The Frog Is Us

A little-remarked virtue of Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth is its graphic rendering of The Parable of the Frog. What? You don't know about it and aren't haunted by it day and night? Well, if you're a journalist in Washington or New York, it's no wonder. You and some colleagues are probably the hapless frog himself.

I encountered the frog story two years ago in America Alone: The Neoconservatives and the Global Order, a book by conservative diplomats Stefan Halper and Jonathan Clarke that assailed lies and scare tactics used by Bill Kristol and others to whip up popular support for Bush's terror war and his bread-and-circus economy.

Halper and Clarke likened the American people to "a frog placed in a bowl of cool water as it is slowly heated over a fire. At the point the frog realizes the danger it is in, it is already too weakened to get out. It is boiled alive. Americans today find themselves in water with the temperature rising. To date the political discourse, impregnated as it is with neoconservative formulations, has led them to acquiesce in the demands of those who are stoking the fire.

Now, the science behind the frog parable is apparently dubious, but its power as a metaphor is indisputable. Gore uses it aptly in An Inconvenient Truth to characterize our all-too-human passivity about global warming. And surely we need some human equivalent of a Frogometer to monitor our many other seemingly painless but incapacitating adaptations to the warming but toxic baths we're now in baths of electronic surveillance, of personal credit-cum-debt, of consumer titillation and fleecing, of shrinking services disguised as tax cuts.

Maybe even the obesity epidemic reflects denial and adaptation via comfort food. Then again, maybe compulsive exercising tells the same tale, as does the rise in extreme fighting and road rage.

Okay, we could use a counter to the frog parable, too that of The Boy Who Cried Wolf! -- to warn against alarmists like me who identify too many threats. But before calling anyone alarmist, remember that something like the frog parable made the American Revolution possible.

As I noted here before the 2004 election, the nation's Founders were worried about republican prospects because they were reading Edward Gibbon's then-new account of how the Roman republic had slipped, frog-like and degree by self-deluding degree, into imperial tyranny.

They knew that bad leaders throughout history had bedazzled citizens out of liberty by titillating and intimidating them into a mob mentality that, as Gibbon put it, "no longer possessed that public courage which is nourished by the love of independence, the sense of national honor, the presence of danger, and the habit of command. They received laws and governors from the will of their sovereign and trusted for their defense to a mercenary army."

Surely Founder Richard Henry Lee was anticipating a Frogometer when he wrote that "nations which have lapsed from liberty, to a state of slavish subjection, have been brought to this unhappy condition, by gradual paces." Surely Tom Paine had a frog in mind when he warned, in Common Sense, Men of passive tempers look somewhat lightly over the offences of Great Britain, and, still hoping for the best, are apt to call out, Come, come, we shall be friends again for all this.

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