What’s the Point?

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.

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3 Responses to What’s the Point?

  1. Ron Greenman says:

    Funny. Recently a student, in the best traditions of a practiced religionist, posed an absurd argument about a point of physics I believe. Regardless of topic though, and never one to say anything is incontrovertible (think of the many “truths” that have been turned on their ears), the argument did rationally follow a standard of proof whatsoever. Finally I just said we’d spent enough time on the topic and needed to move forward. In the best American tradition of fair play though the student said that he supposed we’d just have to agree to disagree. My response was, “I don’t have to agree to any such thing since your argument is wrong!” Now this student isn’t stupid, but merely a typical person that is first and foremost lazy, and was probably trained to be that way by the educational system. Small children eager to learn about the world soon learn that knowledge is not a goal in school but rather high grades are what measures success and the road to high grades is memorizing factoids that will appear on tests. Note that Jeopardy contestants are typically considered smart and held in regard whilst truly intelligent, thoughtful and creative people are rewarded with demeaning titles such as egghead, weirdo, geek, etc. (Not to say their aren’t intellectual posers but….) People that truly think change things and change is frightening to the peasant class (no matter how many trappings of wealth American peasants display they are still the peasants). So, I like the people you are calling stupid, not for their non-stupidness, but because they provide endless opportunities for amusement and do the work that makes it possible for me to live a comfortable life with a job that provides me with a small fiefdom in a one person department, in a far corner of a small community college, in an obscure little city. An occasional public bow to the king, an acknowledgment of position for his ministers (I have the protection of the king and am not required to show any obeisance to said ministers), a signature on an occasional decree or degree, and I’m pretty much left on my own. A little teaching to pay the piper, a little more if the mood strikes me, or a complete diversion if that is my pleasure. And I do have to thank those that operate the power plant, fix the roads, bring the groceries to market, slave in some foreign sweatshop to manufacture this computer, etc. for my privilege. I just don’t ague to much with them since it is pointless.

  2. Deep Thought says:

    Interesting reading. Without expounding my usual deep thought (me aka Deep Thought!) I don’t consider myself to be gifted, bright or particularly clever, nor highly intelligent or smart. I have no idea what my IQ is, and have no wish to find out. If there’s one thing I am not it’s arrogant. If others take the fact that I’m well-informed across a broad and far reaching range of knowledge as appearing arrogant, it’s their problem not mine. For me knowing everything about everything, a deep inquisitive urge, has always been with me. I’m self-taught, my desire to think hard and study the world around me is part of my need to understand everything. One thing I have come to realise is that I’m not an average person when it comes to what I’m interested in, the questions I ask ans the things I like to talk and think about. I wholeheartedly agree with what has been said, I don’t like parties, people at parties are usually boring, boring party people talking about boring mundane things. I get the same response, I talk about what I’m doing, what I’m interested in and like talking about, and when I finish saying whatever it is, the person I’m with changes the subject. How I wish I could find somebody else like me, anybody, it seems that here this blog so often feels like a good place to be on the internet.. Reason 4, IF, socialist discussion, serious thought etc etc. I like it!

    Anyway enough from me, I sense a frustrated potential ‘polymath’ blog author is less than happy here with the numerous stupid people around him in the world. I would recommend the following as a way to bring back your good feeling and well being:

    BBC TV’s ‘Five Minutes With’

    Five Minutes With: Alain de Botton

    Five Minutes With: AC Grayling

    Five Minutes With: Sir Jonathan Miller

    Five minutes with: Richard Dawkins

    Five Minutes With: Professor Brian Cox

    And finally a book to read: The Age of Absurdity by Michael Foley.

    I think you might enjoy the above, I do! If not, or if you do, or whatever, your thoughts?

  3. Terry Cox says:

    Actually there is a very active MENSA Local Group in the Bay Area. Has a couple of thousand members, and activities all over the region. I was a member of that group for years before transferring to Mensa’s Washington DC group. Check them out: http://www.sfmensa.org/

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