Phi Beta Cons

Stupid Is as Stupid Does

Once at a University of California, Berkeley football game, the University of Nebraska was pounding the Golden Bears into the turf when a Cal student leaped to his feet, faced the cheering Cornhusker fans, and shrieked, “OH YEH? WELL, WE HAVE HIGHER SAT SCORES!!!”

In “The War On Stupid People,” Atlantic contributor David Freedman takes a tortuous look at the student’s common assumption that academic success equates to anything other than … academic success. Freedman is right when he says, “The 2010s … are a terrible time to not be brainy. Those who consider themselves bright openly mock others for being less so…. Indeed, degrading others for being `stupid’ has become nearly automatic in all forms of disagreement.” Anyone who reads Internet comment threads can corroborate his observation.

However, Freedman soon gets lost in the progressive funhouse. Citing College Board figures, he says, “Quibble with the details all you want, but there’s no escaping the conclusion that most Americans aren’t smart enough … to get through four years of college with moderately good grades.” That depends. In rigorous electrical engineering, sure, but how many people have flunked out of rigor-less women’s studies or human communication? Today, no one can tell what many degrees signify, neither backward to what the student actually studied nor forward to what that student can be expected to be able to do. And what does his most “aren’t smart enough” assertion imply when the progressive desire is for universal college? Academe and the SAT are already egregiously dumbed down.

But wait, Freedman then decides that the IQ-deprived aren’t stupid after all because it’s poverty that affects IQ that affects SAT scores that affects college performance leading to income inequality. Unfortunately, he scolds, “The strength of the link between poverty and struggling in school is as close to ironclad as social science gets. Still, there’s little point in discussing alleviating poverty as a solution, because our government and society are not seriously considering any initiatives capable of making a significant dent in the numbers or conditions of the poor.” So, what then? Neglecting to say exactly who “we” is, Freedman suggests:

We must stop glorifying intelligence and treating our society as a playground for the smart minority. We should instead begin shaping our economy, our schools, even our culture with an eye to the abilities and needs of the majority, and to the full range of human capacity. The government could, for example, provide incentives to companies that resist automation, thereby preserving jobs for the less brainy … it could also discourage hiring practices that arbitrarily and counterproductively weed out the less-well-IQ’ed. This might even redound to employers’ benefit: Whatever advantages high intelligence confers on employees, it doesn’t necessarily make for more effective, better employees. Among other things, the less brainy are, according to studies and some business experts, less likely to be oblivious of their own biases and flaws, to mistakenly assume that recent trends will continue into the future, to be anxiety-ridden, and to be arrogant.

That’s right. The answer, as always, is the eggheads and double-domes of Big Government! Yet progressive government does not itself embrace the “less brainy” but proliferates panels, commissions, and other clots of unelected “experts” to set national policy. Who can forget Obamacare architect and MIT brainiac Jonathan Gruber arrogantly explaining that “Lack of transparency is a huge political advantage. And basically, call it the stupidity of the American voter or whatever, but basically that was really, really critical for the thing to pass.”

Professor David Clemens teaches composition, literature, and critical thinking at Monterey Peninsula College. In 2000, his victorious struggle against a college loyalty oath to multiculturalism was covered ...

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