Writing In The Age Of The Idiot

Ilana Mercer, October 9, 2009

The reasons for addressing readers’ responses to “Athens And Jerusalem,” lie not in an exaggerated sense of self-importance, but in a sense of urgency. For some particularly jarring retorts (these have become ubiquitous over the years) are emblematic of the triumph of twiddle dumb and twiddle dumber in American culture and politics. And that’s a problem.

Super smart sorts still predominate in the few professional niches in which advanced skill and aptitude are necessary if bridges are to keep from falling, airplanes to remain airborne, and their human cargo pacified with electronic gadgets. Otherwise, an “intellectual” underclass has risen to dominate America in almost every field of endeavor.

Once-upon-a-time simpletons sought self-improvement. No longer; in the Age of the Idiot they are groomed to be oblivious to their shortcomings ─ and will proceed loudly and aggressively against those who fail to mirror their mindset. On encountering someone he might learn from, the personality prototype under discussion unfurls an “untamed Id” and an inflated Ego in all their fury.

So it was that Ivan Poulter wrote to inform me that, while he was “constantly accused of being too intellectual,” he lacked my “intellectual quotient.” And although he meant no insult, he nevertheless needed to inform me that I “also appear as some kind of dumb-ass in [my] exaggerated intelligence.” Being a charitable kinda “intellectual dumb-ass,” I urged Ivan to cheer up, and reassured him that, judging from the violence he visited on the English language; he could never be mistaken for an intellectual.

Not content with the generous airing his well-developed ideas received on my blog (private property), the unbounded Ivan then demanded I publish yet another missive in which he “analyzed” my frail psychology à la Oprah. Psychologizing is an illegitimate, bastardized form of argument, popularized by the “Idiocracy.” Rather than address the meat of the column, which would have been the single valid response to it, a commentary on my personality and its alleged deficiencies ensued.

“Steve” took the pop-psych tack too in a letter to WorldNetDaily.com’s editor titled “Elitist Ilana.” On encountering the neoconservative, paleoconservative, and paleolibertarian categories, this reader reached not for Google, but for the ad hominem (Google it). Ilana was trying to “sound smart,” he smarted. Steve then launched into the standard feel-good fare ingrained by the country’s many Ministries of Truth. Accordingly, systematic thinking was bad ─ categorization encouraged broad-brush judgments, blah blah. From an insecure, overly smart “dumb-ass,” Ilana graduated to an “arrogant intellectual.”

Now, human beings have forever used categories to render their world comprehensible and to advance understanding, not to stunt it. “Philosophical interest in categories,” reads the (online) Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, “may be traced back to Aristotle who, in his treatise ‘Categories,’ attempts to enumerate the most general kinds into which entities in the world divide.” Some badass was Aristotle.

Barbara Grant, an electro-optical engineer and the co-author of “The Art of Radiometry,” responded to Steve, with ─ wait for this ─ an argument (OMG). The neoconservative, paleoconservative, and paleolibertarian categories, she argued, were important-to-understand distinctions that advanced clarity:

Many calling themselves “conservatives” differ from one another on key issues, for example, the Iraq War. “Neoconservatives” were all for it; “paleoconservatives” opposed it, as did many libertarians including those of the “paleo” stripe. Rather than diminishing individualism, as Steve suggests, the distinctions advanced by Ms. Mercer serve to promote it. I, for one, would not wish to be lumped into a general category with others calling themselves “conservatives” who advocated for what I considered to be an unconstitutional action in Iraq. If we don’t specify distinctions, then every individual can be classified as either “liberal” or “conservative.” This might make things easier for Steve, but it will be far from accurate.

From hereon in it was all down “dumb-ass” hill. Having read the column on Taki’s, which is known for its intellectual gymnasts, “Eric” wrote to address its substance (not its author’s real or imagined personality failings):

“Athens and Jerusalem” is some of your finest writing. … Your style is intelligent, but never at the expense of directness and accessibility. In a perfect world, your columns would be carried in The New York Times on a weekly basis.”

Young Brett followed by nailing down the reason this writer won’t patronize her readers:

I have read your blog and columns since High School, and I appreciate finding reading material that is actually written above the sixth grade level. What really bothers me with Ivan’s letter, more than its silly tilt at you, is the implication that many of your readers are too dumb to understand what you’re talking about. Au contraire. Your blog has some of the cleanest, most intellectual comments I find anywhere on the web.

Ultimately, by demanding dumbed-down material, a reader is asking that the writer reflect his abilities and proclivities, not challenge them.

The reflections of a famous Founding Father on the virtues of a natural elite would suggest, moreover, that the term be carefully qualified before it is deployed as a pejorative. These days, the natural aristocracy precludes the political class, which uses coercion and deception to gain ascendancy. Members of the neatly bifurcated networks and pulp press, being mere supplicants to the state, are also excluded from the natural aristocracy.

The very same founder forewarned against an “Idiocracy” rising. “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.” That genius, Thomas Jefferson, also insisted that liberty would be “a short-lived possession unless the mass of the people could be informed and enlightened to a certain degree.”

For the benefit of my anti-intelligence detractors over the years, I recommend avoiding The Federalist- and Anti-Federalist Papers. Written as they were by “dumb asses with” a seriously “exaggerated intelligence,” to use Ivan’s locution, they are sure to drive him and his ilk to distraction.

WorldNetDaliy.com & Taki’s
August 7, 2009

CATEGORIES: Argument, Culture, Founding Fathers, ILANA Mercer, Intelligence, Neoconservatism, Paleoconservatism, Popular Culture, Reason