On a 3-by-5 card tucked into a little tin box of recipes (now, in all likelihood, on its way to the landfill), my mother wrote down a few notes about my childhood accomplishments. After recording my SAT scores, she added, “The teachers at Livermore High say these are the highest scores they’ve ever seen.”
Mostly I don’t think about being bright, any more than fish think about water. I’m far more likely to be thinking about the clever harmonic manipulations in Haydn and Clementi, or some thorny problem in computer programming, or the book I’m reading, or the book I’m writing.
Once in a while, though, I get into a pointless wrangle with somebody, as I did tonight, and then it jumps up and smacks me in the face: Of course! That guy is stupid! That’s why he isn’t willing to discuss the topic in a rational way.
Stupid people are, in my experience, usually quite enamored of the idea that their opinion is as valid as anybody else’s. If you try to explain that they need to reconsider something, they accuse you of being arrogant, or (on this particular occasion) of being a fascist. If you persist in trying to explain that you’re not being arrogant but are simply well-informed, that only proves to them that you’re arrogant.
A third guy who was standing nearby during this interchange said, “There is no right or wrong.” He was trying to be a peacemaker. He was asserting a meta-viewpoint from which my opinions and the second guy’s opinions were equally valid and further discussion therefore not necessary, so we could all be friendly. I said, “No, that’s not correct. There is a difference between right and wrong.”
After which I just walked away, because what would have been the point of going on with the discussion? There wasn’t any discussion, really, just a couple of guys with ill-formed opinions and no mechanisms with which either to evaluate or to defend same.
You see how dangerous this can get? Once I start saying what I think, it gets hard to just roll with the stupidity.
Sometimes I get really, really tired of living in a world that is so densely populated with stupid people. Sometimes I would like to be surrounded by people who are as bright as I am. I don’t think there’s a Mensa chapter in Livermore, unfortunately. I’ve looked.
I’m not actually anti-social. In a little social gambit of self-deprecation, I like to call myself a recluse — an outgoing, gregarious recluse, a line that sometimes elicits a laugh. The truth is simpler: I don’t often go to parties because the people at parties are boring. They’re stupid. They’re not, by and large and with a few notable exceptions, capable of having an intelligent conversation about much of anything.
When someone mentions, at a party, something that they’re doing — let’s say they’re going to school, or auditioning for a play, or recently took a wonderful vacation — I will make a point of asking them a few questions. I will engage with them on whatever topic they bring up. This is, I think, fairly normal social behavior. And then there’s a gap in the conversation, so I bring up something that I’m doing, something that is of interest to me — and when I finish saying whatever it is, the person I’m with changes the subject.
I don’t think they do this because they’re being intentionally rude. I think they do it because they’re stupid. They’re not equipped to talk about whatever I’ve just mentioned. Indeed, the prospect of talking about it may make them a little uncomfortable, because they’re dimly aware how ill-equipped they are.
I’ve started reading a very good book called Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon. One of the things that’s good about it is that the author, Daniel Dennett, is a philosopher. He knows how to think, and he knows how to articulate the things he’s thinking.
Among my social circle are a few people who could probably follow the discussion in this book, if they put their minds to it. But I don’t know anyone who would read it for pleasure, or who would find it easy to incorporate the ideas in the book into a network of similar (or divergent) ideas from other books on related topics.
This is what it’s like. I’m not boasting. I’m just saying, this is what it’s like. It’s lonely, and it’s frustrating, and it’s rather tedious. I could say more, but either you get it, or you’ll only think I’m being arrogant.