Susan Suess Kennedy wrote an article recently for the Huffington Post examining why Americans have such a disdain for smart people. A popular terms among the non-intellectuals and shallow thinkers is “elistism.” The undereducated white guys chant this, along with “drill baby, drill” (which I don’t really get as a mantra, but ok..) Here’s the puppy take on all this.
Way back in the good ol’ days of air travel (pre-1996 or thereabouts) getting on a plane was something that you did because you had really important business. You knew the rules (or got to know the rules quickly) ticket prices were high, but so was the expectation of flyer sophistication and service from the airlines.
At some point, the airlines thought it was a good idea to let anyone fly. They deserved to fly to see grandma, visit the new baby, etc. Ticket prices plummeted and the airports were suddenly overrun by people who really didn’t have a clue where they were going, what they were doing and had expectations of service that was far in excess of the price they paid for their ticket. The airline employees suddenly felt like a “babysitter” when they were hired as a trained air traffic professional. Things got surly and the service and profits plummeted straight to the bottom. In addition, the airlines and airports were so overrun with volume that it was easy for nineteen people to slip into planes on 9/11.
The same thing happened with the housing market. Days were the only people who were allowed to buy a home were those who could actually afford it. They saved their money, they worked hard and smart and they had at least 5%-10% down on a home. They bought a home that might have been a little lived-in, was probably too small and in an area that was not exactly their first choice. And buying that first home was tough as bankers made you sweat the details of employment history, credit history and cash. The money was real and it was hard-earned.
Then, along came a generation of people who deserved to be in a home, regardless of their credit history or income. The question was not whether or not it made sense to buy a home; the question was how do we bend the rules to get you in a home. And so we put a lot of people in houses that they did not work for, they couldn’t afford to buy and more importantly, couldn’t afford to maintain. In addition, we sent a message to all the home owners who did work hard for their homes that their work was just not that valuable. And now, as these $0-down, sub-prime folks are abandoning their homes in record numbers, they are kicking more dirt into the faces of the hard-working folks in the form of lower home values, higher property taxes and an economy in shambles.
The same thing happened with a college education. A time was only the really smart people who tested high on the ACT or SAT, had a solid GPA and could write a coherent paper got accepted into college. Paying for it was another matter, but if you were really smart, you either found a way or were given a way.
Now, colleges are more interested in being in the food service and housing businesses than the business of education. Most colleges will take any student who applies, but require they stay in student housing for their freshman and sophomore years. Their cafeterias are now stocked with branded food items from Chik Fil A, Burger King, KFC, etc. in addition to gourmet lunches and dinners. The dorms are lavish apartments starting at $3,000+ a semester, per student, sleeping four per unit. And every student there believes they deserve a college degree, regardless of how hard they work or the quality of their work.
And we get to the US Elections. On the one side, we have someone who is really smart and is a deep thinker. On the other side, we have a candidate who shoots from the hip, deserves to be President because he served his country for decades and it is “his turn.” Moreover, he has paired up with an “average hockey mom” and journalism major who doesn’t read newspapers, speaks plainly but incoherently and identifies well with the Bubba vote who is able to fly to Vegas for less than $100, lives in a house he can’t really afford, went to a college where he majored in drinking and works at a job for a company that really doesn’t produce anything of value. But, by God, she deserves to be VP!
Despite her dreadful interview performances with Charlie Rose and Katie Couric, Palin could win the debates tomorrow because she appeals to a growing audience that has become dumber and dumber, but more deserving. We have abdicated our need to know facts for sound bytes and slogans to chant. “Drill, baby, drill!”, “U-S-A, U-S-A” and statements like “We are all Georgians”, “Make the Wall Street fat-cats pay” and the oft-used “Main Street vs Wall Street.” We don’t know what these mean, we don’t really examine why they have meaning or even if they do, but they have a nice cadence and chanting them in a large crowd makes us feel a part of something.
We need smart people to start leading this country. We need to quit giving the masses what they want because they feel they “deserve” it. We don’t really have to look very far to see what happens to industries that succumb to the pressures of market expansion at any cost. Eventually, the industry dives to the bottom and crashes. Air travel, housing, education, credit cards, and soon to be the executive branch of the United States.
The office of President and Vice-president of the United States of America should be the hardest job to get in this country. The people who eventually get elected to fill these top jobs should be the best and the brightest, not the ones who can drink beer best with us or who can shoot a moose the best. We need to advance the country forward, technologically, politically, ethically and societally for the next generation of the best and the brightest, not drive the standards down to allow more people to participate. To borrow a phrase from TheLadders.com, if everybody plays, nobody wins.
It’s time to make being smart a thing of value again. We don’t need presidential and vice-presidential candidates mocking community participation, academic accomplishment, reasoned arguments and hard work as elitism. We need leaders who appreciate the value of human smarts and recognize that there is more power in a pen than a sword. Human smarts is the ultimate infrastructure of any society. When that is damaged and devalued, the society will eventually crumble, united or not.