Monday, April 1, 2013

Week of 04/01/2013

The “Smartest Men” Problem
– by David Matthews 2

Not too long ago I wrote an article calling for the resignation of Attorney General Eric Holder for his repeated failure to bring the big banks to trial for their criminal activities.  While I received great feedback from many readers and even listeners to my radio show, not everyone agreed with me.

One reader in particular gave a rather condescending message supposedly about “small town journalism” followed by what could only be described as a high school math quiz.  The gist of the response can best be summed up as “you don’t know what you are talking about and you cannot grasp what we do.”

And that is part of the problem.

My critics either don’t know or don’t want to know that I am a published writer with a college degree.  I’ve written fictional stories with long and complicated storylines.  I’ve studied law and the legal system and I am familiar with how our political system works.  I work with computers and I have on more than one occasion tracked down defective code that stymied even the so-called “experts”.  In short, I’ve spent much of my life being able to grasp complicated concepts that so-called “experts” think is “above my pay grade”.

So to accuse someone like myself of not being capable of grasping what “they do” not only shows their pompous self-serving arrogance, but it also reinforces my suspicion that they are really grifters and shysters, trying to dazzle the masses and baffle them with BS.  Like dime-store magicians and amateur-league wrestlers, they don’t like it when someone like me figures out the little tricks of the trade.

There is a difference between being intelligent and being “smart”.  My good friend and fellow ShockNet Radio personality Dr. Charles Doswell III is intelligent.  He knows more about meteorology than most of the people that get paid to talk about it on TV and radio.  And he’s even able to take that intelligence with him on speaking tours and conferences around the world. 

But that person on TV that can talk about the weather and then spin a yarn about a woman turning a hundred-and-two and what the local weather will be for her birthday, that person is “smart”.  They’re able to figure out how to appear credible on television and get paid doing it.  They don’t have to actually be intelligent; they just have to look like they are.

But what happens if you’re that person and you get the weather wrong?  You predict rain and it doesn’t happen.  Oh, well you claim that an upper-air mass was stronger than the front that was supposed to move in, so your weather computers had to take that new data into account and come up with a new prediction model.  And people buy it!  That’s pretty smart if you think about it.

Now if that was all that a “smart” person does, then we wouldn’t have half the problems that plague us in the world today.

If an intelligent person is wrong, they have to find out how and resolve it quickly, or else they get discredited.  But not a “smart” person!  Never them!  A “smart” person knows that if they’re wrong they can invent all sorts of ways to get around being held to account for it.

If, for instance, an intelligent person confuses the female biology of a duck with a female biology of a human, then that person is dismissed as a quack or a fraud.  They lose credibility and other people stop calling on them for advice until they find some way to correct that mistake. 

But a “smart” person doesn’t respond in the same way as an intelligent person.  Oh no!  That “smart” person will instead “double-down” on their assertions, no matter how ludicrous those assertions may be.  He or she will rally for help, attack the credibility or even the character of the accusers, claim to have their words “taken out of context”, and then claim to be a victim of persecution.  The “smart” person will try to convince the whole world that it is wrong instead of the other way around.

The difference is simple: an intelligent person relies on knowledge, while the “smart” person relies more on ego than knowledge.  The intelligent person gets recognized for acquiring and applying knowledge.  The “smart” person sells themselves for having some kind of knowledge.  If the information is wrong, the intelligent person works to correct it, while the “smart” person works to save their ego.

We’d like to think that if we had the right kind of intelligent people, we could figure a way out of the problems we are facing in terms of the economy and government.  We look for people with backgrounds that include universities like Harvard, Yale, M.I.T., Stanford, and Oxford.  We think that if we call upon successful business leaders that they would be able to show us the way out of these problems.

Unfortunately we don’t end up with intelligent people.  We end up with “smart” people.

And let’s get brutally honest here… “smart” people are the ones behind the messes that we are in!

In the 2005 documentary “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room”, we see one of the biggest corporations of the time collapse from the weight of their own orchestrated games.  We see the arrogance of the so-called “smartest guys in the room” setting up scams on top of scams designed to move debt around and taking pride in making all of that “money” that only existed in theory.  And they honestly believed that they could get away with it, even after it all fell apart.

An intelligent person wouldn’t set up a financial house of cards like that and expect it to go on forever.  But a “smart” person would, and a “smart” person did.

When you look at what happened with the housing market and the banks and Wall Street and how they are all connected and were responsible for creating the Great Recession, you see a similar pattern.  Just like Enron, you have debt and toxic funds being packaged and marketed and shuffled around the various banks like baseball cards.  Then they’re sold on Wall Street, where investors put pension money into thinking it would give them easy money.  And it was only a matter of time before it would all fall apart.  Just look at the 2010 documentary “Inside Job” if you don’t believe me.

Again, an intelligent person wouldn’t play this game, nor would they market it on Wall Street like a rigged roulette game.  But a “smart” person would, and “smart” people did just that.  And they got away with it because they had “smart” politicians to bail them out with taxpayer funds and make sure they didn’t stand trial for their actions.

Don’t think that this is some aberration either!  Ever hear of the Peter Principle?  We laugh about it, but “smart” people not only know about the Peter Principle, but they find ways to get around it.

And if that’s not bad enough, these “smart” people then launched an anti-intellectual campaign to turn away efforts by truly intelligent people to try to fix some of these problems.  Truly intelligent people are dismissed as “stuffy clueless elitists” while the “smart” people use their ill-gotten positions of authority and power to complete the screwjobs being perpetrated on the rest of us.

Confusing, isn’t it?  Anti-intellectualism is also one of the signs of a society turning to fascism, so I would hope that you would be concerned about this.

Certainly the “smart” people have something to be afraid of if someone like yours truly is able to connect the dots, but I’m far from being a threat to their con games.  I only know enough to be dangerous.  If I were truly “smart” I’d be far more successful at this than I am right now.

But like all of their other schemes, it’s only a matter of time before it all collapses.  The only question, then, is to ask when we would be intelligent enough to put a stop to it, or at the very least make sure that we don’t end up bearing the brunt of the damage.

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