Saturday, November 12, 2011

Intelligence Is Not A Crime

I have been reading this morning about Herman Cain and the Republican field. They are pushing common sense as policy, which is a fine enough thing to say, but they are doing it at the expense of intelligence and wisdom. They are pushing common sense in order to appear folksy. I get why they are doing it. This sort of thing plays well in our country. People who manage their own finances day to day are appalled by the machinations involved in managing and mismanaging the budgets of our country. They want the government (a folksy idea in and of itself that our government is one thing) to cut spending, pay off the bills, and make everything hunky-dory. That our politicians largely reinforce such simplistic ideas isn't a good thing though you wouldn't know that from the polls. Intelligence and deep thinking aren't bad things, they just don't seem to be ideas that, in this day and age, can be sold on a national level.

This push away from intelligence starts early. With women there is a push to not be good at math. I work in schools and see this every day. It is perfectly acceptable for a young woman to say, "I'm terrible at math" and go on with her life. I see it with adults too, especially women, who claim that they just never get math. This sort of thing is trumpeted as an achievement or at least as an acceptable bit of stupidity. I wonder if it would be the same for these people to laugh and say, "I don't get words longer than five letters long; I let my husband take care of those."

Complex ideas are seen as someone else's realm. Consider the idea of climate change. Well, that's too tough for any of us to understand or do anything about, right? I mean, even scientists don't agree on that or get it completely. Right? No, not at all. Climate change is complex but not impossible. It's about like trying to ride the New York City subway system: a task that seems impossible until you need to understand it, at which point it becomes something that you learn.

Herman Cain is a master simpleton. I don't mean that he's stupid (though I will say that he makes incredibly stupid statements and decisions). Instead, I mean that he is brilliant at appearing as the simple man with the simple plan. 9-9-9, baby! He knows that the way to the White House is through the use of simple answers that people don't even have to chew before swallowing. He also knows that the answers he gives need to cover over the fact that the world is a complex place and requires intelligence and deep thinking. Like most of our politicians operating in a 24-hour news cycle that requires 10-second sound bites, he is a typical charlatan selling tickets at a carnival. Step right up to see the tiniest economic plan in the world! Feast your eyes on the common sense of it! And then he takes our money and shows us a fake.

Perhaps its the fact that I have been stuck with a cold for two days and my head is stuffed full, my lungs are coughing up phlegm, and my nose is either stuck shut or leaking steadily. Maybe that's why I have had enough of this nonsense. Maybe that too is why I'm so crotchety about it.

But I think it also has to do with the simple facts of my young daughters having breakfast out in the kitchen. They know that the world is not simple and they dive into things with their eyes and minds open. They wouldn't suggest that balancing our home budget is as simple as eliminating feeding the cats and dog (those free-loaders!) or to stop paying the taxes that keep their school open. They even understand why a lot of their teachers have been let go and their classes are over-flowing. They get that things often go beyond common sense.


Maybe common sense dictates that big problems require big thinking. Maybe things such as the current economic crisis require us to go well beyond the obvious and consider possibly spending our way back to fiscal health. Maybe common sense demands that we set aside ten-word answers to problems, that we research the depths and complexities of things and work together.

Common sense is the sense we have in common and that has been handed down to us through the years. It is not the simplest answer. It is not the sound-byte. It does not have to be folksy and appeal to the lowest common denominator. After all, the common sense for years has been to listen to the smart women and men around us, to learn from and challenge their ideas, and to strive always to become more intelligent and to fill ourselves with more wisdom. I can get behind that. Herman Cain I can get behind only so much as I can then push him off the stage.

Write on.