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Monday, September 22, 2008

Wisdom & elitism: The moose-hunting hockey mom versus the community organizer from Harvard Law

It may be only temporary — I still have a mostly-downed tree suspended across my electric line drop in my backyard — but for the moment I have power and internet back, thanks in part to a visiting crew of power linemen from New York State. And I'm hoping that a nearby tree-cutting crew from North Carolina which is sweeping my neighborhood will deal with that tree soon.

Houston-based crews have responded to similar emergencies all over the country in past years, and I know that Houstonians and others along the Texas Gulf Coast are grateful for the way electric utilities from elsewhere in Texas and all over the U.S. are helping us out with the recovery from Hurricane Ike.

So back to work, and back to blogging! I've got a new guest post up at HughHewitt.com.


[Copied here for archival purposes on November 5, 2008, from the post linked above at HughHewitt.com.]

(Guest Post by Bill Dyer a/k/a Beldar)

I can't recall ever reading two op-eds, back to back, that were as dramatically different from one another as this one from Sam Harris in Newsweek, and this one from Victor Davis Hanson at PajamasMedia.

Both authors have liberal arts degrees from Stanford University. Ironically, though, it's the Stanford PhD (Hanson) who recognizes the fallacy of the elitist attacks on Sarah Palin, and the mere Stanford BA (Harris) who expressly champions elitism while leveling such attacks.

Reading both, I couldn't help but recall Mark Twain's famous quote: "When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years." Sam Harris apparently is one of those folks who, despite his education and research, never reached his intellectual age of majority.[# More #]

Comparing a few key paragraphs will give you the gist of each man's arguments. From Mr. Harris:

The problem, as far as our political process is concerned, is that half the electorate revels in Palin's lack of intellectual qualifications. When it comes to politics, there is a mad love of mediocrity in this country. "They think they're better than you!" is the refrain that (highly competent and cynical) Republican strategists have set loose among the crowd, and the crowd has grown drunk on it once again. "Sarah Palin is an ordinary person!" Yes, all too ordinary....

... Ask yourself: how has "elitism" become a bad word in American politics? There is simply no other walk of life in which extraordinary talent and rigorous training are denigrated. We want elite pilots to fly our planes, elite troops to undertake our most critical missions, elite athletes to represent us in competition and elite scientists to devote the most productive years of their lives to curing our diseases. And yet, when it comes time to vest people with even greater responsibilities, we consider it a virtue to shun any and all standards of excellence. When it comes to choosing the people whose thoughts and actions will decide the fates of millions, then we suddenly want someone just like us, someone fit to have a beer with, someone down-to-earth — in fact, almost anyone, provided that he or she doesn't seem too intelligent or well educated.

From Prof. Hanson:

[First, w]hile civilization advances on the shoulders of the educated, it is carried along by the legs of the muscular classes. And the latter are not there by some magical IQ test or a natural filtering process that separates the wheat from the chaff, but rather by either birth, or, as often, by their preference for action and the physical world.

Second, I have seen no difference in intelligence levels between those who inhabit the world of the physical and those who cultivate the life of the mind. That is, the most brilliant Greek philologists seemed no more impressive in their aptitude than the fellow who could take apart the transmission of an old Italian Oliver tractor, fix it, and put it back together — without a manual. And I knew three or four who could. The inept mechanic seemed no more dull than the showy graduate student who could not distinguish an articular infinitive from an accusative of respect....

A Ronald Reagan knew more about human nature, and thus what drives the Soviet Union than did all the Ivy-League Soviet specialists that surrounded Jimmy Carter — much less the Sally Quinns and Maureen Dowds of that age. We in America, unlike the Europeans, know this intuitively, grasp that a Harry Truman figured out the Russian communists far better than did the Harvard-educated aristocrat FDR.

I am not calling for yokelism, or a proponent of false-populism. Rather, I wish to remind everyone that there are two fonts of wisdom: formal education, and the tragic world of physical challenge and ordeal. Both are necessary to be broadly educated....

In this regard, I think Palin can speak, and reason, and navigate with bureaucrats and lawyers as well as can Obama; but he surely cannot understand hunters, mechanics, and carpenters like she can. And a Putin or a Chavez or a Wall-Street speculator that runs a leverage brokerage house is more a hunter than a professor or community organizer. Harvard Law School is not as valuable a touchstone to human nature as raising five children in Alaska while going toe-to-toe with pretty tough, hard-nose Alaskan males.

What Mr. Harris just doesn't get is that "half the electorate" isn't engaged in a "mad love of mediocrity." What he's sensing isn't affinity for incompetency, but rather revulsion at smugness. At least half, and probably more than half, of the electorate is intensely skeptical — based on past experience — whenever anyone like Harris claims that only "certain people" have a monopoly on wisdom or even common sense. Harris would define that monopolistic class to include himself, Barack Obama, Joe Biden (seriously? Joe Biden?), and some unspecified but mostly bi-coastal portion of Blue-State America. And he would define that class to exclude me, Victor Davis Hanson, John McCain, Sarah Palin, and — oh yeah — anyone who believes in God. (His essay's title, in fact, is "When Atheists Attack: A noted provocateur rips Sarah Palin — and defends elitism.")

The good news is that Mr. Harris' arguments are unlikely to persuade anyone who isn't already a Hard Left elitist. It's far, far more likely that this sort of argument will — correctly — offend a large number of folks on the margin who aren't neurosurgeons by training themselves, but who recognize that being President of the United States isn't very much at all like being a neurosurgeon. (If only it were that easy! If only we could train great presidents like we train great neurosurgeons!)

Prof. Hanson's arguments, by contrast, are based on concepts that are as deeply ingrained in America's self-identity and psyche as Twain's parables. A whole lot of Americans — whether they're neurosurgeons or tractor mechanics — can draw meaningful comparisons between an effective state governor (reforming corruption, imposing fiscal discipline, and actually advancing the goal of American energy independence) and a show-horse U.S. Senator (whose only accomplishments of note have been his own election campaigns). For those of us who find Gov. Palin a better candidate than Sen. Obama, whenever someone like Sam Harris ridicules us, it tends not to disturb us so much as to reassure us.

And folks like Mr. Harris provide us with an endless source of amusement, not unlike watching Wyle E. Coyote's frustration as each of his brilliant and elite plans for catching that straightforward, unsophisticated Roadrunner explode in his face.

So please, Mr. Harris: Keep writing this sort of stuff! We know we can count on Newsweek to keep publishing it when you do, but we really need you and your fellow Elitists for Obama-Biden to keep a high profile between now and November 4th!

— Beldar

Posted by Beldar at 05:41 PM in 2008 Election, Mainstream Media, McCain, Obama, Palin, Politics (2008) | Permalink


Other weblog posts, if any, whose authors have linked to Wisdom & elitism: The moose-hunting hockey mom versus the community organizer from Harvard Law and sent a trackback ping are listed here:


(1) Dan S made the following comment | Sep 22, 2008 7:30:39 PM | Permalink

Glad to hear it, Beldar.

You see the mypetjawa post on the Palin AIG video?

(2) Beldar made the following comment | Sep 22, 2008 8:25:02 PM | Permalink

Dan: Yup. Fine work by Dr. Rusty Shackleford, and much credit should also go to Ace, Patterico, and many others who helped publicize the connections. I haven't blogged about it myself just because I don't think I have anything particularly significant to add, and given that Hugh's already blogged about it with links, I don't think my adding something at his site would contribute anything new either.

(3) Mark made the following comment | Sep 22, 2008 9:45:39 PM | Permalink

Sam Harris? lol, sure he's liked by (ir)Rational Response Squad types, but that only validates your description of him. Good work Beldar.

(4) Mark L made the following comment | Sep 22, 2008 9:49:32 PM | Permalink

Glad you are back. The irony is that League City, where I live, was not nearly as badly affected as inside the Loop.

That's due in part to the fact that houses here tend to be built a bit more strongly, that we expect hurricane-force winds, and plan accordingly, and that much of what could blow down blew down during previous storms.

The main problem with hurricanes -- if you are above the surge level -- is that it is like a bad bout with influenza. It is not so much that it will kill you. It is that after it passes it leaves you miserable enough that you almost wish you had died. (Almost.) At least until you recover.

(5) stan made the following comment | Sep 23, 2008 7:23:23 AM | Permalink

The first step on the path to wisdom is the recognition that one is ignorant. The smug elitist is so focused on the specks in others' eyes that he forgets that log in his. There are none so blind.

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