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Intelligence in Politics

Politics Intelligence bias 2003

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#1 Appreciate

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Posted 23 September 2003 - 11:02 AM

OK, since the West Wing just won the Emmy, I decided to reread the review thread of last year's finale in our Reviews section.  In that thread, Zack posted a link to a fascinating summation of that last episode in terms of Sorkin's, as he put it, "meta" message, in a link to this article, which I highly recommend.

That, along with some comments that Rov has made about intellectual elitism, got me to thinking.  Do you believe that this country now has a true bias away from intelligence?  One hears reports, of course, of school kids ridiculed for being smart, and certainly there's a great systematic mockery of the so-called intellectual elite by the right.  But are those isolated, or are symbolic of a now ingrained hatred of smarts?

If you do believe that intelligence is a negative force, or one to be avoided, why?  Can you help me understand why this whole intellectual elite concept has arisen?

And do you think it's good for our country to have less intelligent people in office?  Again, why?  (Please check out the article, too!)

I am interested in hearing your views.

"Any dolt with half a brain/Can see that humankind has gone insane
To the point where I don't know if I'll upset the status quo
If I throw poison in the water main..."
- Billy (aka Dr. Horrible) in My Eyes from the AWESOME Dr. Horrible's SingAlong Blog

#2 Drew


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Posted 23 September 2003 - 11:15 AM

Appreciate, on Sep 23 2003, 11:02 AM, said:

That, along with some comments that Rov has made about intellectual elitism, got me to thinking. Do you believe that this country now has a true bias away from intelligence? One hears reports, of course, of school kids ridiculed for being smart, and certainly there's a great systematic mockery of the so-called intellectual elite by the right. But are those isolated, or are symbolic of a now ingrained hatred of smarts?
I think "hatred" is too strong a term. Intelligence is mocked, certainly. So I'll give a qualified YES for now. More later . . .

EDIT: And if you like Sarah Vowell, she's got an essay on this subject vis-a-vis Gore vs. Bush in her recent book "The Partly-Cloudy Patriot." Sarah Vowell's a hardcore lefty, but I love her anyway. :cool:

EDIT: Oh, and I think the only reason The West Wing gets the Emmies is because it's a left-wing fantasy. A show written as well from a right-wing point of view would have been pulled off the air after the third episode.  :angel:

Edited by Drew, 23 September 2003 - 11:21 AM.

"Someone must have slandered Josef K., for one morning, without having done anything wrong, he was arrested."

#3 Rov Judicata

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Posted 23 September 2003 - 11:28 AM

I think the case is that a large number of Americans are simply tired of being talked down to.

West Wing usually manages to push its political agenda without contempt for the American public... which proves that politics, portrayed in the right matter, can be hugely interesting to everybody.

My comments about intellectual elitism, in context, are this:

When a liberal with an unpopular position is asked why so many people disagree with him, he'll often resort to denigrating the intelligence of the average person. When a conservative is in the same position, he's more likely to insult the morality of the average person.

Obviously, it's not absolute, but I find it a good rule of thumb. This works double for pundits on television.

EDIT for an example:

When somebody pro-life is asked why the country is overwhelmingly pro-choice, they'll usually bemoan that America has lost its core values, that they've been desensitized, etc. When a liberal is asked why the country overwhelmingly opposes gay marriage, they'll usually blame homophobia, ignorance, and/or blind religious zeal. Again, just my opinion. But since I sparked the thread, I thought I should clarify...

Edited by Javert Rovinski, 23 September 2003 - 11:32 AM.

St. Louis must be destroyed!

Me: "I have a job and five credit cards and am looking into signing a two year lease.  THAT MAKES ME OLD."
Josh: "I don't have a job, I have ONE credit card, I'm stuck in a lease and I'm 28! My mom's basement IS ONE BAD DECISION AWAY!"
~~ Josh, winning the argument.

"Congress . . . shall include every idiot, lunatic, insane person, and person non compos mentis[.]" ~1 U.S.C. 1, selectively quoted for accuracy.

#4 Yama

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Posted 23 September 2003 - 01:07 PM

I don't think there is a bias against intelligence.  I think the problem is that te country is self-segregating along ideological lines.

More and more people -- liberal, conservative, whatever -- are living and conversing only with people who agree with them.  Instead of debate and the dialectic process, people are hearing more and more just echoes of their own views.  Thus, we they hear a position they do not agree with, it is such a strange thing that "obviously" the person must be intellectually and/or morally challenged.

My thoughts.


For my comments about the intelligence and bias of West Wing, see my relevant posts in the "Review" and "General Media Discussion" sections.

Edited by Yama, 23 September 2003 - 01:10 PM.

Straight, conservative, capitalist and pro-life African-American Christian.  Any Questions?

#5 Cardie


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Posted 23 September 2003 - 01:35 PM

I think America has always been suspicious of certain types of intelligence, especially the kind that is purely theoretical and doesn't have immediate practical implications. (Our most famous philosopher, William James, is a pragmatist, and I don't think that's an accident.)  Americans excel at doing things, making things work, and those sorts of smarts have always been valued and honored. Americans (in general) don't value thought for its own sake and get suspicious of people who elevate thinking or expertise into an end rather than a means to an end.

Part of the hostility may have to do with our egalitarian ideology, so that people who are intellectuals are perceived as exalting themselves above the common man or woman. I know first-hand that A students get a lot more abuse in our schools than B or C students.

Nothing succeeds like excess.

#6 Delvo

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Posted 23 September 2003 - 09:16 PM

Neither of the examples given at the beginning of this thread is actually a case of people reacting negatively to intelligence.

Kids gets picked on not for being too intelligent, but for acting nerdy or stuck up or some such thing; it's a personality trait that many think correlates with intelligence, but it doesn't. I've seen nerds who weren't really very bright, and intelligent people (or people who had everyone else THINKING they were intelligent) who blended in without nerdiness by acting more like the "standard" kid personality. Sometimes, the kids doing the picking-on even say what it's about themselves; for example, put a nerdy kid next to an intelligent kid whose personality is more normal instead of nerdy, and they'll say "Why can't you be more like him? He's got the good grades and the answers to all the questions just like you, and he does it without being such a nerd."

And the conservative problem with intellectual elites isn't that they're really more intelligent, or that conservatives think they are. Think about it seriously. Obviously neither side really thinks the OTHER side is smarter; if they were smart, they wouldn't be on the other side! What's going on there is that the intellectual elite try to set themselves up as the ultimate in intelligence and pass themselves off in that image, when their nonsensical attitues and behaviors betray the truth that it's all phony trappings.

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