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Whiskey & Wry — reason

27. Monkeying around with H.L. Mencken

On February 3, 1931, the Arkansas legislature passed a motion to hold a group prayer to save the soul of the journalist H.L. Mencken. The proximate cause were three columns by Mencken in the Baltimore Evening Sun in January. Describing Arkansas as “perhaps the most shiftless and backward state in the whole galaxy,” he dubbed it “the apex of moronia.” Mencken shrugged off the prayer session, saying, “I didn’t make Arkansas the butt of ridicule. God did.”Mencken was especially harsh on the religious southeastern and south-central states, coining the phrase “Bible Belt” to describe them. There, aggressive evangelicals often used government to...

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22. Corn-Pone Opinions, Part II

In our last post, we visited Mark Twain's classic essay, Corn-Pone Opinions, and we asked why people tend to reflexively defend their existing beliefs when confronted by contrary views, rather than even-handedly weighing the merits of each position. For his part, Twain emphasized the human impulse for conformity.  The author of Huckleberry Finn and The War Prayer believed that the vast majority of people unthinkingly adopt the prevailing opinions in their social environment, and that their primary value is the approval of others. In short, many people are uncomfortable if their ideas stray too far from those of their fellows, and most crave social acceptance, so great energy...

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21. Corn-Pone Opinions

In Corn-Pone Opinions, a posthumously published, autobiographical essay, the great Mark Twain addressed the timeless question of how people come to form their beliefs. As a child, Twain served as an audience of one for the private performances of a young, neighboring slave whom Twain regarded, at the time, as "the greatest orator in the United States." One of the skilled rhetorician's comments had a profound and lasting impact on the "Father of American Literature"; to wit: "You tell me whar a man gits his corn pone, en I'll tell you what is 'pinions is." Here, Twain's wise idol hits...

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