First, you don’t have to be smart to realize how dangerous it may be. It’s easy to recognize a quality you may not possess. Also easy is the realization of why being smart may not be the smart way to go in today’s America.
So what does it take to be smart? Getting a high mark on a standardized test isn’t a defining characteristic. There are lots of nudniks who score well on such exams. An ill defined amount of experience is needed, though for many a little goes a long way while for others no amount of living conveys useful knowledge.
The ability to reason without being overwhelmed by emotions and feelings is an essential element of smartness. Humans are emotional creatures, but so are dogs and cats. Emotional balance is a key ingredient if you would be smart. Some of our greatest achievements are housed in our emotional centers. Life would not be worth the effort without art and music, but appreciating them or even fierce devotion to them will not make one smart.
The first essential is information. Not just that which a search engine can find, but rather a large amount of information stored in your brain. You cannot take each of life’s problem to a screen. The screen is a good adjuvant, but it’s a tool for the retrieval of facts which either never have been acquired or are forgotten. You can look up the history of England from the most reliable source available, but if you don’t have of lot of this information already in your head, you’ll be useless as an analyst of British history and of its role in parliamentary government. Information that has been obtained over time and which has been mixed and thought about many times in different contexts is essential for smartness. There is no substitute for memorization. If you don’t have ready information always available, you’ll never be smart.
Information storage and retrieval is essential, but by itself insufficient for smartness. To be smart you must be able to organize, sift, and evaluate stored information in a cogent and thoughtful continuum. Then you must integrate this information with other data that may not, at first glance, seem related. Smart people will be able to relate disparate information in ways that are appropriate or even unique. The simplest statement of the characteristics of smartness is the combination of knowledge with wisdom.
The acquisition of wisdom is a mysterious process. Sufficient computing power is obviously a requisite, but it’s not enough. Your brain doesn’t have to be Newtonian in dimension, a little above average is sufficient. Wisdom is as hard to define as it is to obtain. Like Potter Stewart, you know it when you see it. It’s mostly regional. A universal wise man is as rare as universal justice.
OK, I’ve made as much of a stab at defining smart as I can. Why is it dangerous? To begin with, most people can’t tell the difference between a smart ass and a smart person. Remember what happened to Socrates. While it’s always been perilous to be smart, today just a pale impersonation of smart or its facsimile can get you further south than the Cheshire Cat.
The dominant movers in American culture – ie, the academy and the enlightened media – are at a particularly stupid point, even when one considers that they were never too swift to begin with. Anyone who really believes that gender is fluid and holds so to the point of violence is unhinged and will aggressively react to anyone who states the obvious truth that biology is real and that sex differences are based on genetics.
That the language of science starts with mathematics is an indisputable fact. Mathematics is subject to rules of logic which, while they may be complex and subject to debate at their highest levels, must be observed irrespective of how difficult certain populations may find them. The hard sciences, and now biology is now a part of them, are subject to evidence and experimental data. Smart people realize the truths of mathematics and science and abide with them regardless of where they lead. They also understand the limitations of science and that many of life’s problems are outside the borders of science.
The humanities departments at our most esteemed colleges and universities have moved to Cloud Cuckoo Land and convinced most of their students, alumni, and donors that said country is the seat of revealed knowledge rather than the repository of unhinged analysis. Doubters are terrorized into silence if not acceptance.
Math and science will not long endure an exemption from enlightenment. They soon will be given a professoriate that has the correct disposition. Such a correct persuasion seems to have already arrived at the country’s (the USA) medical schools. They are increasingly churning out drivel by the bedpan load that aims to go with academic flow rather than the evidence. At this rate you may best best served by a physician who has taken all his training in a foreign country.
But such a search is likely to be fruitless as given the direction we’re firmly committed to, why would he come here to practice in the first place. The same holds true for students of any discipline. The US forsaking rigor will no longer be the place to study anything. Those who both recognize and describe the foolishness that our unsmart culture is imposing will find themselves subject to the same fate as the victims of China’s Cultural Revolution.
That China, a repressive oligarchy, will allow the search for truth as long as the party line remains unthreatened is a supreme irony. Your grandchildren, if they’re smart, may be headed east for the study of math and science. If they stay here, they’d better not be seen as smart.