Jennifer, I also think there’s a political angle to the idea of self-importance and raising children. I live in Tennessee, and if my daughter came home from school and said, “I am the smartest kid in my whole class,” I would probably answer by saying something like, “There’s no need to put down your friends.”
My liberal Philadelphia friend Rene would take a very difference approach. If her son came home bragging about his grades, she’d tell her son, “Yes, Ethan, you’re a very smart boy, and you can do anything you set your mind to.”
David Brooks noticed this phenomenon once and wrote, “If I had to describe the differences between the two sensibilities in a single phrase, it would be conception of the self. In Red America the self is small. People declare in a million ways, ‘I am normal. Nobody is better, nobody is worse. I am humble before God.’ In Blue America the self is more commonly large. People say in a million ways, ‘I am special. I have carved out my own unique way of life. I am independent. I make up my own mind.’”
Barely half of conservatives describe themselves to be an “intellectual,” but 75 percent of liberals do. Brooks pointed out that people in red states “don’t complain that Woody Allen isn’t as funny as he used to be, because they never thought he was funny.” Our close friends in Kentucky were well-educated, practiced law, owned hotels, and could pick a winning horse at Keeneland based on how it bucks in the starting gate. However, we’ve never had a conversation about the latest piece in The New Yorker. It’s not that these people were less intelligent than their blue-state counterparts, but wearing intelligence on your sleeve is just not done.
This reticence is not present in the North, where people regale you with a Reader’s Digest version of their resumes within minutes of introduction — the unabridged version if you’re not adept at excusing yourself for a cocktail. One woman — who was wearing the shirt equivalent of a bikini top while picking up her kindergartner from school — told me other women didn’t like her because she was gorgeous, intelligent, and confident in her sexuality. We also noticed that if anyone’s opinion was questioned in New York, they’d recite their list of accomplishments instead of discuss the issue at hand. “How can you question me? I am the son of Latvian immigrants and have written three articles about this very subject for . . .”
This southern refusal to elevate oneself above others may help exacerbate the stereotype that conservatives are idiots. (Remember when some pranksters issued a fake press release claiming President Bush had the lowest presidential IQ in the past 50 years and reputable news organizations bought it? They believe conservatives must be morons. Otherwise, why would we disagree with them?)
My husband David is a southern, conservative Iraq War vet who also graduated from Harvard Law School and taught at Cornell Law School. I noticed that his colleagues talked constantly about their latest intellectual endeavors and frequently referred to their credentials. When I asked David about why he didn’t seem to care as much about mentioning his successes, he said, “I’m ‘intellectual’ only by profession, not entertainment.”
Then, he went back to the movie he was watching: Terminator.
After all, Woody Allen just isn’t funny anymore.