I’m pretty smart (last week’s fiasco notwithstanding). That’s not boasting, it’s a fact. I’m not, nor will I ever be, a rocket scientist, a brain surgeon or the smartest kid in class. I’m merely pretty smart. But here’s the thing; the fact that I’m pretty smart makes politics mostly a frustrating exercise for me, in any country. Both in the US and in Finland (probably elsewhere too, but those are the only ones I follow with any regularity) there’s a scary tide of politicians who are actively dismissing intelligence in themselves and especially others. A lot of politicians are clamoring to make certain that the public understands that they’re definitely not one of those smart people.
There’s an incredible suspicion toward the smart people who are actually able to tell them about the world we live in. And I really don’t understand why. I don’t understand what makes a dentist and a school board director yell in a meeting that “Somebody’s gotta stand up to the experts!”. I don’t understand what makes people claiming to work for the betterment of humankind completely disregard research that would help them actually get there. I mean I get disagreeing on the ways to get there. I get disagreeing on where the money to get there should come from. I get disagreeing on whether the definition of “better” is correct. I get having completely different priorities. But I really, really don’t understand simply denying that the research exists or simply saying that the research is wrong/politicized and therefore wrong simply on the basis of not liking the results.
I’ve been re-watching West Wing lately. Part of the fun for me of watching West Wing is that it’s quite simply, wish fulfillment. Here we have a twice selected president and a career politician, who won the Nobel prize for economics. He’s an unequivocal nerd, the master of trivia and smart on a scale that’s not common even in people who work for a living. But that’s not all! His staff is smart. Yes they fuck up in many and varied ways but they’re still smart. They have to be. They’re players on a complex political stage where the Other People have goals that are on a crash course with theirs. They disagree, wildly, but their opponents are, mostly, very smart. With the exception of Governor Ritchie (who, I’m pretty sure is modeled after either George W. Bush or Governor Rick Perry) none of their opponents are trying to run away from the horrific label of being considered smart. These are people who casually throw around words like the Heisenberg Principle and at least somewhat understand what they’re saying.
In the end, the greatest thing about West Wing – for me at least – is that it’s a series which doesn’t truck with the thought that there’s something inherently wrong about being the smartest kid in class. These are people, very, very smart people, who are constantly trying to outsmart each other, actively trying to be the smartest kid in class. The one guy who tries to make fun of the concept of the smartest kid in class is the president’s opponent when he’s at his very weakest, representing the worse of two bad options. Not only that, but he also gets smacked down so hard that he’s pretty much through with politics after his campaign.
So yeah… I guess it’s not just part of the fun but actually a great enchantment of the show. I would seriously prefer my country run by seriously smart people rather than people trying to appeal to the lowest common denominator.