Humor by Bob Wakulich
The Global Village has taken a few millenia to get to where it is, and there are plenty of examples of how much better it has gotten for subsequent generations since, say, the 1500's. Progress - a rather abstract term referring to changes permanently altering Humanity's lot - has been brought about in highly ordered, subversive and totally unorthodox ways.
During that time, some very grave mistakes have been made in the name of Progress, many of which can be directly related to a phenomenon hereafter referred to as The Toady Factor. There is no doubt that most of the people involved in supporting and perpetrating grave mistakes thought they were involved in some Grand Plan and doing a good thing, but the question that continues to be addressed by historians and regular folk is:
Why did they think this was right?
Apparently, this is where hindsight is supposed to come into play: we continue to catalogue all these faulty logic chains and learn from them, leading the world into a better tomorrow.
However, if history proves anything, it seems to prove that we don't learn and apply nearly as much of that catalogued wisdom as we should. For some reason, we continue to soldier on and make the same mistakes. They don't always appear to be the same mistakes: they are often re-defined and rationalized and given shiny, new veneers, but in the long run, Humanity and its cultural subsets harbor an infinite capacity to overlook, ignore, or forget things which get in the way of organizing and maintaining systems and beliefs which are, quite simply, only of value to a very limited number of people: people who need toadies.
EXAMPLE 1: Technology continues to build faster mass-market automobiles, and Humanity is encouraged to buy them. This necessitates the need for systems which penalize people for driving too fast on roads designed to handle the much slower speeds determined to be safe. It also encourages the development of systems which design products to avoid the regulatory systems. Consumers, in effect, pay dearly for what they have been conditioned to want but can only use illegally. Like petty criminals, they rationalize this with a long-standing faulty logic chain: "It's not illegal unless I get caught."
EXAMPLE 2: Many parents struggle to teach their children not to abuse or belittle people who are different. There is a period - usually between childhood and adulthood - when children are in a position to observe and assess their parents' social actions and attitudes in this regard, and the majority find large amounts of hypocrisy. Apparently, there are different kinds of different, and levels of adherence to the dicta of various systems determines social acceptance ("How can someone who dresses/acts/eats/works like that possibly know what they're talking about?"). At this point, most youth rebel - rage against the dying of the light, as it were - until economic and other personal considerations either force them to adapt or become career rebels.
SOURCING THE WORD 'TOADY'
According to Michael Kesterton's "Social Studies" column, a regular feature of the Toronto Globe and Mail, History Today magazine reported that "no country fair in 17th or 18th century England was complete without a 'toad-eater' or 'toady'." This particular career path served as an adjunct to the travelling snake-oil salesman who peddled magic health elixers to village rubes: the toady would literally swallow a toad and fall writhing and shuddering to the ground, a victim of the animal's supposedly toxic properties, only to be revived by the administering of a swig or two of magic potion.
One can argue that in the pre-electronic age, this kind of exhibition would be a welcome addition to any peasant's entertainment schedule: easily on the level of watching an episode of Baywatch or putting up with aggressive time-share condo sellers in exchange for a free weekend in Las Vegas. It may be that most of the rubes were wise to the scam - similar come-ons had likely been passing through these villages for centuries - and they feigned interest in the travelling quack's lofty spiel just so they could watch someone belly up to the toad bar: bring the kids, have a laugh, maybe buy a bottle or two of the stuff for a souvenir.
So the question is, what was in it for the toad-eaters? A place to sleep, a cut of the take, perhaps plans to launch their own brands of snake-oil down the road, but let's face it, we're talking about eating toads here.
It would be fair to assume that there wouldn't be much chance for advancement within a particular system dynamic for an accomplished toad-eater. After all, the gig lasts as long as the show rakes in enough to cover the wagon payments and so on, and depending on the actual medicinal value of the snake oil in question, there were only so many villages one could visit before people showed up in the crowd with weapons and sad, topical stories about dead aunts.
Additionally, it would be reasonable to surmise that most toad-eaters were willing participants in what amounted to a simple deception, performing a function that, upon the scrutiny allowed by hindsight, epitomizes the concept of style without substance: a performance undertaken solely to convince people to believe in the claims of a quack. This aspect of toady lifestyle is what makes it so applicable to countless social, religious, political and economic systems and subsystems which preceded and followed the archetype. Unquestioning belief in a system often outweighs any need for that system to be of any benefit to more than a handful of people.
"If you want the answer, you don't question the argument." -- Thucydides
Modern uses of the word toady tend to limit it to very specific, highly defined systems - notably politics, business and certain landlord-tenant agreements - but considering that virtually anything of a social nature inevitably develops an accepted structure, it's hard not to find examples of The Toady Factor in every facet of human endeavour. When someone needs a support team, when con people need henchpeople, when there is the possibility than an uncomfortable buck will need to be passed or questionable practises will need to be justified or explained away, making use of The Toady Factor is heavily indicated.
The most insidious thing about The Toady Factor is that it is so flexible. Anyone capable of fashioning and maintaining a reasonably stable system of operations and beliefs can have toadies, and there can be systems within systems, allowing toadies to have toadies who have toadies. Having a complex, multi-tiered system makes it much easier for upper-level toadies to escape scrutiny and assess blame elsewhere until the system itself collapses like a rotted dance floor. This leaves the lower toadies wandering aimlessly in the flack while the quackmasters make use of impeccable escape routes.
THE TOADY FACTOR: COROLLARY ONE
People in an audience dearly want to believe someone who is standing at a podium, especially if they've invested time and/or money to be there.
At the heart of the world's most successful toady systems, there is abundant opportunity to celebrate and laud their continued existence. The most effective celebrations are packed with toadies: those who, short of being shot at, would never question the logic of their convictions.
Effective toady systems always establish an "us" and a "them", making it mandatory for a system to shamelessly discriminate: you are part of the solution or a part of the problem, a good soldier or a subversive, a believer or a non-believer, an ally or a nemesis. "Them" can also be the unenlightened, the non-conforming, the uninitiated, the readily identified, the people on the other sidewalk, the guy who is asking too many questions and probably most of his friends as well. The distinction can be just about anything, but it is essential to the creation of a stable toady base because it sets the toadies apart as a special group.
The simplest way to create a self-regulating test of allegiance and compliance within a system is to build a special language or dialect. Even within tribal cultures, a sense of community and belonging came from groups of people pointing at a funny-looking rock and calling it the same thing. Modern systems have taken this a step further with the use of hyper-specialized terminology for relatively simple concepts, making it almost impossible for people from one toady system to communicate clearly to another. A system dialect, like the system itself, need not be logical, precise or even aesthetically pleasing. Identifying with the system is far more important to its perpetuation than a full and complete understanding or appreciation of its buzzwords.
Military systems have always put dialect creation to good use in both internal and external operations. In modern times, phrases like "rapid disassembly" is a vague, clean and orderly way to describe explosions, and "collateral damage" avoids the use of words like "dead civilians" and "levelled private residences" when updating the general public on th the latest war effort.
THE CHAIN LETTER: A SELF-RENEWING TOADY SYSTEM
Modern society has become very aware of "inverted pyramid" systems and their resulting windfalls. The most basic example of this can be illustrated by a simple chain letter: one person sends out ten letters to ten people containing a list of five names. These ten people are instructed to send a dollar to the five names, add themselves to the top of the list, drop the last name and send ten letters to ten more people. For an initial investment of about twenty dollars (postage, paper, photocopying and whatever), the participants stand to receive about one hundred thousand dollars if the chain is flawlessly maintained until their names are dropped from the list. As much as the chain letter echoes many of the premises inherent in virtually all speculative investment schemes, this particular system, we are told, is bad. Not only would it cause gluts in the postal system that might approach the level of junk mail, but the people who have been in the chain the longest make the most money while those "on the ground floor" (the toadies) are less likely to realize a good return because the population base eventually runs dry or people just lose interest. Sadly, this is true. Running out of toadies can be a problem with just about any system.
Still, the chain letter, the scourge of all things right and proper, does seem to have some redeeming and downright attractive characteristics when you compare it to any number of investment opportunities:
It isn't hard to imagine how attractive this would look as an option in a slick, snappy personal investment prospectus. Granted, there is a definite end to the gravy train, but:
Also, because of the "throw-it-away" option, the integrity and support of the system is self-regulating and very hard to monitor, much to the chagrin of legislative bodies who lose out on tax assessment opportunities.
There is also the argument that the chain letter produces absolutely nothing of direct benefit to the economy, but considering the number of systems which continue to prosper while doing exactly the same thing in different, more complex ways, the strength of this argument tends to fade. Many elements of the chain letter dynamic can be found in almost any system, although none of them can boast the chain letter's non-discriminating "rotating toadies" feature, which mocks a critical aspect of the very systems that the limited few support and encourage. Instead, we are offered more acceptable, more standardized-toady versions of pie-in-the-sky: lotteries, mail-order franchise businesses, TV evangelists. These are better?
FIVE EXAMPLES OF THE TOADY FACTOR IN AN HISTORICAL CONTEXT