A recent NY Times piece discussed the dangerous resentment and hatred that many Americans have for highly educated affluent women, who presumably think they are better than “normal” Americans. While in full agreement with these observations, this author wishes to point out that bright and educated American men are also subject to similar erroneous resentments.
Many years back, I was attending my second class at the evening division of Brooklyn Law School. In our first session, we beginner students had been asked to read a test law case and bring back a written analysis of the points we should consider if we were handling the defense. Evening classes usually attract mature students, so almost all of us were in our twenties or thirties.To the best of my knowledge, none of us had any legal background.
I prepared an extensive paper covering what I considered the pertinent facts, my opinion as to what laws I believed would apply and a discussion as to how I would handle the case. Several of us were asked to read our papers to the class.. Most of the reports were short. Mine was extensive and I believe thorough. When I finished reading, there was a moment of silence in the class, followed by copious laughter.
The Professor spoke out, “See, Mr. Rubinstein, realize that if you are bright and work hard, you will face resentment, often masked by laughter and ridicule.”
What was true in that class is equally valid for our whole country. A substantial portion of the population, while not stupid, are relatively ignorant and choose to remain so. They feel nervous when dealing with bright and educated people, particularly intellectuals. Note the popular use of words such as egghead, bookworm, nerd, elitist, intellectual snob and wiseguy, all used in a derogatory way. Apparently, nobody wants to think of himself as intellectually inferior. “I’m as good as the next guy.” “Why should he get special treatment?”It starts in school. The smartest guy in the class is rarely popular. It’s the jocks who rule the roost. Or the most beautiful and the most handsome. [As we grow older, another popular category is added –– the richest.]
This explains why very intelligent candidates, e.g. Adlai Stevenson, rarely are elected President. The average voter prefers a George W. Bush type, someone you would rather share a beer with.. someone who reads cowboy novels, if he bothers to read at all. Or, more recently, someone like Sarah Palin. Harry Truman concealed the fact that he was a closet reader, particularly of history) until after he was elected President. The real brains in the Government are for the most part appointed, rather than elected.
This anti-intellectual snobbery is strange, since many of the things we enjoy in modern life originated with brain power. Mediocre or average guys do not invent or create light bulbs, automobiles, refrigerators, air conditioners, radios, TV’s ,computers, and many of the other devices which make life easier for most of us. Nor do they improve our medical treatment with X-rays, E.K.G.’s, MRI’s, prosthetic devices and a wide array of pharmaceuticals. Louis Pasteur invented pasteurization. Jonas Salk discovered a vaccine to prevent Polio. Hundreds of thousands of lives were saved by these two brilliant men.We all enjoy the fruits of these inventions and improvements. They are part of our daily lives. But it is surprising how many of us sneer, either openly or subconsciously, at the class of individuals who invented them.
This open resentment against intellectuals and against brain power in general is dangerous. Years ago, I visited the Tykai Pyramids in Guatamala, once the center of a magnificent and advanced Mayan civilization, now just a set of deserted ruins. I asked the guide what catastrophe had destroyed this society. He advised me that nobody knew for sure, but a likely theory is that the common people, the workers revolted and killed off the ruling class. In their anger, they also killed the engineers who were responsible for maintaining the water supply, so necessary in that arid area. Without proper maintenance. the water supply eventually disappeared, and the population had to move to another area.
I am not in any way suggesting that America is in danger of an uprising by ordinary citizens against the intellectual elites. I do however believe that resentment and hatred of the bright and educated members of our society, now more or less socially acceptable, is an unhealthy situation, not in the best interest of progress.
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