Quote of the Day

From a letter by H.L. Mencken to a fellow journalist who inquired whether he would be covering the 1945 meeting to establish the United Nations:

I’ll be unable to join you at the San Francisco orgies, greatly to my regret. I only hope that the assembled wizards perfect a scheme to save humanity. The one now in progress seems to me to have considerable defects. I hope you are well and full of energy. As for me, I decay steadily but beautifully.

Author: Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is a Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University. His research, teaching and writing have focused on addictive disorders, self-help organizations (e.g., breast cancer support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous), evaluation research methods, and public policy related to health care, mental illness, veterans and drugs. He is the author or co-author of numerous books and scholarly articles, and has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, The Guardian (UK), the San Francisco Chronicle and other media outlets. When he is not in the San Francisco Bay Area, he is usually in London, where he is an ad hoc policy adviser to the national and city government, an honorary professor of psychiatry at Kings College, a senior editorial adviser to the journal Addiction, and a member of The Athenaeum. When he is not in the San Francisco Bay Area or London, he is usually in Washington D.C., where he serves as a frequent science and policy advisor to federal agencies, and where he has served previously as an appointee to a White House commission and several Secretarial task forces. From July 2009-2010, he served as Senior Policy Advisor at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. When he is not in the San Francisco Bay Area or London or Washington D.C., he is usually in the Middle East, where since 2004 he has volunteered in the international humanitarian effort to rebuild Iraq’s mental health care system. This work has taken him to Turkey, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon to teach and consult with Iraqi health professionals and policy makers.

11 thoughts on “Quote of the Day”

  1. Yes, a sad fact of life, we more fondly remember the well intentioned mistakes, than the people who correctly pointed out they were mistakes, though the latter are providing an important service, and doing much less damage. You get lots of points for “trying”, even if you leave wreckage in your wake.

    1. As a generalization, Brett, your epithet may be correct, but in the current instance, I doubt it.

      I suspect HL Mencken is, and always will be, well remembered and well loved by every new generation, while Mrs. Roosevelt is remembered less and less with each passing year, and never so universally admired as Mr. Mencken.
      ———
      And to disagree with your underlying sentiment, I’d have to agree with James. There’s a good reason one gets remembered for “trying.” If we lacked the folks with energy and vision who were willing to try, we’d be bogged down in mediocrity forever. Great things are only accomplished by people who are willing to undertake them, knowing full well that they may fail.

      1. Perhaps less well-loved by those who know that he was a ferocious racist, anti-Semite, and Social Darwinist, who believed that “inferiors” (including African-Americans and poor Southern and Appalachian whites) should be “exterminated,” denied that Einstein had accomplished anything of scientific importance, and supported the German cause in both World Wars. Mencken was a fine satirist with a dazzling turn of phrase, but he hated schemes of human improvement because he despised most human beings and thought that they weren’t worth improving.

        1. I just finished “Them: Adventures with Extremists” by Jon Ronson. I’m left with the dark irony that those most worried about secretive plots for world domination – black helicopters, blue helmets, one world government, Bilderbergs, Bohemian Groves, international financiers, etc. – are also those most likely to be ferocious hate-mongerers.

      2. The greatest service Eleanor Roosevelt performed was to open Franklin’s eyes to the plight of those who did not belong to the 1%. She did other important work, but would probably not have had the opportunity had she not married her cousin and developed his social conscience.

        H.L. Mencken, by contrast, was a curmudgeon. The type is amusing (c.f., Rooney, Andrew as well), but not helpful when it comes to getting things done.

        Mencken will be remembered because he was a gifted writer — much more than Eleanor Roosevelt.

  2. To be fair to the UN, I think the world has benefited from an arena where all the nations of the world (except Taiwan) can publicly speak with one another at a high level. It also helps to have a “neutral party clearing house” to serve as the host for relief and aid efforts.

    1. If all the founders of the UN aimed at was a talking-shop, they succeeded. But their ambition was much higher: an effective collective guarantor of world peace and security. On that test, the UN is a two-thirds failure, one-third success. Consider one of its spinoffs, the IPCC. This has succeeded in working out a scientific consensus on climate change and consensus policy advice based on it. But it has not been able to get this carried out, and few place much hope now in the endless diplomatic “processes” following Kyoto.

      1. The UN suffered the same problem the US did at it’s birth, only on a more extreme level: While successfully creating the federation required essentially every state to join, some of the states were committed to, not to mince words, evil. For the US, slavery. For the UN, totalitarian and authoritarian states. The necessary compromises built toxic weakness and contradiction into the very foundations of the institution.

        And so the worst human rights offenders end up on the UN human rights commission, and the institution is more concerned with the stability of dictators’ rule than the lives of actual people.

    2. The UN does good useful work to this day in matters like standardization, harmonization of laws (notably in commercial law), and the like, where the national politics are less toxic. Housekeeping is seldom glamorous but the house gets pretty non-functional without it – whatever the relations are among the residents.

      1. Perhaps, but did we need a proto-world government to accomplish that ‘house-keeping’? I have my doubts.

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