I love memes and quotes.
I especially love memes and quotes that are a DuckDuckGo search away (I seldom use Google) from being debunked, deconstructed, or discredited when they are disingenuously presented as fact-based.
The quote above is ostensibly attributed to Thomas Jefferson (he who is our third president). Given the context of his writings, it is plausible that he wrote it. However, nowhere amongst his writings has any variation of the above quote been found.
In fact, according to Jefferson’s official presidential archive site, the earliest known appearance of this quote in print media is in 1953. The first time the quote is attributed to Jefferson is in 2005, a full 179 years after Jefferson’s passing.
Of course, the fact that Republican politicians as well as conservatives and libertarians often recite some variation of this quote to rail against “big government” (and Jefferson warned against government growing too powerful), no one ever questions the veracity of the attribution.
And therein lies the problem…
This is just one example of how our lack of critical thinking and education as a society has created fertile ground upon which half-truths, misinformation, and even outright lies can be taken for truth simply because of lazily misplaced trust in the media and ideological loyalty to parties, politicians, and political pundits.
If history taught us anything, it taught us that it is far easier to control a population through miseducation and manipulation than through brute force.
This sort of manipulation worked just as well in Ancient Rome as it did in Nazi Germany. On many levels, it still works in our modern society.
Fear, sensationalism, and identity politics are always on tap on every news source in this country. Present situation not withstanding, can anybody honestly say that they don’t walk away from a news broadcast or an online article feeling “some kind of way” and not usually in a good way?
It’s very easy to extrapolate needless fear out of actual and factual information and events where caution and concern would better serve us.
This isn’t to say that our media and our political elites are part of some vast conspiracy or unholy covenant to manipulate people. No, the problem is far simpler than that.
Fear and sensationalism sells and politicians are consummate opportunists.
People often forget that our media outlets are businesses and politicians want to gain and maintain their livelihoods and their power. Occam’s Razor dictates that things are just that simple.
The reality is that we only have ourselves to blame for the way our politicians and our media operate. Our opinions and intellectual curiosity as a society are usually not any deeper than the first page of the search engine results.
Most people can’t tell you the last book they read, much less who their congressman is (by the way, I’m reading Pale Blue Dot, by Carl Sagan), which means they aren’t likely to engage in critical thinking very often.
All of the above said, the size of government isn’t so much the problem as people’s lack of understanding about how their government works and the collective lack of participation in the same.
Government is a reflection of the people who participate in it. Additionally, media is best consumed with a “third eye” and a “third ear”. Those are metaphors for critical thinking, by the way…
-The Rational Ram