For People Who Think

January 24, 2012

Beware The Dumbasses…by Dan Lynch

Filed under: Uncategorized — 4peoplewhothink @ 5:46 pm

Ambrose Bierce was a professionally cynical journalist of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. His masterwork was a book he entitled “The Devil’s Dictionary.” In that book he offered what he felt were more accurate definitions of English words – what they really meant in the world in which he lived, as opposed to what Noah Webster had said they meant.

Some examples:

Bierce defined love as “a temporary insanity curable by marriage.” He defined politeness as “acceptable hypocrisy.” He defined success as “the one unpardonable sin.”

It’s still a good book today because many of Bierce’s re-definitions are more valid than ever. Take his definition of “ambition.” Bierce defined the word as meaning, “an overmastering desire to be vilified …”

That’s certainly what’s happening to our most ambitious politicians these days, nearly a century after Bierce presumably died. The real issue is the form that vilification is taking in the Republican presidential primary contest. Rick Perry is being reviled as a jovial Texas dumbass – which, frankly, he seems to be, actually. Ron Paul is being reviled as an isolationist, which also seems to have some validity. Rick Santorum is being reviled as a devout Catholic, which he is. The real issue – the extent to which he might really try to force the rest of the country to abide by his religious beliefs – is never really discussed.

The weirdest vilification, however, is being directed at Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman. Huntsman is being criticized because he can speak Mandarin, and Romney is attacked in a new Newt Gingrich ad because he can speak French.

Since when is it a shortcoming that an American can speak a foreign language? Well, it has been a shortcoming ever since the Republican party, beginning in the Reagan era, began to attract so many disaffected, blue-collar Democrats who practice a bizarre form of reverse snobbery. If you went to a first-class college, as Barack Obama went to Harvard Law School, then you must be an elite snob who’s out of touch with the real folks. If you can read the menu in a Chinese or French restaurant in the proprietor’s native language then there must be something distinctly wrong with you.

What’s next – name-calling because you can do long division? Revulsion because you know what H2O is? When will a high score on the college boards become a disqualification for office for Republican politicians? Not too far into the future, if this stuff keeps up. The Democrats have a good many of their own weird proclivities, but this GOP reverse snobbery is just strange and demeaning to the entire party membership. It’s also dangerous. Stupidity may have gotten us into this economic mess we’re in, but there’s no reason to believe that it’ll get us out.

I suppose that a certain amount of this is to be expected from Republican voters who reject the validity of evolution. Even Newt Gingrich, who holds a doctoral degree, panders to this point of view. Here’s Gingrich on evolution: “I always tell my friends who don’t believe in this stuff, fine, how do you think — we’re randomly gathered protoplasm? We could have been rhinoceroses, but we got lucky this week?”

It’s too easy to dismiss all this stuff as mere anti-intellectualism – to view it simply as unease with the process of gaining knowledge and engaging in rational thought. What it seems to be instead is overt, outright hostility to thought and the accumulation of knowledge. It’s millions of people — many of whom just HAVE to be smarter than Rick Perry — essentially saying, “If you revere knowledge and logic, then you’re obviously not the kind of person that I want to see hold public office.”

The other aspect of the Republican primary process that seems profoundly weird is the sight of people who profess to be conservatives who love the U. S. Constitution clamoring to change that document – and then missing entirely the breathtaking degree of contradiction in those competing values. It’s like ordering a pizza with sausage and chocolate sauce. If you’re a conservative, then you’re supposed to be reluctant to change anything. That should go double for the document that serves as the very foundation of our republic. So, if you want to change the Constitution to ban abortion and force a balanced budget, then go for it, but don’t call yourself a conservative as you do it.

Ambrose Bierce vanished in Mexico nearly a century ago, while he was covering the Pancho Villa revolution there. Too bad. Quite clearly, his book needs a sweeping update.

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1 Comment »

  1. I would say it’s two major problems:

    – Fear and hostility at the idea that perhaps your worldview (red or blue, “liberal” or “conservative”) may not be the correct worldview. Politics has, in many ways, become almost a religion. This has happened before – many empires, including the Romans, had aggressive political parties and affiliations – but I think it’s particularly bad right now partially because the political views you hold encompass so much of what you “think” about a variety of topics, including science. I would say that this is exacerbated in the Internet Age, simply because you can read volumes of material and never leave the comforting enclosure of your own perspective, giving the illusion of knowledge without the diversity. Martin Luther King Jr. read Nietzsche and Hegel; I don’t think there’s many scholars like that today, even at universities.

    – The unconscious reasoning that if someone knows more than you then he is calling you “stupid.”

    Pascal once said:

    “How comes it that a cripple does not offend us, but that a fool does? Because a cripple recognises that we walk straight, whereas a fool declares that it is we who are silly; if it were not so, we should feel pity and not anger.

    “Epictetus asks still more strongly: ‘Why are we not angry if we are told that we have a headache, and why are we angry if we are told that we reason badly, or choose wrongly’? The reason is that we are quite certain that we have not a headache, or are not lame, but we are not so sure that we make a true choice. So, having assurance only because we see with our whole sight, it puts us into suspense and surprise when another with his whole sight sees the opposite, and still more so when a thousand others deride our choice. For we must prefer our own lights to those of so many others, and that is bold and difficult. There is never this contradiction in the feelings towards a cripple.”

    I think that’s still true today, as it was in 17th century France or two thousand years ago in Greece. The question then is, what can be done about it?

    Comment by Chris Honeycutt — January 25, 2012 @ 4:37 pm | Reply


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