Thursday, February 13, 2020

I Was Dumb

Last night, I got called out a couple of times for my response to a Nikki Haley tweet:

I should have been sharper on this--that as others pointed out, Haley is not dumb, she is making a dumb argument on purpose because she thinks it will play well with her base. 

But calling people stupid is probably my go-to claim, as Mike Day suggested.  So, I thought I should think about that a bit, and this is where I do my half-baked thinking. 

Before I get started, I should note that I got most miffed during my year in the Pentagon when a colonel (who went onto to be a general and the US Iraq war spokeman) told me that I was not stupid, but my ideas were.  Of course, (a) I was working on ideas that weren't mine and (b) they were good ideas, but that was a very memorable conversation.  Can someone's ideas be dumb while the person is smart? Hell yeah, especially when one party is the Party of Bad Faith™.  That definitely applies in this case with Nikki Haley suggesting that US troops died to preserve private health care and prevent socialized medicine.

Anyway, back to me, why do I tend to accuse people of being stupid?  Is it something about being a professor and supposed know-it-all?  Is it that I get upset when I see deliberate stupidity?  Is it something about my identity that causes me to see "stupid" is a harsh insult?  I do think that one of things that I find regularly annoying is that when someone is overrated for being smart... like Paul Ryan.  I find ignorance, especially deliberate ignorance, to be highly annoying--anti-vaxxers, Trump on NATO, etc.  And when I am annoyed, I tend to use stupid/dumb as insults. 

To be clear, I don't think I am the smartest person in any given room.  Nothing like grad school to teach one that there are heaps of smarter people.  I knew that in high school and college, but in the former, I could be smug about doing better than most in most classes without much effort.  But being in a cohort of super-smart people made me doubt whether I should remain in grad school for at least that first quarter or two.  Once I got the hang of it, I felt ok to stick around.  But ever since then or at least a few years later, I became fond of Qui-Jon's insight: there is always a bigger fish.

But then again, being "smart" was something that was highly prized.  That is, when we saw job candidates come through, we listened to the profs who referred to some of these as being "smart" and others not getting that label.  So, I don't know if that socialization experienced caused me to see smart as the ultimate compliment, which, of course, means dumb is a major insult.  Or it could be having been in the brainier clique in high school had that impact.  

What I do know is that yesterday's twitter exchange will make me re-think the terms I use, and focus more on the intent of people, rather than my guesses at the innate intelligence.  I have long noted a distinction, thanks to D&D, between intelligence and wisdom, so I will try to focus on the latter.  And, yes, I will call ideas dumb if they are dumb ideas.  Because, holding all else constant, a smart idea is better than a dumb idea.  Especially dumb ideas that are used as distraction sauce, Nikki. 

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