Wednesday, January 27, 2010

"The Politics of Intellectual Contempt"

James Taranto calls it "the politics of intellectual contempt." Link here.

It occurs when public intellectuals stigmatize people who do not think as they do by taxing them with stupidity and irrationality. Thereby, they try to manipulate minds and their votes.

It is a rhetorical ploy. It may lay claim to rationality and intelligence but it is, as Taranto shows, it is really about emotion.

Following Peter Wehner Taranto notes that the same voters who are now being excoriated for voting for Scott Brown were praised a year ago for voting for Barack Obama. Now they are labeled dupes; then they were rational and mature.

Yet, Obama appealed to emotion far more than to reason. His was a candidacy based on hope and change, but especially on emotional uplift. No one who engaged in a rational deliberative process about who was qualified to be president would ever have alighted on the name of Barack Obama.

To this day you cannot do a rational analysis of Obama's speeches and conclude that he is really saying anything.

Besides, as Taranto notes, there is a vast difference between being smart and being right: "Very intelligent people have been known to advance very compelling arguments on behalf of very bad ideas."

To take the greatest twentieth-century philosophers of continental Europe as an easy example, ask yourself how many of them whole-heartedly supported tyrants and mass murderers. How many of these great minds happily supported Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, and even the Ayatollah Khomeni?

The answer is: nearly all of them.

Great philosophers aside, whoever made Joe Klein and Peter Jennings arbiters of smart. And yet, Klein pronounced those who voted for Scott Brown to be "dodos" and, in 1994, the late Jennings famously ranted that the people who had voted for a Republican Congress were acting like an angry mob.

There is another problem here.Being a Time Magazine columnist, even being an all-star newsreader, does not make you one of the great minds of Western civilization.

Klein and Jennings prove that you do not have to be brilliant to traffic in intellectual contempt. I suspect that people who are insecure about their intellectual abilities-- like newsreaders who read scripts-- are most prone to cast themselves as gatekeepers who can grant or deny entrance into smart society.

Intellectual contempt is not based on argument; it does not invite deliberation. It shames people whose opinions do not conform to the conventional political wisdom.

Intellectual contempt does not aim at being right; it does not aim at what is best for the country. It is simply about belonging to the right team, the smart team.

No one is allowed to impugn anyone's patriotism any more, but we are encouraged to impugn the intelligence and rationality of everyone who does not think the way the intellectual elites want them to think.

Intellectual contempt fosters intellectual conformity. It is not an accident that nearly all of the self-proclaimed free thinkers on Manhattan Island-- to choose a place at random-- think exactly the same thing.

In certain places it is not enough to be successful or rich; you have to be a serious intellectual. One of the ways to show that you belong to the smart team is to utter the right password.

Want to be considered smart in New York? The next time you go to a cocktail party, utter the following passwords: Sarah Palin is an idiot. You will be embraced; you will feel welcome; you will feel like one of the crowd.

Or else, if you wish, try saying that you would happily vote for Sarah Palin for president. People will look at you askance, as though you deserved to be committed. They will quickly disperse, leaving you alone with your renegade opinion.

As I see it,Joe Klein and Peter Jennings represent the party of intellectual hubris. But, what can we say about George Soros. It is not enough for Soros to be a hyper-rich hedge fund manager, but he wants everyone to think of him as a great political philosopher.

For reasons that defy reason Soros feels compelled to foist his political opinions and philosophical worldview on the populace and to demand that they be respected because he runs a successful hedge fund.

In the end the politics of intellectual contempt yields the rule of philosopher-kings like Barack Obama. We have even been told, by David Axelrod, that Obama is so intellectually superior that the rest of us are just not smart enough to understand how smart he is.

Mixing condescension with contempt Axelrod even declared that Obama understood the health care crisis better than you and I because, when he was a law student, he worked on the legal implications of Einstein's theory of relativity with the eminent law professor, Lawrence Tribe.

According to Axelrod, having a dilettante's knowledge of relativity theory qualifies you as an expert in all fields of human endeavor.

James Taranto says that this must be a joke. Let's hope so.

No one can have so much contempt for the intelligence of the American people that he would imagine that they would believe such a thing.

But then again, in the last presidential election, they did.


Rogue Male said...

George Orwell captured this well with "One has to belong to the intelligentsia to believe things like that; no ordinary man could be such a fool." He also neatly described this kind of prevailing pseudo-wisdom appropriately: "smelly little orthodxies."

Anonymous said...

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