How often do we keep hearing that folks who don't know their history are comdemned to repeat it? I'd like to offer some observations by the satirist and curmudgeon Ambrose Bierce. This runaway from a way too large family from Meigs County Ohio is one of only three veterans of the Civil War to see intense action and come out as a classic American writer. (The other two are Robert Ingersoll and Ulysses Grant.)
He lived during those halycon times of the "rugged individual" days of the First Gilded Age when there were no regulations, no labor laws, no environmental protections to anything, and property equirements for white men to vote. At the end of the 1890's he gathered much of his observations into a compact compendium called "The Devil's Dictionary", which was his biggest seller.
I would like to offer a few of those definitions with the idea that perhaps they have meaning even more now than they did 120 years ago. I hope that he and I can prevent an even more disastrous history from repeating itself.
Abasement,n. A decent and customary mental attitude in the prescence of wealth or power. Peculiarly appropriate in an employee when addressing an employer.
Aborigines,n. Persons of little wortyh found cumbering the soil of a newly discovered country. They soon cease to cumber; they fertilize.
Absentee, n. A person with an income who has had the foresight to remove himself from the sphere of exaction.
Amnesty, n. The state's magnanimity to those offenders whom it would be too expensive to punish.
Bigot, n. One who is obstinately and zealously attached to an opinion that you do not entertain.
Conservative, n. A statesman who is enamored of existing evils, as distinguished from the Liberal, who wishes to replace them with others.
Corporation, n. An ingenious device for obtaining individual profit without individual responsibility.
Debt, n.An ingenious substitute for the chain and whip of the slave driver.
Distance, n. The only thing that the rich will let the poor have plenty of and keep.
Duty,n. That which sternly impels us in the direction of profit, along the line of desire.
Faith, n. Belief without evidence in what is told by one who speaks without knowledge, of things without parallel.
Immigrant,n. An unenlightened person who thinks one country better than another.
Influence,n. In politica, a visionary Quo given in exchange for a substantial Quid.
Labor,n. One of the processes by which A acquires property for B.
Laziness, n. Unwarranted repose of manner in a person of low degree.
Liberty,n. One of Imagination's most precious possessions.
Patriot, n. One to whom the interests of a part seem superior to those of the whole. The dupe of statesmen and the tool of conquerors.
Politics,n. A strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles. The conduct of public affairs for private advantage.
Riot,n. A popular entertainment given to the military by innocent bystanders.
Zeal,n. A certain nervous disorder afflicting the young and inexperienced. A passion that goeth before a sprawl.