John Doe, Average Man: The Herd-Minded Type

In a brilliant discussion of what they call “The Sea of Humanity,” the authors of What About Advertising, Kenneth M. Goode and Harford Powel, Jr., paint an admirable portrait of the average man—the herd-minded type which forms the overwhelming majority of mankind. I am taking the liberty of selecting a very few of the most illuminating items from their compendium of evidence upon this subject, adding some which they were probably constrained to omit out of respect to prevailing orthodoxies.

First, as to John Doe’s academic education. Taking the method of Dr. Brigham and following the schooling of one thousand typical American men, all of whom began their education in the first grade of our public school systems, Goode and Powel record that:

1,000 boys enter 1st grade
970 of them enter 2nd grade
940 of them enter 3rd grade
905 of them enter 4th grade
830 of them enter 5th grade
735 of them enter 6th grade
630 of them enter 7th grade
490 of them enter 8th grade

Of our original one thousand boys:

230 boys enter 1st year high school
170 of them finish 2nd year high school
120 of them finish 3rd year high school
95 of them graduate from high school.

Of our original one thousand boys:

50 boys enter lst year college
40 of them finish 2nd year college
20 of them finish 3rd year college
10 of them remain in college to be graduated.

The academic development of John Doe ends with his schooling. When he leaves school, he reads, writes, and has a smattering of arithmetic, history, and geography, and he considers himself educated. Thereafter his intellectual life is paralyzed by a regular reading of newspapers, popular magazines and church attendance.

What kind of mentality has this schooling produced? A few years ago 700,000 typical American young men and women who were members of the Epworth League, voted that the greatest men in history were as follows:

1. Thomas Edison
2. Theodore Roosevelt
3. William Shakespeare
4. Henry W. Longfellow
5. Alfred Tennyson
6. Herbert Hoover
7. Charles Dickens
8. General Pershing
9. Lloyd George
10. Andrew J. Volstead

This collective judgment was plainly a product of conventional education through the public schools, the churches, and the daily newspapers. The selection of Shakespeare, Longfellow, Tennyson, and Dickens, was influenced by the schooling of these 700,000 young Americans; the selection of Edison, Roosevelt, Hoover, Pershing, and Lloyd George, by their reading of the newspapers; and the selection of Volstead, the author of the Federal Prohibition Enforcement Law, by their church attendance.

John Doe goes to Sunday School. North America boasts of 195, 343 Sunday Schools with 2,459,799 officers and teachers and 17,510,830 pupils—a total membership of 19,970,629. The Bible, which is the foundation of the teaching in these schools, is a compilation of some of the sacred books of a barbaric Semitic people and the writings of the followers of a possibly mythical Jewish messiah. Yet its pronouncements upon the most difficult ethical, social, and political problems are accepted in all seriousness by John Doe and the millions of his fellows who make up the “sea of humanity.”

John Doe gets his philosophy of life from his church. His church-going makes him understand clearly, both by precept and example, that virtue demands credulity and conformity; that skepticism and nonconformity endanger his future felicity, and that departures from the herd judgment involve business, social, and political handicaps in his present life. His priest, minister, or rabbi iterates and reiterates the glories of conventionality to him fifty-two times per year. He is one of the 18,604,000 Roman Catholics, 4,516,806 Methodists, 4,087,000 Jews, 2,546,127 Lutherans, 3,061,576 regular Baptists, 2,450,574 Presbyterians, 1,173,679 Episcopalians, and the other 200 religions in the United States which are listed in the Census of Religious Bodies in 1926. Of course, a few of the sects, of which the Unitarian church is typical, (but which numbers only 60,152 members all told), are hardly more than masks which shield their members from some of the contumely which the average man and woman visits upon avowed rationalists and “free thinkers.” These liberal church goers, as is to be expected, represent only a very small part of the total church membership of 55,000,000. They shrink into even a smaller part of the total mass of conformers and are rendered doubly insignificant because most of the millions of John Doe’s non-church-going fellows accept the superstitions of the prevailing religions even though they do not actually belong to any church.

John Doe is not a book reader. The New York Daily News and the New York Evening Journal are the sort of newspapers which he likes to read. The Saturday Evening Post, and The American Magazine” are most popular with him in the field of magazine literature. In addition to this reading, he feeds his mind through frequent attendance at the movies, and many hours daily of “listening in” on the radio. Goode and Powel say that there are 6,000,000 radio sets in America in use from one to two hours every day in the year. They estimate the movie audience at an average of 10,000,000 people per day.

The popular literature, the movies, and the radio, in order to secure the volume and circulation which is essential to profitable mass production, are of course keyed by the astute publishers, movie magnates, and radio broadcasters, (who know their public), to appeal to an intelligence no higher than that of normal twelve to fourteen year old children. It is easy for John Doe to enjoy what they offer him.

As Goode and Powel summarize the situation:

The average American, broadly speaking, celebrates his twenty-fifth birthday by shutting shop mentally and refusing to accept any new ideas. He has then the literate capacity of a twelve- or fourteen-year old child.

Then, addressing themselves to the problem of manufacturers who have to write advertisements that will move these morons into action, they say:

Many an advertiser may be discouraged to realize that copy aimed anywhere above the comprehension of an eighth-grade schoolboy cuts his audience in half, while any argument over the head of a college freshman misses nine out of ten of his possible prospects. . . . Your average audiences—which means any American audience as soon as you reach into the hundred thousands—is like that: $8-, $10-, $12-a day workers; thirteen- or fourteen-year-old minds scarcely equal to second-year high school. Each gets a book every four months where public libraries reach them; four out of five haven’t even this service. And one out of three families have no books in their home. They like Tosti’s Good-ByeDavid CopperfieldThe Big ParadeAbie’s Irish Rose. They all go to the movies every other week; and about one in four listens to the radio perhaps an hour a day. They like dark blue as a color and lilac as a scent. Writing themselves, they use a vocabulary generally of fewer than a thousand words although each can understand, in reading, maybe six times that many. In their aggregate action the element of intellect is practically negligible.

This is the mind of the unthinking majority in America after more than a century of public school education, with compulsory attendance in most states, and after an expenditure of public funds for popular education that is not equalled in any other nation nor in any period of recorded history.

The predatory individual has a set of bigger though not necessarily better aspirations than John Doe. The values which he cherishes are often the values of John Doe, swollen to heroic proportions. Both want automobiles, but he wants really gorgeous ones. Both want homes, but he wants mansions. The predatory man sees himself an heroic individual. He takes what he can, and rationalizes his taking on the ground of “service” to the state, “service” to the church, or “service” to society. Partly because of this conventional justification of his conduct, and partly because John Doe can understand such aspirations, the leadership and dictation of the quantity-minded man are accepted by John Doe and the great masses of average men and women.

Because it is impossible to justify the tastes and interests and activities of the superior man by conventional standards, the average man and woman distrust and fear him. John Doe envies the millionaire, but he dislikes or hates the philosopher. The peculiar relish of the intellectual for new and apparently bizarre ideas; his preoccupation with ideas generally in preference to things; his tarte in music, in literature, in art, is incomprehensible to the generality of mankind. John Doe lacks the psychical equipment to perceive the values that motivate the cultured man and woman. Since he cannot recognize any superiority in their values, he denies their existence, and naturally hates the “high-brow” who he thinks is seeking to impress him with a mythical superiority.

It is possible to say that the great masses of Americans, like the great masses of peoples everywhere and at all times, are herd minded like John Doe for the very good reason that all the evidence of history and all the evidence of contemporary life prove that they are. From birth to death John Doe is a follower of custom and convention. He permits others to make his thoughts for him, his emotions for him, his decisions for him. He cherishes the delusion that he does his own thinking, feeling, and deciding merely because he thinks, feels, and acts in accordance with tradition, custom, and fashion, or as he is told to think, feel, and act by business men, clergymen, politicians and propagandists. He is not acquisitive and predatory enough to rise above the rut in which he lives. He is not sensitive, not intelligent enough, not aspiring enough to develop tastes and interests above that of the group to which he belongs. He distrusts, when he does not hate, the really learned man. He is born to his politics—Republican or Democratic. He is patriotic; he is industrious; he is honest; he is credulous. He has conventional likes and dislikes in music, literature, art. He has an essentially traditional set of taboos and sins, and a largely conventional adherence to the ethical principles he professes. Here in America his values are generally those of whites, Protestants, and 100 percenters.

A vulgar scoundrel like D. C. Stephenson, a Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan, by exploiting the myth of Nordic superiority and the hatred of John Doe for the negro, the Catholic, and the Jew, was able to persuade the state of Indiana to vote the Knights of the K.K.K. into political power—to put his henchmen into nearly every office in the state from that of Governor down to that of the village constable. Had he not made the mistake of committing rape and murder, he would still be master of the commonwealth.

No wonder it was possible for the Emperor Constantine to make the European masses embrace Christianity en bloc; for a tough old goat like Henry VIII to make the masses of England accept a special kind of Protestantism by a kingly ukase; and, to bring the historical illustrations up-to-date, no wonder it was possible for Woodrow Wilson, who had had himself re-elected to the presidency by persuading the American people that “he kept them out of the war,” in less than a year after his election, to make John Doe enlist apparently wholeheartedly in a war “to make the world safe for democracy!”

Is there any doubt that those who look to the education and improvement of the masses of herd-minded individuals as the hope for the building of a more beautiful civilization, suffer from a foolish delusion

Next Section | John D. Rockefeller: The Quantity-Minded Type