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I am so smart. I am so smart. S-M-R-T!

smrt.jpgWith a hattip to friend of the site Coffee from a Cardboard Cup I found an interesting op-ed in Sunday’s Washington Post. Called “The Dumbing of America,” it’s about, well, the dumbing of America. Author Susan Jacoby talks about how anti-intellectualism, anti-rationalism and low expectations are damaging the fuck out of our country.

To the extent QuizLaw has a fanbase (and this is absolutely true for the much larger fanbase of sister site Pajiba), I think it largely comes from what feels like a growing minority in this country — people who aren’t afraid of their own intellect, despite the “snob” and “elitist” tags that get thrown their way by a growing number of the dumb and intellectually ignorant. I won’t try to speak for anyone else, but despite the often elitist comments I make both here and on Pajiba, I don’t generally think that I’m better than folks (except for most of Florida, naturally) simply because I may be more aware and curious about “smart” things. After all, I know that there are plenty of people who would rightly recognize that the extent of my knowledge on most subjects is of a very base level, and I would hope they’d refrain from pointing their nose down at me for not digging deeper. Similarly, I don’t honestly point my nose down at most of the general public which has become complacent in its ignorance.

Anyway, I don’t necessarily agree with everything Jacoby says — for instance, I don’t know that the shrinking public attention span is a problem, per se, it simply means folks need to be engaged in a new way — but the article is well worth the time for those who like to think about things. But if you’d rather catch up on some celebrity gossip, I’d totally understand.

| Comments (10)


Jacoby was on Bill Moyers Journal on PBS a couple of days ago. They've got the interview (and transcript) here:


It's about 25 minutes in length, so it'll also help test your attention span.

Mmm hmm, I see how it is.

I would like to point out the anti-elitist soliloquy that Mr. Weaver threw at Pajiba readers for the second shitlist


I pretty much assumed elitism was one of the mandates of the Pajiba/Quizlaw/WIMB trifecta, then had some borderline-hypocrital tripe about how elitists should feel bad about their sentiments regarding the general public.

The anti-elitist backlash, I usually find, is a common reaction when someone finds another person who is, intellectually speaking, on a higher level: rather than actually attempting to raise themselves to that level, they throw out the words 'elitist' and 'snob' then turn around and walk away stroking their own ego about being better than the elitist because they're more salt-of-the-earth.

Okay, maybe I'm bitter, but read a book. Elitism and anti-intellectualism are certainly symbiotic in nature; in the end, though, it just saddens me that the idiots are, in fact, winning.

I read about Jacoby's book in the NYT (and you know, not to go all elitist on your asses or anything, but is anyone else stuck on 6 down in the Sunday crossword?). The piece referenced the appearance of someone from American Idol on a game show where she thought Europe was a country (so you can actually blend this discussion with that of d-list celebrity gossip).

I also resent a lot of the elitist backlash that I see today. I'm over sensitive since as I was growing up the other children used to like accusing me of swallowing a dictionary (and they meant it insultingly).
But make no mistake, this is not a US phenomenon. I travel extensively and see this all over, especially in my home country (Ireland) and in Britain.

Yes to all, and compound this with the problem that, these days, people seem to be confounding "elitism" as a term with "expertise". I personally have deep massive huge respect for expertise in any and all areas (as Seth suggests, it takes many years and brain cells for someone to accumulate enough practical skill or intellectual knowledge in an area, whether it's biathlon, medicine, gardening, woodworking or social anthropology). When someone says "elite athlete", for instance, the implication isn't that the athlete's life is worth more than your own. For Chrissakes, people.

Don't get me started on "anti-intellectualism". Gah. And Gah.

Ranylt: You got there first. I have seen "anti-intellectualism" creep in (dare I say it) to Pajiba recently. There seems to be a growing fan base for just jumping on reviews that deride silly films (don't get me wrong, I love derision of silliness) and a lot less tolerance for the more in-depth reviews of serious films. Of course we can embrace silly and serious; there's no exclusivity there, but while I enjoy a good bout of ridicule and will happily follow a hijacked thread to its warped conclusion, I also miss the more nuanced discussions of film.

Oh, Christ, where to start... ?

I had this huge long post about being a smart Canadian kid growing up in Oklahoma, then moving back to Canada for university and now living in Alberta, where teenagers make $15 an hour working at McDonalds then quit school to make $50k a year working in the oil patch.

I have long believed that what you learn most in school - be it high school or college or whatever - is not necessarily the subject matter itself, but how to learn and for what purposes you learn, as well as interpersonal and work-related skills that help you succeed first in school and later in the 'real' world of jobs and work.

Our culture (yes I am conflating the United States and English Canada; tough bananas) is highly competitive and places great emphasis on two seemingly complementary values: success and achievement. Knowledge (especially the much loved but rarely seen "knowledge for its own sake") and intelligence are not values in this sense, but tools in the service of success and achievement.

We model ourselves on what we see in the world and base our expectations on those models: if the model doesn't specify intellectual rigour and academic knowledge, neither will we.

PS I feel guilty now for helping to start the dogpile on Ranylt a few months ago for her writing style in a review at Pajiba, which I believe I described as "wordy and precious for its own sake"; an anti-intellectual backlash for which I am truly sorry.

Ah, sweet, sweet, Alberta - the land of milk and honey (and big oil). Tiddo, I have a friend who was a newspaper editor of a bi-weekly in one of Edmonton's bedroom communities and after 8 years of service at the newspaper he recently switched to working on refinery row in some steel fabrication workshop. His STARTING wage as a menial labour baboon was higher than what he had been pulling as a salary in his position as head editor. He also says the work is much less stressful and there's so little BS he has to put up with in comparison to his old job. And ppl wonder why anti-intellectualism is rampant in places like Alberta. Truth is, trying to be smart and looking to get paid for using your brains is the stupid way of making a living around here. Don't even get me started about trying to make a living in a smart AND creative manner around here. Ugh. Hey, at least this isn't Oklahoma, right Tiddo? Right? Please tell me I'm right...

I think we have every right to be "anti-elitist." Think about how much shared knowledge is on Wikipedia. I'm sure half (if not more) of those entries would never exist in a traditional encyclopedia. Would the QL boys have ever written a newspaper or magazine column? Knowing their proclivity towards foul language, probably not (correct me if I'm wrong). When you have published sources, you have editors screening content, regulations that censor, and advertisers to please. I've learned a lot from the internet that I probably would have never learned from traditional media.

Do we need published sources? Of course. There's more crap on the internet than anyone could imagine, and for certain tasks it is important to have a reputable and verifiable source. But in a world where any Joe or Jane Schmoe can contribute their two cents online for the wold to see, it is a challenge to traditional media to keep up and justify their existence. Stop bitching about how blogs are ruining this country and give me a good reason why I should read a newspaper instead.

Well Infernal, the only difference between Alberta and Oklahoma that I can see is Alberta has more booze and Oklahoma has more guns. (I kid! Alberta has lots of guns. And mountains)

Oklahoma is - despite what preconceptions may exist out there - a fairly progressive place, or was when I lived there. It gets lumped in with the South, but is more "middle America" in its outlook. From what I remember, there was always a split in national and state voting preferences up intil the past 10 years or so, with Oklahomans generally preferring Democrat legislators and Republicans executives (please feel free to correct me if I'm wrong... anybody?)

Basically, while there are definitely a lot of rednecks in both places, there are a lot more non-rednecks who are just as embarassed and annoyed by them.

As a general trend, I think that people are more aware of how knowledge, expertise and advanced education can be used to better people's lives, but also as an instrument of power over people's lives. On one hand, many people don't trust the smart because smart people sometimes appear to do the work of justifying the agendas of the powerful. On the other, there doesn't seem to be much value (as every person starting down the rocky road of Calculus 101 has said) in learning something that will not get them a better job, more money, a secure future, etc. when what seems to matter more is aceing the standardized tests.