An old tale with many variations, here is my own.
Once upon a time, there was a young boy who had the responsibility of watching the village sheep. Though he was thought well of, he was easily bored and more than a little attention seeking. So while sitting by the fence, absently poking an ant hill with a stick in desperate boredom, he came up with a clever plan. Climbing the fence, he bellowed at the top of his lungs, “Wolf! Wolf! A wolf is gobblin’ the sheep!“
The men of the village heard the boy’s cries and came running with their tools, but there was, of course, no wolf to be seen anywhere. As the men began to search the pasture, the young boy jumped out from behind a rock and yelled, “I fooled you! There was no wolf!” The men rebuked him, saying, “You shouldn’t cry wolf, when there is no wolf!“, but the boy only laughed harder, so they threw up their hands and went back to work in the fields.
The next day brought rain and cold, and the young boy found himself poking the very same ant hill, but there were no ants to be seen in the muddy mound, no matter how hard he tried to provoke them. He was cold, wet, hungry, and, above all, bored, so he again climbed the fence facing the village and yelled, “Wolf! Wolf! A wolf is gobblin’ the sheep!“
Again, the men of the village working in the cold and wet came running with their tools. Again there was no wolf to be found. The boy jumped out from behind a rock and laughed, “I fooled you again! There was no wolf!” The men again rebuked him, saying, “You shouldn’t cry wolf, when there is no wolf!“, but the boy only laughed harder, so they again threw up their hands and went back to work in the fields.
The next day, dreary and overcast, the young boy found himself again, poking the ant hill with his stick and thinking about how hungry he was. Then he heard the anxious bleating of the sheep, as they huddled together. He looked around quickly and spotted a huge black wolf prowling the low stone fence. In terror, he climbed the fence and again yelled for his life, “Wolf! Wolf! A wolf is gobblin’ the sheep!“
This time, the men had decided to teach the boy a lesson and didn’t leave the fields. Only when the foolish young boy didn’t come to have lunch did the men of the village go check on him. They found that a wolf had indeed been among the sheep, but they never found the boy, only his stick lying by the ant hill.
Bashir: “But the point is, if you lie all the time, nobody’s
going to believe you, even when you’re telling the truth.”
Garak: “Are you sure that’s the point, doctor?”
Bashir: “Of course, what else could it be?”
Garak: “That you should never tell the same lie twice.”
-Star Trek: Deep Space Nine-
Turn on the television or radio today, and you will find that there is no shortage of individuals crying wolf about one thing or other. This is true no matter which side of the political aisle you are on, as the list of people who have made their fortunes by shrieking about the other party’s wolves grows every year. What’s really troubling, however, is the sheer number of people that are not only willing to believe these cries of wolf, but to vote for it.
Once upon a time, ours was a nation whose leaders were individuals who pushed the boundaries of knowledge and understanding in multiple disciplines. The Founding Fathers themselves were true men of the Enlightenment, with keen interests in the practical and social sciences. Many of the Founding Fathers, including Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, were inventors as well as politicians, holding numerous patents.
So important were these disciplines to the Founders that the power to invest in both science and arts (Article I, Section 8, Clause 8) appears in the Constitution before paying for the Army (Clause 12) or the Navy (Clause 13). They understood the American Revolution would never have occurred if not for the scientific and philosophical advances of the 17th and 18th Centuries. This is why they held deep reverence for the political, scientific, and social thinkers upon whose shoulders they stood.
What would these great minds think of America today? A nation of ill-tempered sheep, tended by heckling demagogues, whose only notable qualifications are being able to convincingly parrot party propaganda. With every passing generation, what constitutes “knowledge” and who is considered “knowledgeable” has become increasingly incoherent, and our once open forums have become cloistered echo chambers, increasingly given to bouts of hysteria.
How has it come to this?
“There’s a sucker born every minute.”
-Attributed to P. T. Barnum-
Gone are the days when true “Renaissance Men” were elevated to high office because they were to “an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications” for the job. Now there is serious doubt that such eminently qualified men and women could even win an election in a country filled with people that prickle at the least provocation. In a nation founded by daring to question centuries old political and cultural assumptions at the heart of society, how have we become a nation so ready to cry wolf at the barest scent of nonconformity?
Question the veracity of global temperature data that have only been consistently measured for the last fifty years or so, and you’ll be labeled a fascist, heartless science denier (even while citing scientific data). Point out that every large city in the United States run by Leftist administrations for the last 50 years have deteriorated economically, and you’ll be labeled a fascist, greedy science denier (even while citing economic data). Acknowledge significant differences between male and female cognitive functions and their resulting economic choices, and you’ll be labeled a fascist, sexist science denier (even while citing psychological data).
This kneejerk outrage culture that we find ourselves living in exposes the erosion among the political class of the kind of scientific skepticism that informed the Founding Fathers. Looking back through history, there seems to be a strong correlation between this ever lowering bar among our politicians and the progressive democratization of our political system. As more and more people have been allowed to vote, the more “every man” the political class has become.
While there are indeed wolves among the sheep, it’s time we realized that more than a few of those wolves are of our own creation. Before we can do anything about the wolves, we must first ask some very difficult and certainly unpleasant questions about ourselves.
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