Log in

No account? Create an account
entries friends calendar profile Previous Previous Next Next
Being smart is a good thing - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
Being smart is a good thing
I read an Orson Scott Card column recently about the Newsweek debacle, and I agree with him that it was a serious failure of responsibility in the press, and that the lack of responsibility shown is frankly dangerous and is showing no signs of abating, and that it's because the philosophy is a fanatical loyalty to "gotcha" journalism, and...

Well, suffice it to say that on the whole, I agree with the essay.

Except for one thing, and I have sadly come to expect it: The dichotomy drawn was between the good, well-meaning people of "the Heartland" vs. evil denizens of "Smartland."

First off, if you agree with people, why are you, in effect, calling them the opposite of smart, which is "Stupid"? I mean, the logic of that escapes me entirely. However, I know that's not what's meant, because I know the people who say this don't consider themselves to be stupid, and they agree, ergo, they don't believe that people who believe these things are stupid.

What really, really bothers the living hell out of me is the association of "smart and intellectual" with "not American." That's exactly the idiotic stereotype that we as a nation have been trying to overcome since... well, before we were a nation. What bothers me about the image of Bush as being stupid is not that I believe he is--I don't. That's all there is to it; I just don't. I may disagree with him, but I don't think he's dumb. What bothers me is that it's apparently seen as a saavy campaign move to let him appear to be dumb, because, aw shucks, we don't want a president who's smarter than we are.

I admit, I can't speak for the rest of the country, but I can say with absolute certainty for myself: I want a president who's a lot smarter than I am. I'm a reasonably intelligent person, but I know there are too many aspects of that job that are going on at once and needing to be balanced, and I don't have the education or intelligence to balance them all properly. I'd make a royal mess of things, even if I didn't operate on the belief that you couldn't pay me enough to take that job. I want someone in that office who I can trust to be smarter than I am; that's why I'm hiring him. I wouldn't hire a plumber who said, "Well, gosh, I don't know much about pipes and I bet you could fix it yourself," so why would I hire a president who I didn't think knows more than I do?

I mean, when I read a book, I expect the author to be as good a writer as I am, or (preferably) better. Otherwise I get tweaked at having spent my time and/or money getting someone else to do what I can do just as well. When I go to an art gallery, I expect that the painters will at least meet the extremely minimal requirement of being better artists than I am. When I go to the doctor with a complaint about my health, I would hope that s/he knows considerably more about diagnosis than I do. So what gives?


Being intelligent--being smart, to use the dread word--is a good thing. It may not always be a big plus, but it's never a minus. The whole Newsweek issue isn't about being devoted to "Smartland," it's about being unthinking and careless, which is the opposite of being "smart." It is also profoundly anti-intellectual.

Do I think there are a lot of people in academia and other intellectual areas firmly believe that they are right and condescendingly believe that everyone who disagrees with them is just benighted and suffering in the inevitable "cultural lag"? Sure I believe it. I've seen it. You can see it a bit in the response to the defeat of the EU constitution, which I've seen at least one quote on that seems to say that they need to rethink not the constitution but the campaign to get those proletariat dolts to vote properly. This was the most beautifully arrogant quote I've seen for awhile. I'm most assuredly not saying that no intellectual has ever had this attitude.

My problem is that by labeling this the "smart" side, you're automatically devaluing either the people who disagree or the very concept of intelligence, depending on which you value more. It's a question of both sides doing the same thing. As an intellectual conservative, this drives me up the bloody wall, no matter which side it's coming from. Left-wing academics screaming "conservatives are dumb!" make me want to grab hold of them and shake them. Right-wing populists saying, "Smart people are liberals!" make me want to go Dark Side on the whole business, because... HELLO??? Do you believe what we're saying, or do you really think it's stupid? (I would be so easy to seduce to the Dark Side. Just lock me in a room listening to this stuff. I predict I'd last forty-five minutes before going into a berserk rage.)

Deep breaths, deep breaths.

35 comments or Leave a comment
texasmagic From: texasmagic Date: June 2nd, 2005 06:13 pm (UTC) (Link)
Bravo, and wholehearted agreement.

I particularly agree with the railing against academic liberals who claim that conservatives are dumb.

Let's not forget the various forms of intelligence out there, either. I have more verbal intelligence than my husband, but I will lean on him for intrapersonal relations any day. I am skilled at getting someone to understand, while he is a master at getting someone to believe.

And being from Texas, I cringe everytime I hear someone criticize the President for being a 'backward hick'. Hello? I have many friends who sound more like a hick than he does, and they've earned every penny from their ranches by working their cattle from the top of their horses. These people are astute businessmen, in a business that is more 'hands on' than just about any other I can think of.

Thank you for letting me join your rant.
tunxeh From: tunxeh Date: June 2nd, 2005 06:15 pm (UTC) (Link)
I read an Orson Scott Card column recently about the Newsweek debacle, and I agree with him that it was a serious failure of responsibility in the press,

What does he state is the failure of responsibility? Because Newsweek was essentially vindicated, multiple stories came out a week or so after the debacle backing up their assertions of disrespectful treatment of the Koran, but by that time the right-wing machine had already turned it into a question of Newsweek's liberal bias and turned it away from the actual story. So if there was a failure of responsibility, was it:
- Telling the truth when we should be hiding this sort of incident?
- Failing to provide totally ironclad and irrefutable evidence for stuff going on in inaccessible locked facilities
- Backing down when the right-wing machine came after them?

Or what?
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: June 2nd, 2005 06:21 pm (UTC) (Link)
Even if the incident were incontrovertibly true, it would be irresponsible to print it because the response was totally predictable and it cost lives. Sometimes, it's not worth it to print something, and that's such a case.
tunxeh From: tunxeh Date: June 2nd, 2005 06:31 pm (UTC) (Link)
So you think that keeping the masses pacified is a higher responsibility for the free press than telling the truth or exposing government misconduct?
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: June 2nd, 2005 06:42 pm (UTC) (Link)
I think we're really to concerned about "exposing" things, especially during a war. "Gotcha" journalism... yeah, I think it's irresponsible. I thought it was irresponsible when it was the Monica Lewinsky thing, too--it's not just a case of political bents. Editors need to think. Is the benefit of knowing this and making it public worth the trade-off? In this case, the answer is clearly, No--knowing about soldiers engaging in prohibited conduct is just not important enough to cost lives in other countries. The soldiers engaged in this should certainly be court-martialed, but is it worth someone's life for me to know about it? The answer? No.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: June 2nd, 2005 06:45 pm (UTC) (Link)
And no, it's not about "keeping the masses pacified," which is a deliberately loaded way to say it, not to mention insulting toward "the masses. The press collects up information and always decides which information it's going to print. You don't print troop movements because it puts people's lives in danger. You don't share the details of a crime investigation because it can hinder said investigation. And you don't shout fire in a crowded theater, not because you don't have freedom of speech, but because it's dangerous to do it.
neotoma From: neotoma Date: June 5th, 2005 11:05 am (UTC) (Link)
You don't shout "fire" in a crowded theater if there *isn't* a fire. If there is a fire, you definitely want people to know about it.

The Newsweek article could and should have had been sources, but the fact is that the US government knew that there were incidents of Koran desecration, and when Newsweek exposed that, got huffy and denied it, only to have to admit to those incidents a few weeks later.

It does not reflect well on the current administration that they forced the retraction and then had to admit that the Newsweek article was in part true -- there were incidences of descration.

Far better would to have been to admit that there were incidences at the start and they were being investigated and *punished*. The whole dance about the truth just makes Americans look hypocrites as well as descrators.
tunxeh From: tunxeh Date: June 2nd, 2005 06:52 pm (UTC) (Link)
No--knowing about soldiers engaging in prohibited conduct is just not important enough to cost lives in other countries.

You know, actually, I don't care about public exposure of individual bad-egg soldiers engaging in bad conduct, so if I thought that's all there was to this case I'd be in complete agreement with you that it was an irresponsible mistake to play it up as a scandal. My concern is more that it's part of a pattern of misconduct that includes as well the Abu Ghraib tortures etc. The scapegoats soldiers are getting court-martialed but nothing is happening to change the higher level policies that led them to take those actions.
(Deleted comment)
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: June 2nd, 2005 09:01 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yeah, I'd heard that. I think that was part of what made me go "AAAAAAAAAGH!!!!!" and think of it as a press responsibility issue more than a political one. I was sick of this kind of reporting somewhere around Watergate (if a toddler can be said to be sick of such a thing) and the whole Lewinsky business just sealed my opinion of it for good and all.
(Deleted comment)
From: (Anonymous) Date: June 2nd, 2005 10:14 pm (UTC) (Link)
Like someone else said, its the pattern of abuse thats troubling. Noone wants anyone to die but is one life necessarily more important than the other? What about the lives of the prisoners who've been killed or severely abused in captivity. The administration has made it pretty clear that it's not going to stop of its own accord - public pressure seems to be about the only thing that will work. To that end I think it's not only a good idea, but its necessary for magazines and newspapers to publish this kind of stuff. It would be nice if we could trust the president enough to not worry about human rights abuses, but that doesn't seem to be the case.

(Sorry for just popping out of nowhere - I'm a huge fan of your work who was originally drawn to your journal for the fanfic but stuck around to listen to the rants :P. I hope you don't mind my interjecting here - it's just an issue i'm particularly touchy about)
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: June 2nd, 2005 10:23 pm (UTC) (Link)
I don't mind. I'm all about free speech, as long as it's used responsibly.

I guess the thing is, when it comes to an organization as big as the military, I doubt that you could control everything that happens in it, and just judging by military folks of my acquaintance, the chances are what we have are a bunch of hot-doggers more than a systematic abuse. It makes more psychological sense, since if it were an actual effort at psychological warfare, then it would, um... probably be something that would actually be effective, rather than something that's just going to make it more difficult to get information. If it is psychological warfare, I have to weep more at our ineptitude than at the event. (As tortures go, flushing a book is fairly minor, although it's deplorable. I'm more concerned about that fact that it would be a singularly ineffective act for the cost-benefit ratio.)
alphabet26 From: alphabet26 Date: June 2nd, 2005 07:05 pm (UTC) (Link)
I agree with your points against OSC. He probably would have done better to call it "Snobland" or something.

Semi-related, my view of the Newsweek thing is illustrated by Cox and Forkum and the comments they make under the cartoon. Like Robert Spencer said, "flushing a Qur'an down the toilet should not be grounds to commit murder."
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: June 2nd, 2005 07:22 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yeah, I agree. I don't condone the whole response (Card gets into this part of it at length as well). It's a separate issue than the press issue, but I agree with both.
rabidsamfan From: rabidsamfan Date: June 2nd, 2005 09:19 pm (UTC) (Link)
Like you, I get very very tired of people using the word "smart" as if it were a pejorative. For Card, of all people, to fall into that trap appalls me. No wonder we're starting to fall behind in the sciences! And I'm absolutely baffled when Conservative commentators who come up with things like "smart people are liberals" ...

There are some very bright people at every place in the political spectrum, and a few idiots too. But please, let's elect the bright ones!

I haven't read Card's essay, but I think Newsweek did nothing wrong in printing the story. Particularly since we're seeing confirmation of it from several sources so quickly. Does that mean I condone the reaction in several parts of the world? Absolutely not. Killing people in your neighborhood and looting their stores won't make a lick of difference to a problem that happened months ago on the other side of the world. But telling the truth, even when it is unpopular, is a legitimate function of the press.

What I do see as a problem is the increasing tendency to cite unnamed sources combined with an increasing tendency on the part of the administration to make whole parts of press briefings "off the record." I also strongly object to the "blame the messenger" attitude by which the administration avoids discussing whether or not the allegations are true by saying that the mere act of making the allegations is an immoral act. There's also the problem of disinformation being fed to journalists and then used to discredit the entire story (like the Dan Rather/Bush guard duty story) even though the bulk of the information supports the thesis. (As a former Air Guardsman, Bush catches no slack from me on that one. He was a pilot, he was supposed to take a physical. By his own admission he blew it off. That's grounds for a less than honorable discharge. I don't care if someone faked papers about it, the plain truth remains Bush was derelict in his duty.)

barbara_the_w From: barbara_the_w Date: June 2nd, 2005 09:37 pm (UTC) (Link)
Newsweek, like the Daily Prophet, has no other purpose than to sell itself.

I find it fascinating that journalism, unlike cattle barons, is not allowed to be a business.
sprite6 From: sprite6 Date: June 3rd, 2005 04:07 am (UTC) (Link)
On the other hand, when the public discovers that a business is doing something unsavory, the public will react, and that reaction can destroy the business. Why should the press be exempt from the same reaction?
hughroe From: hughroe Date: June 2nd, 2005 11:49 pm (UTC) (Link)
Well, a good part of the "smartland" bit sounds about right. After all, wasn't that all that I, a Bush voter heard, that I was too dumb and stupid, that I couldn't understand nuance, and that I should listen to my betters and vote the way that Chomsky or Soros wants me to?

Was beginning to go into rant mode, but I try to keep that out of other's LJ's

fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: June 3rd, 2005 12:17 am (UTC) (Link)
The place where I'm ranting, though, is simply the concept that people who disagree with Chomsky aren't smart, or defining "smart" to mean "what Chomsky does." The first is insulting to non-Chomsky-ites, the second is insulting to intelligence. Neither is acceptable.
hughroe From: hughroe Date: June 3rd, 2005 12:56 am (UTC) (Link)
I most whole-heartedly agree with you. What I was pointing out is that, generally speaking, "smartland" are the ones that pull that.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: June 3rd, 2005 12:58 am (UTC) (Link)
Honestly, if it had been from academia, I'd just be rolling my eyes. I'm weeping and ranting and carrying on because it came from someone who disagrees with Chomsky. Who is saying, in effect, that his own position isn't intelligent.

From: (Anonymous) Date: June 4th, 2005 06:43 am (UTC) (Link)
One of my major problems with both political parties is how they've usurped certain words and twisted them to their own ends. The Republicans got "moral values" and the Democrats got "intelligent." Frankly, the Dems got the raw end of that deal because while "smart people" really do freak out a lot of people, no one wants to be the amoral party.

Also, as much as I love OSC's books (Ender's Game has been in my top 3 book list since I was 13), the majority of his political views make me cringe in horror.

(And sorry about barging in on your journal. I like your writing.)
From: (Anonymous) Date: June 3rd, 2005 12:54 am (UTC) (Link)

Newsweek Debacle

The worst thing about the Newsweek retraction is how easily they folded. As it turns out, three or four more revelations have come out since then that support their original information. Newsweek's blurb is a good example of responsible journalism being quashed by those who don't like it.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: June 3rd, 2005 12:56 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Newsweek Debacle

As I understand it, the specific allegation wasn't, in fact, true--hence the retraction. What's come out since are other allegations of similar things. Printing something as true because things like it may have happened is... stupid and irresponsible. And irresponsible even if it were true, because it caused predictable violence.
tunxeh From: tunxeh Date: June 3rd, 2005 02:10 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Newsweek Debacle

As I understand it, the specific allegation wasn't, in fact, true--hence the retraction

As I understand it, the specific allegation couldn't be independently backed up. This is very different from saying that it's untrue.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: June 3rd, 2005 02:15 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Newsweek Debacle

Well, last I knew, when it came to accusations, the assumption was supposed to trend toward "innocent." Burden of proof on the accuser and all that. So, um... yeah. Without independent corroboration, then yes--it's assumed to be untrue. I think there's significant cause for reasonable doubt.
tunxeh From: tunxeh Date: June 3rd, 2005 02:36 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Newsweek Debacle

If you're treating it as an isolated criminal action by a bad solider, unrelated to all those other isolated actions we've heard about, then I guess innocent until guilty is the correct standard of proof.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: June 3rd, 2005 02:53 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Newsweek Debacle

Well, if you're accusing a conspiracy, then the standard of proof, imho, would have to be a lot higher. Conspiracy theorizing always makes me more skeptical, because they take too much damned work. What's more likely? A handful of loose cannon happy assholes, or a huge conspiracy to... do what, exactly? None of this stuff has any actual strategic value and in fact is negative to both the war effort in general and the information gathering process in specific. Now, I could accept the "military intelligence is an oxymoron" to explain the bad tactics, but that would require not having enough brains to try covering it up.
tunxeh From: tunxeh Date: June 3rd, 2005 03:03 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Newsweek Debacle

What covered-up conspiracy? Why is it necessary to invent a conspiracy when we have the administration? There have been lots of memos etc in the media by high government officials attempting to justify the use of physical and psychological torture to extract information from the prisoners in Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, and the rest of the archipelago. Do you deny that?

It's easy to believe that someone, perhaps at a much lower level, thought that Koran abuse would work well as a form of psychological torture. I agree that it's bad tactics but that doesn't make it less likely to me.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: June 3rd, 2005 03:18 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Newsweek Debacle

Low level? Maybe. But since that's against direct rulings, it would require a cover-up to the higher-ups, which is in conspiracy territory, and therefore multiplying causes without reason--Occam's Razor suggests the simpler notion that it's just some yahoos, barring other proof. Now, I'm not saying that's the case, only that I find it the version that requires the fewest external assumptions. And frankly, without physical proof, I'd be skeptical of allegations even against specific soldiers in specific situations. I have no particular trust in the military, but I don't have any greater trust for the prisoners or anyone associated with the U.N. I'm a full-spectrum cynic, and my question where there's not physical proof is, "Who stands to gain what by which actions?"
From: (Anonymous) Date: June 4th, 2005 06:47 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Newsweek Debacle

The problem with Occam's Razor is that people are at least as likely to do things for the most complicated reason as for the simplest. People are weird like that.
parallactic From: parallactic Date: June 3rd, 2005 01:37 am (UTC) (Link)
I'm a raging liberal that had to mellow out to vote Democrat. I do know that my liberal friends make fun of conservatives and do call them ignorant and stupid, but it's kind of expected since we're caricaturing the 'enemy'. However, I don't think ad hominem attacks are the best way to make your case, or a good way to debate, and feel like it doesn't reflect well on the person who made the attack.

I'm surprised that your own side implies that liberal = smart. I mean, they could have accused liberals of being pretentious, or having too abstract an ideology to be executable. Some of us are. Some of us are freakin' idiots. Some of us make sense.

I actually friended you for the HP meta, and for the well-reasoned conservative view, some of which I actually agree with, to my surprise. After the election, I asked around for why people voted Republican. In RL, I'm surrounded by liberals, who were bewildered or pissed off. Online, I only got vague comments that yes, they voted Rep, had well-thought out reasons, but weren't interested in discussing it.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: June 3rd, 2005 02:08 am (UTC) (Link)
I'm surprised that your own side implies that liberal = smart.

I know!!! Ack!

I know that he means "pretentious" or "snobby" or whatnot, but that's not what he said, and that makes me absolutely nuts.
sprite6 From: sprite6 Date: June 3rd, 2005 03:53 am (UTC) (Link)
I agree with you about how the terms of the debate are insulting to everyone involved. It reminds me of that joke map that went around after the election, with all the blues states combined with Canada to form "The United States of Canada" and the red states forming "Jesusland." It was funny, but also insulting on so many levels - as if all red staters were Christian, as if the blue states had the monopoly on US values, as if the Canadians would have any of us.

On the other hand, I don't automatically want my leaders to be smarter than me. I want them to be good leaders who inspire others. A good leader will have vision and get the right smart people to do the jobs that will achieve that vision. It's a very different gift.

The disconnect is that some parts of they country (or really, some parts of the population, the most educated usually) think high intelligence is necessary in a leader, whereas others would rather have a leader who's got a lower IQ but a higher (perceived) amount of horse sense. And there's something to be said for the latter view; I've met my fair share of absent-minded professors, and who would want that type running the country? That can be just as dangerous as a stupid person in office.
35 comments or Leave a comment