" would've been "communists" in the Soviet Union, but not because of any "different psychologies", just simple old-fashioned indoctrination.

Everyone is indoctrinated, but not everyone becomes a fervent conservative, communist, etc. How well you resist indoctrination has to do with your psychology.

Posted by: Jonathan Schwarz at January 25, 2008 08:49 AM

i've seen this described as "temperament" and maybe that gives more room to maneuver than "psychology"

Posted by: hapa at January 25, 2008 09:16 AM

I suppose how you can resist indoctrination has something to do with your psychology, but mostly, I think, with your experiences. If I lock you up in the basement when you're 5 years old and keep you there for 20 years, you'll come out believing the most ridiculous things about the outside world whatever your psychology is.

Posted by: abb1 at January 25, 2008 10:45 AM

Jefferson exposes his own elitism in that quote. You can tell from the quote that even though he uses the word "Men" he's talking specifically about the division between the "Moes". There are elites who believe in the will of the people and there are elites who fear the people - he's not speaking about "the people" themselves. It's right there - the group he lauds as "Democrats" in group 2 "identify with the people" but do not think of them as "the most wise depository of the public interests".

Jefferson is one of my favorite of the "Founders" - both in philosophy and in biography - but the man did have his own set of blinders.

Posted by: NonyNony at January 25, 2008 11:21 AM

At the beginning of this comment thread, the poster who cannot be named objected to using the term "sheeple".

All regular readers of this comments section are aware of the recently developed acronym for the ruling classes, which builds on Eisenhower's Farewell Address of 1961, a prescient warning to the American people soon to receive the respect it deserves in an alternate history near you. The term

M ilitary
I ndustrial
C ongressional
Fi nancial
C orporate Media Complex

can be used without reference to the "elevator speech" about it:

A conspiracy to use, abuse, and confuse the people - to "milk, shear, and slaughter the sheeple", figuratively speaking - except the slaughter is literal.

Nevertheless, the implication of false consciousness, of not just ignorance but manipulatively induced delusion, which the term "sheeple" connotes, is in fact central to the idea which the term MICFiC is intended to convey.

Posted by: mistah 'MICFiC' charley, ph.d. at January 25, 2008 01:10 PM

There's a story about an Irishman who was shipwrecked in the South Pacific. After drifting with the waves and currents for days, he finally washed ashore at a remote island. He waded up out of the surf yelling, "Who's the government here? I'm against 'em!"

Posted by: Hogan at January 25, 2008 01:19 PM

He who can be named,
No one, or at least not me, is arguing that people are not misled. Obviously people are misled all the time not only by others but by themselves. The point I was trying to make is that once you start calling people names like sheeple it does two things. First it suggests that the name caller is somehow superior to the people they are calling names. Second once you go down that road it makes it easier to do all kinds of horrid things to the people that you have just dehumanized by calling them a derogatory name. In the Vietnam War Americans called the Vietnamese slope-heads which made it easier to kill them since they were now not quite human. Americans have come up with all sorts of names for the people of the Middle East such as rag-head, towel-head, sand-niggers etc. When the Nazis herded six million Jewish people to the gas chambers I am quite sure they thought of them like cattle and no doubt had derogatory names for them which made it easier to slaughter them. Consider this, the people that you refer to as sheeple are not your enemy, your enemies are in the White House and Congress.

Posted by: at January 25, 2008 08:59 PM