Evergreen Wisdom from a Feathery Yogurt Head

"If two million people do a foolish thing, it is still a foolish thing."

Old friends Milo, Opus, and Portnoy from back in the day.

“If two million people do a foolish thing, it is still a foolish thing.”

I dived into all the old collections of Berke Breathed’s Bloom County comic strip as a teen. Some of its jokes have aged well. Some, not so much. Some political references would fly miles over my head uncaught. Not until decades later did I learn who Jeane Kirkpatrick was or what Bill the Cat might’ve seen in her.

30+ years later, I’ve never forgotten that simple quote from P. Opus, the world’s largest-nosed penguin. Even before 2020, I thought about it a lot. The voices in my head have found no reason to retire it yet.


"Bloom County" Sunday strip, 5/5/1985.

The full strip, now 35 years old. Click to enlarge and peruse.

The quote pops to the front of my brain whenever I encounter something that reeks of easy conformism, unsettling groupthink, or reflex tribalism.

Sometimes there are valid reasons why billions of humans lean a particular way in unison. Often there are invalid reasons why millions of humans stray from the paths of the righteous or the realms of the sensible.

Sometimes they arrive at the same conclusions through a rational process. Sometimes they just copy/paste loud directives into their own heads with no intervening personal analysis.

Sometimes they think alike and it’s perfect harmony. Sometimes they play along because they’re desperate to be part of something bigger than themselves, even if it’s worse than themselves.

At various stages in my life I’ve applied it to explain situations ranging from the benign to the malignant and at every gray stopover in between.

Judging why fans flock to musicians I don’t get.

Shaking my head whenever another reality show wins the Nielsens.

Furrowing my brow at the seemingly universal desirability of the word “influencer” as a job title.

Grumbling whenever lexicographers decide a word means what it means and that it means the opposite of what it means.

Wincing when TV speakers end declarative non-question sentences with “right?”

Grimacing at geeks who spell “Spider-Man” as one word without the hyphen and sometimes with a small ‘m’.

Hitting Mach 1 with my mouse wheel as I scroll past painfully lopsided Facebook debates.

Watching helplessly as loved ones worship the worst candidate.

Watching helplessly as loved ones idolize the second worst candidate.

Sighing with relief in a moment of “There but for the grace of God go I” when I watch the D and F students who never grew up into A or B adults derive their entire worldviews from unaccountable fringe cliques and unregulated websites whose “content” in a brighter timeline would be directly and eternally bottom-stacked under the justifiably unprinted detritus of newspaper crank files.

Lamenting those who cheat, steal, harm, or kill.

Or those who rationalize those sins within their own “team”. As if the only way through the gates of Heaven is an application whose sole question is “Do you have a team affiliation? (Y/N)” Like, it doesn’t matter what you’re a member of, as long as you’re a member of something. If you belonged to anything belongable ever, you won the game of life. Well done, my evil and faithless non-loner. Come enjoy the afterlife banquet as a reward for your outstanding achievements in the field of lockstep followship. Extra desserts if you defended any of the above offenses with “eye for an eye” like a ten-year-old or “They started it!” like a six-year-old.

“If two million people do a foolish thing, it is still a foolish thing.”

It’s not my favorite feeling. Sometimes it’s condescending. At other times, hypocritical.

But 2020 and 2021 won’t let that quote fade away. Some days it’s the only advice that reminds me when I’m outnumbered that I might not be crazy.

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