How do you make it in America now? Everyone knows. You get “smart”: you apply yourself to education. Faith in the salvific power of education is an old story among Democrats. Lyndon Johnson, his White House aide George Reedy recalled, “had an abnormal, superstitious respect for education. I believe he even thought it would cure chilblain.”Perlstein zigs and zags in so many directions, that I am not certain that the essay title actually reflects its contents. But I do agree with the fundamental point that there is a liberal cult of the philosopher king, a desire that the masses would simply hand over the management of society to their cognitive betters, whether adduced as such by credentials or IQ.
I’ve always loved that quote. Now I better understand why: often, the cult of “smart” is a superstition. In LBJ’s time, to believe in it was “abnormal.” Now, that belief is collective—quite nearly unanimous. Which doesn’t make things easier for the Democrats pushing the ideology of cognitive elitism most assiduously. “Why do working-class Bush voters tend to resent intellectuals more than they do the rich?” David Graeber asked in 2007. “It seems to me the answer is simple. They can imagine a scenario in which they might become rich but cannot possibly imagine one in which they, or any of their children, would become members of the intelligentsia.”
For if you’re not a part of the intelligentsia, well, how can you possibly make the world better for your existence in it? This frustration, however, is precisely what makes perfectly decent people, whose only sin is that a self-arrogated cognitive elite doesn’t consider them particularly useful, such easy pickings for political con men who assure them that they’re actually the smart ones. And that, all in all, is not very smart.
It is ironic that the left-leaning intellectuals foster such a profoundly bigoted and disrespectful stance so closely akin to racism, misanthropy, the religiously intolerant etc. I prefer the more Christian position that we are all god's children and as such deserve respect and generosity. We are all born endowed with equal natural rights but unequal biological capabilities and uniquely complex patterns of growth and development. Of course outcomes are unequal. The modern leftish tendency to wave a wand of cognitive elitism to justify differential treatment is, in my eyes, as reprehensible as dismissing people because of their race, ethnicity, religion, etc.
Give people a chance to show their individual selves and judge them by their personal actions, not some generic stereotype of averages. And recognize that while any one of us might excel on an individual vector of performance, we are indeed all God's children and equal in that existential fashion.