Sunday, November 14, 2010

Stupidity is a Lifestyle Choice

Intellectual elitism. This is the new adage for the American people. It is our political zeitgeist. Because of this, Americans can now add “stupid” to this list of adjectives the world outside their borders assigns them, right between “fat” and “loud.” It seems the American public has lost erudite ways.

Since when is it ok to be stupid by choice? I hate to pull the cliche phrase “When I was growing up...” but when I was growing up, I was taught that the brain is the strongest muscle. I was also taught something else: intellectual elitism is an oxymoron.

In my science class, we would learn that every animal has evolved different survival traits. Cheetahs have speed. Gorillas have strength. Rats have strength in numbers. I remember asking my teacher exactly what survival traits humans have. She didn’t answer with words, she just pointed to her head, and we all understood.

Human beings have (supposed) superior intelligence to all other beings. Our intelligence has made us the dominant species on this planet. Intelligence has advanced civilization, saved lives, fostered technology and the arts, and has even fostered itself.  While advanced intelligence has never achieved celebrity status, it has always been revered. Until recently.

Our recent political discourse seems to demonize anything resembling cerebral snobbery. This confuses me, because don’t we want smart people in politics? These are people who are in control of civilization, so therefore don’t we want people who have the capacity to understand how civilization works? The problem is many Americans are told to vote using anything but their heads. Fiscal conservatives are told to vote with their wallets. Women are told to vote with their uteruses. Patriots are told to vote with their hearts.

When I was a young girl, I asked my grandmother why she didn’t vote for Ross Perot (I was told there was no such thing as a stupid question). She told me that “He’s fit to run a company, but not fit to run a country.” This statement didn’t hit me directly. Instead it led me to form my own political philosophy. As I became older, it became more refined.

Most people vote for someone who shares the same core values as them.  This is the same mentality we assume when we are looking for a life partner. This concept is inately flawed, because a life partner relationship involves only two people. A political relationship involves a whole society. Unfortunately, the life partner relationship is not a microcosm of the prudish American society.

Rather, when we vote for a person, we need to pretend that we are voting for a boss at work. If you were able to vote for your boss, would you rather prefer someone with little experience in your field who happens to share a similar lifestyle to yours, or a person who has experience, intelligence, and fortitude? We want someone that can not only keep us employed, but who can also keep the rest of the company afloat. This is pretty much where the metaphor ends since I don’t want to get into capitalist/healthcare debate.

Perhaps the blame for this brainy bafflement could be at least partly fall on intellectuals. As opposed to physical acuity, mental acuity seems to be squandered. While physical athletes purposefully place themselves on pedestals of inspiration that beckon their followers to ascend to their heights, intellectuals shut themselves out of mainstream society. What we don’t realize is that we have the power to control society, because it is built off of our ideas. We are not part of the machine, but we built the machine.

As I said before, intellectual elitism is an oxymoron. Intellect is what makes us human. Since we are all human, it can’t be solely the property of the elite. We all own intellect, but we have choice on whether or not we use it. The average human has the capacity for great ideas, much like the average human has the capacity to run long distances.  Every human has potential, and it is an insult to ourselves to not explore the wonders within our own minds. If we don’t find our mental skills, it is because we are self-limiting and lazy.

Some say that they don’t have the capacity to solve certain mental problems. Whenever I hear someone say “I’m bad at math” or “I can’t learn a language,” I tell them to do the following:

1) Forget you are bad at X.
2) Accept that every problem with X has a solution.
3) Accept that you have the capacity to find that solution.

If they don’t follow these rules, they are just being lazy.  Our society has always denigrated physical laziness. We need to start denigrating mental laziness as well.

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