The wisdom of the masses: Why I worry about the fashion for distrusting politicians who are too intelligent

In my last post (an appropriately mournful connotation there) I quoted Ogden Nash.  It was a fragment I remembered from a book, old before I was born, which I read again and again as a child.

The search on-line for the correct wording – after all, it was years since I had read it –  led me to consider democracy and the often claimed “wisdom of the masses.” (That was the phrase in the 50s.  Now, by Google, “of the crowds.”)

I started with the quote I recalled, involving “fell or jumped … picket fence” and found only one  which had the poem, “Everybody tells me everything”: http://followingpulitzer.wordpress.com/tag/ogden-nash/

Wanting as always to double-check, I found many pages which responded to my search by the name of the poem, for example http://www.poemhunter.com , http://www.best-poems.net , and the first three pages full of blogs where people quote the poem – but only as a scrap.  Strangely, none of them use an ellipsis to indicate something comes within the scrap:

“I find it very difficult to enthuse
Over the current news.
Just when you think that at least the outlook is
so black that it can grow no blacker, it worsens.
And that is why I do not like the news,
because there has never been an era
when so many things were going so right
for so many of the wrong persons.”

Wondering whether followingpuliutzer and I come from some parallel universe, I went to check the historical source.  I found the book (my family are at the stage of having to part with a book if we want to keep a new one, but some things we will not cull):  the reference is “Everybody Tells Me Everything” by Ogden Nash in “The Face is Familiar” 1943, Australian Edition,  J.M.Dent and Sons, London, pp 16-17,

presented here copied as hyperlinked by the notably accurate followingpulitzer :

I find it very difficult to enthuse
Over the current news.
The daily paper is so harrowing that it is costly even at the modest price of two cents;
It lands on your doorstep with a thud and you can’t bear to look at it but neither can you forbear, because it lies there with all the gruesome fascination of something that fell or jumped from the thirtieth floor and lit on a picket fence.
And you think that perhaps a leisurely perusal of some unsensational literary magazine will ease the stress,
And there you find an article presenting a foolproof plan for the defense of some small nation which unfortunately happened to get swallowed up by a nation not so small just as the article presenting the foolproof plan for its defense slid off the press.
And you furtively eye your radio which crouches in the corner like a hyena ready to spring,
And you know that what you want is Baby Snooks or Dr. I.Q. and you know that what you will get is Elmer Davis or a European roundup or Raymond Gram Swing.
Wherever you turn, whatever escapist stratagem you use,
All you get is news,
And just when you think that at least the outlook is so black that it can grow no blacker, it worsens,
And that is why I do not like to get the news, because there has never been an era when so many things were going so right for so many of the wrong persons.

I can upload an image if you like.

A truth sometimes forgotten in talking about democracy: the majority having an opinion does not make it an accurate description of that-which-is.  That is why web-searchers must assess the reliability and expertise of their sources, and why the ideal of Democracy is to elect people whom we consider wiser than ourselves.

That is why I worry about the fashion for distrusting politicians who are too intelligent.

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2 Responses to “The wisdom of the masses: Why I worry about the fashion for distrusting politicians who are too intelligent”

  1. jwrosenzweig Says:

    Thanks for acknowledging my accuracy! 🙂 I will say that I was transcribing directly from a book published in the 1940s, which is apparently fortunate—I wonder if the abbreviated version is a later edit by Nash himself, or (more likely) the work of sloppy web folk. In any case, I’m glad you found the poem you were seeking. 🙂

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