Oct 052005
Authors: Jenna Lynn Ellis

This quote was on the back of my Starbucks coffee cup:

"Everywhere, unthinking mobs of 'independent thinkers' wield tired cliches like cudgels, pummeling those who dare question 'enlightened' dogma. If 'violence never solved anything,' cops wouldn't have guns and slaves may never have been freed. If it's better that ten guilty men go free to spare one innocent, why not free 100 or 1,000,000? Cliches begin arguments, they don't settle them.

— Jonah Goldberg

Editor-at-large of National Review Online.

I found this quote interesting because it is a classic example of taking a truth and spinning it to the wrong (however wise-sounding) conclusions.

The first part of the quote is true.

It's true that it is the nature of man to become lost in the mob, even when that mob is supposedly preaching "independence." We see this so often in our postmodern culture that worships self and idolizes independence and individuality. Isn't it the worst kind of contradiction to sell packaged individuality?

These so-called "independent thinkers" then, are really a mass following of the one or two spearhead independents (if that). There are more followers than true leaders in the world, and now we've come full-circle from being followers to being followers in the facade of leaders. Leadership is a buzzword dropped arbitrarily along the guidelines of the one or two "leaders" who write books on leadership roles (which should probably be titled, "How To Wear a Mask of Leadership, But Really Relax as a Follower").

Goldberg's label of "unthinking 'independent thinkers'" is quite descriptive of the current model in our society that uses the cliches of past mob groups to promote their indistinctive packaged individuality…quite sad, actually.

Yet the second part is a false conclusion.

To say the voice of a well-worn nugget of wisdom has been reduced (in most cases unfortunately so) to a cliche was birthed from a mob of followers, is to say there is no absolute truth that does span the whole "mob" of humanity.

If everyone were truly an independent thinker in the way Goldberg suggests, we would all be relativists. And this is exactly the conclusion our culture is suggesting. Along with packaged individuality comes the "gift with purchase" — the idea that our particular mass-produced individuality is our own. That notion is totally false.

While cliches may be the poorest example of solid truths (rather, they are usually tidbits of wisdom), the fact still remains that they are around and are cliches because there is absolute truth. Fundamentals. Culture-spanning principles, abstracts and concretes.

So while Mr. Goldberg's realization of superficial individualism may be a very good insight, he succumbs to his own criticism of the culture by partaking in the precise universal relativistic "unthinking independent thinking" he so protests.

Who knew one could get a whole cultural worldview so neatly printed on the back of a Starbucks coffee cup?

Jenna Ellis is a junior technical journalism major.

 Posted by at 5:00 pm

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