What’s Dumb Got to Do With It?

Hoo boy, this is probably not very smart.

I want to talk about something we just don’t usually talk about in polite company. And there are, I’m sure, a lot of nuances to the issue, semantics and subtleties that I’m not equipped to address. But since that’s never stopped me yet during the crisis, or even before, here goes:

Where did all the dumb people come from?

You know, the ones who McCain and Palin are so shamelessly making a play for in the closing weeks of the election. I know I’m always a little sensitive to the notion of anti-intellectualism, after reading another one of those great books by Richard Hofstadter.

Click to see another great Hofstadter book

Click to see another great Hofstadter work

But now more of the political commentators are talking about it too, and it’s just so blatant and tawdry and indicative of the worst in the American character.

Thinking about writing this, I knew I ran the risk of getting the scarlet letter – E for elitist. But I doubt this is something that only progressives or Democrats with college degrees ponder.

Objectively speaking, I think, I have been blessed – I assume by genes – with a decent memory and a slight way with words. Those two traits have placed me in pretty high percentiles of intelligence, by some standards: Iowa tests, GPA, GRE’s (well only the verbal. I laughed out loud while taking the math section, surely annoying my neighbors as I voiced my incomprehension of 90 percent of the questions. I chose the answers randomly, and my score reflected that strategy).

But here’s the point: I know there are plenty of people smarter than me. Hell, I cheated off of some of them in high school. And I have done many stupid things, usually involving women. Or drugs. Or women and drugs. And I bet lots of us meet some people and go, “I’m smarter than that schmuck.” And other times we meet people and think, “That is one smart dude/dudess.”  And I know plenty of conservatives must think I’m pretty stupid to believe what I do, and then write about it for the world to see.

So it seems kinda arrogant to say it, but it’s still the obvious. Lots of really dumb people get to cast ballots on Election Day. And they don’t seem to like a lot of smart people, or their ideas, or anything that suggests someone might know more than they do.

I have been wrestling with the concept of dumb vs. ignorant. To me, ignorant means you just don’t have the right facts. Once you’re presented with the truth, you will think and act accordingly. But dumb is being told the truth over and over and still stating the opposite. Case in point: Barack Obama is a Muslim. The media – the reputable media -have disputed this left and right. He’s been seen going to church for years, and as far I know, he has not been sneaking out on the campaign trail five times a day and asking someone to point him in the direction of Mecca. Even John McCain had to admit to a deluded supporter that Obama is no Muslim. Yet within the past week, there it was, another yokel on TV (the Daily Show) asserting Obama and Muhammad are like this. And take a look at Texas…

Oh, now I’ve done it, haven’t I. I’ve used a derogatory term to describe my subject. By playing the yokel card, I impugn rural folks everywhere and show my elitist ways. Well, no. Some rural babies grow up to be smart rural folks. Some do not. Those who don’t are yokels. But if that is too pejorative. I apologize. I go to a fallback – dumbass. And as far as Texas – no apologies there, either.

I wrote a while back about Alexander Hamilton and my changing opinion of him. Hamilton walked and talked like an aristocrat. But what he really believed in, I think, was meritocracy. The most intelligent folks should be in charge. Of course in his day that usually meant the wealthy, since they had most of the educational opportunities, so you wound up with aristocracy by default.

With universal education, though, the naturally smart could also become book-learned and have a role to play in society. And I think we have achieved that to some degree. We have lots of people across the political spectrum who are thoughtful and articulate. Then we have…Sarah Palin. And the people she in particular, it seems, has been pandering to with all her Joe-Sixpack, Pro-America, palling with Socialists crap. People who refuse to, or can’t see the world in shades of gray. Who can’t open themselves to new ideas, because they might be a little scary. Who refuse to acknowledge the truth even when it bites them in the keister.

(A note about Joe Sixpack: I do not know him personally, though I do know some people who drink copious quantities of beer on a regular basis. Me included. Why is he a symbol of averageness and, in the political mind, resistance to change? Will all the progressive, multiple-beer-drinking folks in the world please stand up and be counted?! Thank you.)

The string of smart Republicans who have recently fled McCain is mostly a direct reflection on her (or more broadly, his choice of her). She is no dummy, but she is not well-schooled in the subjects a vice president should know. She is, like the current pres, seemingly not too intellectually curious. And she so easily, eagerly, plays to that anti-intellectual, anti-urban, anti-secular streak Hofstadter wrote about. (Ahh, I don’t really want to go into secular vs. fundamentalist, faith vs. reason here.  But there have been studies linking intelligence levels and religious beliefs or the lack thereof.  Check this out for a further look.)

The Jacksonian Era began the process of opening up the American voting process to more people, and that’s good. I favor more democracy rather than less. And I realize that means accepting dumb people – representing all parties – as voters. But it would be nice if the politicians made more of an effort to tell people that being intelligent is not bad. Intelligent people might understand certain political issues better than you and me. They design nifty hybrid cars (well, if they’re Japanese) and create great art. They built the Internet, so not-as-intelligent people can look up the information they need to make their lives easier. Or blather all too easily about whatever enters their mind.


~ by mburgan on October 30, 2008.

%d bloggers like this: