In 1998, the Economist ran an article about how kids are shitty little cretins who should be exterminated. No, that’s not true, but they did say, somewhat jokingly, that there should be “child-free zones” in restaurants, planes, etc. This letter, which I stole from Letters of Note, was the best reply they got.
For any doubting Thomases out there (not you, Tom), let it be known that, last Friday, the delightfully serendipitous Letters of Note coincidentally published its own copy/transcript of a memo from H.L. Mencken — though, admittedly, a much longer one than the sort you’re used to reading here every week. While this particular exchange took place more than 10 years before our own Dent Smith began his extended conversation with the legendary satirist, the scan below should attest to the fact that — barring some sort of Internet-wide epistolary conspiracy — our letters have, indeed, been authentic.
A few of the choicer excerpts from LoN’s find:
Mencken on vocabulary:
6. Of my inventions I am vainest of Bible Belt, booboisie, smuthound and Boobus americanus.
Mencken on marriage:
10. I believe in marriage, and have whooped it up for years. It is the best solution, not only of the sex question, but also of the living question. I mean for the normal man. My own life has been too irregular for it: I have been to much engrossed in other things. But any plausible gal who really made up her mind to it could probably fetch me, even today. If I ever marry, it will be on a sudden impulse, as a man shoots himself. I’ll regret it bitterly for about a month, and then settle down contentedly.
Mencken on religion:
14. I am completely devoid of religious feeling. All religions seem ridiculous to me, and in bad taste. I do not believe in the immortality of the soul, nor in the soul. Ecclesiastics seem to me to be simply men who get their livings by false pretenses. Like all rogues, they are occasionally very amusing.
Mencken on The Future:
19. I have little belief in human progress. The human race is incurably idiotic. It will never be happy.
20. I believe the United States will blow up within a century.
Mencken on writing:
22. I hope to write at least one good book before I die. Those that I have done are all transient and trivial: they will be forgotten in 25 years. I have ideas for five good books, but shall be content if I manage to write one.
Mencken on public speaking
26. I never lecture, not because I am a bad speaker, but simply because I detest the sort of people who go to lectures, and don’t want to meet them. So with the fools who go to public dinners.
First, let it be known that despite the fact that the Google Search Stops Here (“We’re Number 1!!! We’re Number 1!!!”), we did not coin the phrase, “Our Galtian Overlords” — no, that was either Atrios or John Cole. So, with that disclaimer and without further ado, here is an inquiry we received this morning, and our reply to it.
Help — what does “Galtian Overlords” mean? I mean, I get who you’re talking about, but what is the reference to?
Our response (before we’d had any coffee, mind you):
In the children’s novel, Atlas Shrugged, there is a running refrain among the characters that goes like this:
“Who is John Galt?”
John Galt is, it goes without saying, a superhuman business genius extraordinaire. He also lacks any sense of civic duty, being a man-child narcissist of the first order (Here I should probably disclose that I have not, in fact, read Ms. Rand’s masterpiece, and that all of this is based on hearsay and slander). Anyway, long story short, ever since Barack Obama was elected president, there have been empty threats from various right-wingers and libertarians — people who think rather too highly of themselves — about “Going Galt.” To wit, dropping out of society and keeping the spoils of their hard-earned labor all to themselves. Many of these people don’t seem to realize that the rest of the country doesn’t give a fuck about their empty threats, and yet the threats have continued. “I’m going Galt, and I’m taking away my productivity, and let’s see if society can survive without me, harrumph!” To which America replies with a shrug. “Go ahead,” says America, “see if I give a flying fuck about you selfish assholes.”
So that takes care of the “Galtian” part. “Overlords” are overlords. “Our Galtian overlords” is, then, something of a joke. We make fun of selfish rich people with visions of grandeur, because we know full well that Ayn Rand and her characters are mostly idolized by disaffected high school students, not anybody who matters (because, you know, most people grow up, their acne clears, and they free themselves from their solipsistic bubbles). That said, there are indeed rich man-children who consider Rand to be a good writer and a deep thinker. Some of them have gotten press attention. Last summer, in the wake of the passage of Obamacare and at the height of the silliness, many outraged fellow citizens were warning that they might “Go Galt,” and that America would be doomed were they to do so. (These people did not, apparently, realize that with an unemployment rate of 10%, there would be plenty of qualified candidates to fill their positions once they’d left — again, the trouble with narcissism.)
“Our Gatian overlords,” then, are the acolytes of Ayn Rand, whose lack of self-awareness and inflated sense of self-importance (thinking that if they alone don’t pay taxes, America is screwed, e.g.) are symptoms of a larger cultural decay and a shirking of civic responsibility. They are the kids on the playground who always hogged the kickball — and moreover they are the kids who went running to the teacher if somebody else deigned to hog it, for even just a moment, because “THAT’S NOT FAIR, I’M BETTER THAN YOU!!!”
They are a scourge. They must be defeated.
All the best,
Tom O’Hare, editor