By Our Mark Shall Ye Know Us!

By Our Mark Ye Shall Know Us
by Terry Southern
published in In These Times, Oct 13th, 1993


The persons most responsible for the deterioration of the quality of life in this country are not, as is generally assumed, the drug lords or the crazed addicts looking for their next fix. No, it is a group of citizens less conspicuous than they; it is a loose coalition of rabid xenophobes whose minds perceive government as an abstraction, which is either "intrusive," "incompetent," or simple "too big."

Their regard for government suggests nothing so much as the reaction of Pleistocene Man when confronted with that first stonescoop of fire: scuttling crabwise away from it, grimacing crazily, eyes agog, arms akimbo, fending it off in grotesque squeals and grunts of animal panic.

It is vividly analogous to the behavior of the Sam Nunns, the Bob Doles, the Phil Grahams and the New Gingriches when regarding such simple notions as "group planning" and "group endeavor." They have managed to poison and corrupt these ideas and to cloak them in bugaboo superstitions of "bureaucratic socialism" so that we are deprived of much of what other civilized nations take for granted, especially in the realm of the nation's health. Apparently they have never grasped the principles upon which our society was founded: Whatever body of laws might govern it, those laws would be of, and by the people--an extension of our society, not something distinct from it.

Compared to the more common and perhaps more "natural" follow-the-leader (and devil-take-the-hindmost) forms of social structure, ours is fairly complex, relying less on instinct, cunning and strength than in resorting to such acquired notions as planning and cooperation. It is understandable how the "Leader and Pack" types might not be comfortable in a society pledged to utilize its resources for the benefit of all its members, weak and strong. Indeed, it can be argued that the Doles, the Nunns, the Gingriches, the Grahams--those people whose behavior flagrantly defies the most basic principles of our social contract--have no morally justifiable place in our culture. It is outrageous when they express, as they frequently do, a concern for "law and order," since their own conduct frequently resembles that of "anarchists."

But even anarchists need organization, and an organization of sorts has evolved, an organization whose principal founders are Sens. Strom Thurmond and Jesse Helms. This group, first calling itself the PPNs (the Proud as Punch Nitwits), was born following the appearance of a spunky article by New York Times columnist Anthony Lewis wherein he described the two senators as a "pair of nitwits." To this, Helms testily responded: "Nitwits and proud of it!" while Big Stom added, with characteristic bravura: "Yes, as proud as Punch, you little Commie wop!"

Both men are know to be avid history buffs and to have expressed great admiration for the old Know Nothing movement of the 1850s. It is understandable why they welcomed the Proud-as-Punch Nitwit sobriquet with hearty fervor. Their :PPN" designation, used with great frequency by the media, soon became shortened to the "PPs" and then was vulgarized by the tabloids and the general public into "Pee-Pees."

It is an indication if the temper of Helms and Thurmond, and of their followers, that they did not shy away from this new moniker. To the contrary, the embraced it with defiant relish and almost immediately adopted the gesture of public urination as part of their collective persona. "By our mark shall ye know us!" they proclaimed at a press conference on the lawn of the U.S. Senate and promptly demonstrated their meaning to the gaggle of gawking reporters. These are the persons, bear in mind, whose public paranoia regarding "socialism" or anything that might somehow remind them or it, has denied us not merely the commonsense single-payer solution to healthcare but also the very keystone of industrial/economic infrastructure of every other non-Third World country on the planet: a nationalized or subsidized high-speed rail transportation system.

In keeping with their typical ("Give 'em Hell, Jesse!") exuberance, the group's device of public urinations eventually spilled over into the smart salons of their fund-raising patrons (usually against velour drapes), a practice which remains a matter of sharp controversy among even their most devoted followers.

Be on the alert, then, Mr. and Mrs. Joe Six-Pack, for the following known and dedicated members of the PPN:

Lloyd Bentsen, David Boren, Orrin G. Hatch, Arlen Specter, Bob Packwood, Alan Simpson, Alfonse D'Amato, Bob Dole, Robern Dornan, Newt Gingrich, [over 300 members on Congress listed in increasingly -diminishing font-size ] etc. (ad Naseum).

(c) The Terry Southern Estate; all rights reserved.

Return to Home of Terry Southern