How smart do you have to be to tell if someone else is smart? Hopefully not very smart, because a lot of life — and especially politics — involves asking people to separate the bright from the dimwitted. We can’t figure out or do everything ourselves, so we need to know who the smart people are so we know whom to listen to and entrust with important jobs. But if we incorrectly think morons are smart and listen to them and put them in charge, that would be a disaster.
You could also call it election year 2008.
For some reason, many people thought certain other people — who we can now clearly see are idiots — were smart and should be in charge. So how do we prevent such an error from happening again?
It was probably a lot easier back in ancient times to figure out who the stupid people were. They were the ones who did things like taunt the mammoths. And they were pretty easy to identify because their heads had been crushed by mammoths. No one ever even contemplated putting them in charge. Then again, back in that time, there wasn’t really any need for Stephen Hawking-level intelligence either, since there was no such thing as theoretical mammoth hunting studies.
Eventually civilization arose, and intelligence became more treasured. Ironically, this created opportunities for morons to thrive. No longer threatened by mammoth crushings, idiots survived and eventually evolved, developing a form of camouflage. Basically, they learned to appear to be smart while in fact being completely useless to society. We know these idiots today as intellectuals.
Now, some people think that the problem many Americans have with intellectuals is that they hate smart people. This is not a correct understanding of the objections (and not correctly understanding things is the sine qua non of stupid people). The problem is that these people just think they’re really smart but are in fact less than useless — less than useless in that they can’t do anything useful themselves. They become things like politicians and get in the way of actual smart people. In fact, they’ve developed a complex network of morons — the media, journalists, academics, NPR — to prop up each other as smart and call everyone who actually does useful things dumb. And if you try to explain how they’re actually just getting in the way, they get angry, since dumb people get angry when you explain things to them that they can’t understand.
So how do we tell the smart people from the faux-smart people? This is a smart question. Some may suggest we use Science! to answer this question and just give everyone IQ tests, but having high intelligence doesn’t make someone smart and can even lead to great stupidity. Think of a dog. A dog doesn’t have much intelligence, and if it’s walking down a path and sees a tree in front of it, it would never contemplate any other course of action than walking around the tree. If instead, a human with high enough intelligence came upon a tree in his way, he could use his considerable brainpower to come up with a convincing philosophical argument that the tree isn’t actually there and walk right into it.
Though that’s quite an intellectual feat, it’s not exactly… smart. Similarly, there are pundits out there who make complex esoteric arguments that President Obama has done an awesome job. Again, not an easy thing to do, but a pretty silly thing to devote one’s brainpower to. Yet we have entire universities full of people working on similar walking-into-a-tree feats of intelligence.
Think of intelligence as a tool. Just because someone owns a nice hammer doesn’t mean he could build a house. In fact, he could instead just take that hammer and swing it around wildly and smash holes in everything (remind you of any current presidential administrations?). Also, there could be someone who has a hammer so fancy that he doesn’t want to tarnish it by doing anything practical with it.
So if intelligence isn’t enough of a marker to identify smart people, what do we look for? Well, what is the whole point of being smart in the first place? Is the reason humans thrived so much better than any other animal because we can write complicated theses? No, it’s because humans can build tools and figure out better ways to hunt, i.e., do useful things. As Forrest Gump said, “Stupid is as stupid does.” Similarly, smart is as smart does. If someone is actually smart, then he should be able to do useful things.
For instance, look at Obama. People said he was smart because he sounded smart. That’s stupid. If you actually looked at his past, though, you would notice the lack of accomplishments that would show he knew how to do anything other than pretend to be smart. He was a community organizer — which I’m pretty sure is a made-up job — and then a mediocre legislator. There wasn’t a single useful thing he did, as his only ability seems to be convincing stupid people he’s smart — something he’s gotten a lot worse at since he’s actually tried to do things for the first time in his life.
So, in the future, instead of thinking someone is smart because he has a very interesting-sounding argument that two plus two equals five, look into the person’s background to see if he’s ever actually done anything useful, like run a business or at least once have an actual job that doesn’t have the word “community” in it. Using that method, it doesn’t seem too hard to find the actual smart people; you probably don’t even have to be that smart to do it. But if it is too hard, maybe we can task scientists to resurrect the mammoths so they can hunt down the stupid people and crush their heads again.
We will call that Plan B.