I'll come up with something in a minute.

Ignorant, but not stupid

Asking if for well known American authors or if reading for pleasure is important among a group of dedicated readers is always interesting. Mostly because I find it interesting to see when people’s prejudices pop up unexpectedly. Well, I say unexpectedly, I expected it.

In my author post, I quite expected to get a list of authors that were either genre writers or people I hadn’t heard of. I got what I expected. Does it say something for my education that you guys brought up writers I’d never heard of as some of the greats you expected to be remembered in a hundred years? I suspect it says something about the readers.

I also say a great deal of interesting responses to the ‘is reading necessary’ post, but most of them missed fundamental points. The question wasn’t does reading make you a better or more complete person, but is it in fact needed? The answer, I’m sorry to say, is no. You can get along just fine, even in middle class society, without reading. The fact that on average the American adult reads just under one book a year, and some of you here read up to 100 books a year, tells me that there are a lot of people who never once pick up a book who are perfectly able and contributing members of our society.

That’s just it, the question isn’t can you achieve enlightenment without reading. The question isn’t will you be a better person for not reading. The question was and is, can you get by and go far without reading. The sad answer is yes. If you argue that books open up a great world, or that books offer something movies can’t, or that you’d be a more complete human being, then you’ve missed the point of the question.

See, this is where the prejudice comes in. Because you guys are readers, and many of you read in what little time is given between driving, writing and other niggling things that can’t be done with a book in your hands, you think it’s that important. Not only that, but having such a large amount of text under your belts, you’ve read lots and lots of different authors to try new things and see what you like. As a result, you’ve got a tilted idea of what people are reading or know about. Because you guys have got such a large fount of knowledge, many of you have got a sort of blind spot for the ignorant but not actually stupid among us.

I’ve been among the smart, but unlearned and I’ve been among the dumb but educated. I’ll concede that the ignorant but not stupid usually hover in the blue collar areas of work while the stupid but informed get to wear nice suits and run banks like IndyMac, but I’ve preferred the company of the honestly smart people more. The problem is of course that many who are educated have a slight tendency to think anyone who isn’t classically educated is to be lumped with the rest of the stupid people who failed to learn that Plato wasn’t a product made by Kenner before they got bought out by Hasbro. Yes, that’s a pun, I understand that people on the internet think they’re clever and I’m nothing if not up on all internet traditions.

It may be a harmless little prejudice, or it may not be. Most days I would suspect it as being fairly harmless, however I would suggest that many on the right wing who like to hammer away on the anti-intellectual point would say that it isn’t. They would argue that a great number of America’s industrialists didn’t need much fancy book learning to build the mills and factories that made them into the Captains of Industry that they became. Whether that is true or not is debatable, but I would suspect that I can find a few guys who only bought those fine leather bound books in their libraries because rich men with big mansions were supposed to have libraries fill with leather bound books. It happened with a great many European Lord so why not with the American rich?

That group, the ignorant but not stupid, has always been a larger group than people often want to admit. The actually stupid always assume that the merely ignorant must be as knowledgeable as the informed, because they’re always so smart. The informed often assume they must be stupid because they don’t know or care what is was that Descartes said about Voltaire or if it was the other way around. The ignorant, but not stupid merely has other things on their mind than those things. One could question how actually ignorant those men and women could be if they built the American Economy and made this one of the most powerful nations in the world*, but we’ll ignore that point for the moment. The ignorant don’t mind being complimented by the stupid, but they do have feeling insulted by the informed.
*This statement is pre-dated to before our economy went to shit and the dollar became worth about half a Euro.

So you have the fact that many people on the right, who sympathize with the anti-intellectual feelings do so because many of them are the ignorant but not stupid. They quite often are the people who never read for pleasure and if they do they get something from the best sellers list. These are the sort of people who often feel insulted by the intellectuals because they haven’t read Melville or Thoreau or some other supposedly great author that no one they know has ever heard of. As a result, they get talked down to a lot by people who have read those books and secretly point out to themselves that those supposedly educated fellows couldn’t last half a day in their jobs.

These aren’t just mindless insults I’m flinging around at you, my gentle and constant readers. I’ve got a very good reason for telling you these things in this way. I am in fact, telling you these things for your own good. I’m also explaining because I have specialist understanding in this area.

I’m telling you this because without question I could have easily been one of those guys. I was a very smart child, but had difficulties with reading and traditional learning environments. I got yelled at a lot, told I was being lazy or not trying hard enough, or whatever the semi-educated louts were going on about because I stopped paying attention half way through their rants.

There I was, age eleven, being talked down to by someone who was clearly less intelligent than I was and realizing that the reason this guy was teaching sixth grade was because that was where his abilities had ended. This guy was an idiot who couldn’t manage any higher than he’d achieved and I saw it clearly. If this particular teacher had asked me what the problem was, or bothered to engage me beyond the pathetic lecture he was attempting to serve, we might have gotten on better, but he didn’t. Any respect I had still lingering for my so-called educators vanished in a flash.

After three minutes of listening to me, any decent teacher would be able to tell that I knew and understood the material. In fact, after ten minutes most good teachers knew that I had learned it long ago and was bored stiff, but were impotent to actually help me advance because the bureaucracy of our school district demanded that a child needed to excel in grade form if they were to be put into higher and more challenging classes. The cracks, I fells through them. I eventually came to the conclusion that 98% of the adults around me were idiots, and most of them were teaching because they’d be fired in any other environment, and that I knew more about what they were teaching than they did in many cases.

So at age eleven I had already seen through the veneer of educational snobbery. Instead of just making up my mind and going on with it though, I kept investigating the problem. See, my parents were and are readers. My father is quite clearly an intellectual and he never treated me like an idiot simply because my interest in the classics only emerged when there were swords or dragons. He let me read at my own pace, and let me watch movies at my own pace and never tried to rush or insult me even by inference. So they can’t be all bad.

If both my parents hadn’t been intelligent, well learned people, I could have simply decided that all the lefty-liberal-commie-pinko-liberal-lefty-gay-liberal-red-lefties in the educational system were all a lot of idiots just trying to use big words and dead authors to cover up for the fact that not one of them knew a god damned thing about anything beyond those dead authors and big words.

However, since my mother DID take pains to teach me to read and my father DID make careful and steady attempts to open my eyes to the fact that just because a book doesn’t have pictures doesn’t mean it has to be boring I DIDN’T come to that conclusion about all intellectual people.

Well, not ALL of them anyway. I do still believe that there are some people who are trying to cover up their stupidity by putting on educated airs, but now I’ve read or learned enough about a lot of those books too and can catch them up when they try to bullshit me.

Also, I’ve got to be put into the lefty-liberal-hippie-liberal-pinko-gay-liberal-lefties column because I believe in equal rights and justice for all and not violating the Constitution like it’s a drunk cheerleader at a frat party. However, I didn’t have to decline invitation to the anti-intellectual party, and I hope you all remember why I would have been accepted with open arms if I had accepted.

July 16, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment