A direct-mail appeal for funds to fight the large corporations reminded me of how attitudes enter into public policy.
José Ortega y Gasset diagnosed one destructive attitude in his “The Revolt of the Masses” (widely available in English, and available online in the original Spanish at http://biblio- tecaliberal.tripod.com/labiblioteca/). Ortega’s concept of the “mass-man” is not intended as a sneer at poor and ill-educated people: the mass-man is found in all social classes. One type, the “learned ignoramus,” is inclined to think that his specialization and accomplishments in some narrow field entitle him to speak with special authority even on matters far outside that field.
The mass-man, wherever found, takes the marvels of modern civilization for granted. Ortega, writing in 1930, used automobiles and aspirin as his favorite examples. For the mass-man, these and other necessities and comforts of life just exist, like facts of nature, like sunlight and air. The mass-man scarcely thinks of the hard work, creativity, saving, risk-bearing, and failures as well as successes that were and are necessary to supply these marvels. He feels entitled to complain about just how they are produced or allocated. He expects the government to rectify whatever he complains about.
The fundraising letter that I mentioned makes much of BP’s oil spill, calling on the government to punish that corporation and others. I make no excuses for BP, but I do remember that it performs other functions beyond ruining the environment and destroying livelihoods — namely, pro- ducing oil. Other corporations, too, perform other than their destructive functions.
The corporation-bashers could hardly deny these other functions if reminded of them, but they otherwise just take them for granted. They note that if I and others should care to support an “ambitious, hard-hitting agenda” for “challeng[ing] corporate power,” we can send money to Public Citizen, Washington, DC. I did not take up the invitation.