The Moron Manual

Chapter 7

Think for a moment about the concept of "margin," or "leading edge." Some people are eager to be there—on the margin, on the leading edge. They want to be first. Others want to stay in the mainstream and avoid the "lunatic fringe." Some want to be "state of the art," on the leading edge or the margin. Others prefer "proven technology," and "known values."

All of these terms imply movement. The margin is never still, but moves constantly. Those on the fringe are vividly aware of this, but those in the mainstream—or consensus—may not be. What follows from this is an interesting possibility. It can happen that the middle-of-the-roader, trying to avoid "extremism," discovers that the margin has moved right under him. He is suddenly on the lunatic fringe.

What happens normally, however, is that the mainstream notices a slight movement of the margin, and adjusts automatically to stay in the middle. The consensus moves with the margin. The margin is a lever. It can be moved by a few, but is capable of moving the many.

It was once quite unthinkable that a rich and prosperous country would give away its wealth to smaller and poorer countries. It is now quite unthinkable that it would not. Have the facts and perceptions changed? Not at all: the margin has moved. What was once espoused by the fringe is in the mainstream, and vice-versa. A strategy was employed, and a new ideal took over.

MORON STRATEGY: Moving the Margin.

It is true, in theory, that the margin can be moved by movement of the mainstream, as by a change in mainstream philosophy. But this does not interest morons, as we would simply learn to live under a new philosophy, and then try moving the margin our way. What interests us is the non-philosophical method of moving the margin.

MORON TACTICS: Gaining Concessions.

We move the margin by asking for and receiving the easiest possible concessions, one after another. One asks for a concession. If refused, one asks for a smaller concession—until one finds the concession that is small enough to be granted. It does not matter in the slightest how minuscule this concession might be; the next one will be just slightly bigger. In time, all will be conceded.

To express it another way: one makes a demand. If refused, one makes a smaller demand—until the demand is small enough to be met. One is then automatically justified in making a further demand. In time, all demands will be met.

Let us allow ourselves a somewhat scandalous example, to dramatize the effectiveness of this tactic. We own a roadhouse, and we want our waitresses to be topless—but the local Sheriff refuses to permit it. We could hire lawyers and invoke the Constitution, or we could move the margin.

We begin by asking the Sheriff where the margin is—how low the neckline can plunge, in this case. We abide by his decision, for a reasonable time. Then we try something a little more revealing, and see if he objects. We make sure he has an opportunity to object. We want him to object. If he does not object, we show more skin until he does object. Then we demand a slight concession, so that we can assure our customers that we tried. How can he object to a mere extra inch of cleavage? Well, then, a half inch? A half inch with a tassel? Whatever we must settle for is quite enough. The margin is in motion. Given enough time, our waitresses will be down to pasties. Then our discussions with the Sheriff will be about see-through pasties.

Is our example unacceptably sexist? Exactly: that is the real example. The margin has been moved.

The margin strategy could, admittedly, be defeated by intransigence. That is why it needs the aid of morality. It could even be turned back upon us. That is why we need superior patience. In practice, only time itself is the enemy of this strategy. Our take-over of the educational system began nearly a century ago, and has been complete for hardly forty years. The first major concession was obtained after the First World War, when a Commission decided that education should be for the "common man" rather than for an "intellectual elite." On a scale of intelligence, first to be excluded was the imbecile. Next to be excluded was the genius.

Every one of the magnificent welfare schemes that enable morons to lead a nobler existence began as a small concession to altruistic sensibility. The margin was set in motion. Many a politician has since discovered that opposing "entitlements" puts him, to his surprise, on the lunatic fringe.

Since progress in moving the margin can be slow, it is good to remind ourselves that it can be steady—the margin can be moved any distance at all, eventually. Contrast these two quotations:

Thomas Jefferson, letter to Roger C. Weightman, June 24, 1826:

" compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors, is sinful and tyrannical."

TV Guide, March 2, 1991:


"A new law has put bite into broadcasters' promises to beef up educational fare for kids. Under the measure, it's no longer enough just to entertain children: TV stations also must meet their informational needs. Otherwise, they can lose their licenses."

Do not think that the margin always takes centuries to move, however. The Environmental Movement has progressed in one generation from bird-watching to political control. We are learning how to move the margin faster. We have achieved a magnificent increase in power by managing to move the margin within morality itself. Let us turn to a closer examination of this gold mine for morons.

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