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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.

33 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.
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.
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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.
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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.
Re: Newsweek Debacle - (Anonymous) - Expand
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.
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