September 20, 2011

Sometimes I think academia is a containment pen for the smartest individuals...

... so they don't interfere with the efforts of the rest of the people.

But if they're so smart, why don't they step out of the pen? Because the people are actually pretty wily, even if technically less smart than the academics. They've designed a comfy pen!

75 comments:

SunnyJ said...

Enjoy this bit of 1948 academia, Harding College, speaking to the issues of today, last week on UW campus, Buffet's Tax, Madison's spring et all

http://godfatherpolitics.com/1006/63-year-old-cartoon-depicts-america-today/#ixzz1YQ8HWEDB

It's all in there.

ic said...

It's Orwell's world. Smart people stay in their pen, smart animals oink for their food.

chickenlittle said...

The tenyard is a safe yard.

EDH said...

Academia is more of a hive whose hierarchy is based upon a pyramid scheme.

stutefish said...

I disagree. Whatever the nature of the pen, academia has been entirely responsible for it.

Historically, haven't the masses preferred purging the intelligentsia, when the intelligentsia gets too obnoxious?

Perhaps the academic pen is a defensive adaptation.

Chase said...

As a Sales manager for a Food Brokerage from '98 to 2004, I dealt with several university food service departments. Some, such as USC and UCLA and Occidental College (Barack's alma mater), have very sophisticated buyers/managers with advanced degrees. I sat in on numerous faculty lunches and the conversations can easily lead one to believe that the academics and professionals live and work in a closed system that allows them to never come into contact with evangelical Christians or real political conservatives or any undesirables.

It is the true sheltered life

Shouting Thomas said...

The short answer, which is unacceptable to you, Althouse, and to your readers, is:

Intelligence isn't everything. It's just one factor in the ability of a person to operate effectively and sensibly in this world.

Over emphasis on intelligence is a negative, too.

Marta said...

I disagree. You don't have to be that smart to make it though college these days, even with an advanced degree. I think more of academia (and this is a generalization; there are many smart people there, of course) as a place for people who would never make it in the real world. They may be intelligent enough to regurgitate back exactly what a professor tells them, but too socially inept to handle a real job interview.

I understand why Ann thinks the smartest people must be in academia (when they're not out running the country into the ground) but I think the current administration's hired help shows that many academics are just credentialled -- not necessarily overly intelligent or even well educated.

Shouting Thomas said...

And here's the reason why an over emphasis on intelligence can be a negative:

The greater the intelligence of an individual, the more likely he or she is to be deceived into believing that abstract ideals should govern human life.

That's how you, Althouse, get roped into things like gay marriage.

traditionalguy said...

Academia is a pen for the best educated people.

The people who are better educated are resented by the lesser educated people. No one wants to be corrected. Everyone wants to be affirmed. And education calls out to people to change.

That is the way it is.

Nonapod said...

The real problem is that academia tends to be an extremely insular world. This can result in bad ideas being magnified in a weird sort of positive feedback loop because of the bandwagon effect/group think or whatever you want to call it.

Shouting Thomas said...

So, no, we're better off if academic people are confined to their holding pen.

They do less damage that way.

t-man said...

Greetings from Paris, where it is a beautiful day in one of the worlds' most beautiful cities.

Academics confuse being clever (which is a specific, narrow type of intelligence) with intelligence and wisdom.

timmaguire42 said...

As other commenters have hinted--best not to confuse educated with smart. They are entirely separate concepts.

Academics are technically better educated. They are not technically smarter.

jrberg3 said...

"That's how you, Althouse, get roped into things like gay marriage."

Or voting for Obama.

Henry said...

Funny how academics are always writing op-eds. That must be how the rest of us let them blow off steam.

t-man said...

Traditionalguy,

Time spent in school does not equate to education, and I hotly dispute that academia is a pen for the best educated.

Look at the syllabi, and graduation requirements of colleges. It is a genuine struggle to obtain a genuine education and has been for a while.

bad touch said...

I saw lots of that in vet school...some instructors never got into the real world, and it showed.

Henry said...

Shouting Thomas wrote: That's how you, Althouse, get roped into things like gay marriage.

I think Meade would object! Strongly!

Actually, some of us non-academics support gay marriage as well.

It's easy to spin Althouse's epigrams in political terms (gay marriage, Obama), but I think the broader issue is the expert's slide towards technocracy. There are a great many experts, of which the academy is the prime source, who wish to apply their expertise without regard for the freedoms of the non-experts.

This tendency, I think, is far more dangerous than the actual politics of the experts.

Marica said...

One thing that's often overlooked is that academia isn't homogeneous, and neither is the population of academics.

I wonder how some of the academics I know manage to tie their shoes, let alone navigate a grocery store. But I also know many who are excellent shots, can wield chain saws like nobody's business, and use pneumonic power tools!

So it kind of pisses me off when smart people-- of any variety-- generalize.

Dark Eden said...

Intelligence is not the same as education.

The Intelligentsia have become a very parochial closed off society who are blind to any ideas that do not originate with them.

Being humble enough to consider outside viewpoints and practical solutions that do not flatter your ego is a very valuable skill in the real world.

If you consider yourself a genius, you will often come up with incredibly complicated solutions to problems when something simple and mundane will often do the job better. No one is going to read this so I am going to say skibba dap deeba doop.

Because of their sheltered, narrow viewpoint, the Intelligentsia is much less capable than their supposed intellectual inferiors and offer little of any real value to the ordinary citizen.

Paddy O said...

"Academics are technically better educated. They are not technically smarter."

I've long learned to distinguish intelligence from intellectual. There are some very intelligent men and women who are not intellectuals. And there are many intellectuals who are not all that intelligent.

Being an intellectual is about using one's education and intelligence to define one's identity.

I think Obama is an intellectual, in that his self-perception involves being above it all and rationally, coolly, considering the world and all its inputs.

GWB was not an intellectual. He was well educated and seems to be much better read than Obama, but he didn't see a need to define his identity in terms of intellectual showmanship.

The trouble is that our society depends so much on how someone portrays themselves. They don't look very deeply and are not very actually discerning, so Bush's folksy intelligence was assumed to be stupidity, while Obama's intellectual demeanor was assumed to be a great intelligence.

We go by those cues in a lot of areas of life.

But I've met a lot of significantly intelligent people who do not have a college degree and I've met some strangely ignorant and unintelligent people with multiple letters after their name, teaching college courses.

At the same time, I've met some absolutely brilliant intellectuals who are helping to change the world through new approaches to ideas. So it's wrong, I think, to dismiss intellectuals or academics as being inherently without worth, or being in academics because they couldn't succeed elsewhere.

People who love to work with their hands find jobs that pay them to work with their hands. People who love ideas, or writing, or teaching, pursue those sorts of jobs.

MarkG said...

Where are the smartest people? Those is academia think that's where. Those not in academia disagree.

MayBee said...

Academia indeed is filled with very smart individuals, but not necessarily the smartest. They are simply the smart individuals who want to teach, or write, or envelop themselves in a certain lifestyle.
Other smart people do other things, and live other kinds of lives. Perhaps a life not so centered on thinking of themselves as the smartest few.

Pastafarian said...

If you keep goats, and one escapes the pen, you'll come home to find your roses chewed up and goat shit all over the porch.

What do you get when an academic escapes the pen?

President Obama.

They're worse than goats. It's like a pen of cartoon Tasmanian devils.

Nonapod said...

Henry Wrote: There are a great many experts, of which the academy is the prime source, who wish to apply their expertise without regard for the freedoms of the non-experts.

Part of the reason for that I think is that there's a tendency amongst academics to view themselves as observers of the rest of humanity rather than participants. When you look at a system from the outside and you see it's flaws, it's easy to envision "solutions" that of course involve a strong central power that can exercise unilateral decisions. It's easy to assume that "things would be more efficient and better for everyone" if you (or a small oligarchy like you) had absolute power.

edutcher said...

Just because they're intelligent doesn't mean they're smart.

Or have any sense.

That's why you keep them confined. They have no idea how the real world works.

As the last 2 1/2 years have proven.

E.M. Davis said...

Was there supposed to be a link? Or is this just an Althousian rumination?

Sorry, I'm not in academia, so I may not be smart enough to know the difference.

kcom said...

There's no reason to have the entire US government come from Harvard and Yale. Or from the professoriate. That's a tendency that's been highly overdone in the Obama administration. There are many qualities needed for leadership and good decision making and education and credentials are just one. He doesn't seem to realize that. (Hmm, I wonder why?)

Ignorance is Bliss said...

timmaguire42 said...

Academics are technically better educated. They are not technically smarter.

I think they are better described as highly educated. Saying better educated implies that the education had some positive effect.

kcom said...

Here's SunnyJ's Harding College link in link form:

Make Mine Freedom

Thanks for posting it, SunnyJ.

Paul Zrimsek said...

A very comfy pen: they get all the pleasure of griping about how smart people like themselves should be running things, with none of the hassle and responsibility of having to run things. It's becoming clear that stepping out of the pen is the biggest mistake Barack Obama ever made.

cubanbob said...

This thread reminds me of my brother-in-law's dictum the A engineers work for B engineers in companies owned by C engineers. He hires a few super bright physicists, so bright they can't tie their shoelaces but are ferociously brilliant in their little arc of competence.
But outside of that arc, total darkness.

ricpic said...

I've never experienced the really smart, or better yet thoughtful, braying about how smart they are.

Given the impossibility of avoiding mistakes, from the start of your life to the very end, the best you can say of yourself is that you are slightly less stupid than some others...perhaps.

Tim said...

Academia is a pen, but in the way a gated community is a pen; it isn't at all about intelligence, but rather class.

Lance said...

It wasn't designed by the people, it was designed by the academics. And it's not a pen, it's a feather bed.

Tim said...

kcom said...

"There's no reason to have the entire US government come from Harvard and Yale. Or from the professoriate."

Yes; more to the point, there are lots of reasons why no one in the US government should come from Harvard, Yale, their equivalents or the professoriate.

America's credentialed doucheoisie has done enough damage already; the rent-seekers, grifters and scavengers need to back off, else they'll exhaust their unearned meal ticket.

traditionalguy said...

T-Man... I agree with you about the soft courses like Psychology, Sociology, Political science and Education which are intentionally confused crap in today's Academic world.

But the Business, Law, Medicine, Leadership fields and the Technology schools are doing better than ever.

Good people work, go to Church, raise children and make life go on, but without the input from institutions like Georgia Tech, UGA, Emory, and Mercer the life of most Georgians would bore themselves to death.

Those quality Universities do change things for the better for everyone.

I believe that humans regulate themselves using inner words that must start as a language taught to them and then allowed to blossom free from prejudice against the new. And we are too lazy to teach ourselves anything new without a good learning environment and good teachers.

That is why I love The Professor's Blog so much.

ndspinelli said...

Academics are risk averse. Hardly any gamble, they all wear helmets, drive the speed limit, etc. Smart, but also most are a great cure for insomnia.

ndspinelli said...

Tim, BINGO on the class observation.

Calypso Facto said...

pneumonic power tools

I think you meant "pneumatic", which kind of trashes your point...

On the plus side, you have inspired me to look for a use for the phrase "mnemonic power tool" in the near future.

Michael said...

I was very surprised to find that the corporate world was considerably more civil and even, at the margin, less political than the academic world in which I began my professional life. I have encountered far more polymaths outside the academy than in.

But with whom do academics compare themselves, with whom do they compete? I found that every year I taught I was a year older but my students were the same age. Year after year they were pretty much duplicates of those of the year before. It is very easy to consider yourself smart, very smart, when comparing yourself to people decades younger, decades behind in life experiences.

Academics are in a containment pen of their own making, one that seals them off from the world in which their students are bound to live.

sorepaw said...
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bgates said...

Sometimes I think academia is a containment pen for the smartest individuals

Must be awful crowded for the smartest individuals, sharing their pen with all those faculty members.

jamboree said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ErnieG said...

"If you keep goats, and one escapes the pen, you'll come home to find your roses chewed up and goat shit all over the porch.

What do you get when an academic escapes the pen?

President Obama."


I'd rather have goat shit on my front porch.

TCB-n-a-Flash said...

If Forrest Gump's mother was correct in her assertion that "stupid is, as stupid does", than the academics who deem themselves so intelligent, have proven themselves incredibly stupid.

TCB-n-a-Flash said...

I went to Graduate School for Communications and Long Island Ice Tea in 1992-93 when Clinton and PC was sweeping in the "new" era. My grad class was not full of intellectuals, and the best grades went to those whose opinions and work catered to the PC professors. So went all the TA positions too. The only reason I didn't go on to get a PHD (for what looked like a pretty sweet career) was because I knew I could never survive in such a liberal environment. I don't know how you do it Ann. You're like our war correspondent reporting from the front line.

Larry J said...

Intelligence isn't everything. It's just one factor in the ability of a person to operate effectively and sensibly in this world.

Over emphasis on intelligence is a negative, too.


Intelligence has its place but it isn't nearly as important as wisdom. Academics are intelligent in their limited domains but many of them are very far from wise. Their life experiences are too restricted in their ivory towers to have much understanding about the real world.

roesch-voltaire said...

Quite true which is why folks like Stalin, Hitler and Mao got rid of as many intellectuals as they could, and the results enabled them to get the regular folks to follow them with hardly a whimper.

Oligonicella said...

Henry --

"Funny how academics are always writing op-eds."

They've got the time.

Oligonicella said...

Pastafarian --

"They're worse than goats. It's like a pen of cartoon Tasmanian devils."

Except he was clever, they're just frenetic.

Michael said...

R-V: "Quite true which is why folks like Stalin, Hitler and Mao got rid of as many intellectuals as they could, and the results enabled them to get the regular folks to follow them with hardly a whimper"

How funny. Part two of your sentence does not follow from part one. They got rid of the intellectuals very easily as the intellectuals either fell in line or were shot. Not many were shot by the way. And, by the way, the mentioned criminals were not "folks." And the "regular folks" do not look now, nor have they ever, to academia for leadership. Or courage.

TCB-n-a-Flash said...

Remember the pompous "Group of 88" Duke Professors that so quickly prejudged and condemned the eventually vindicated lacrosse team?

Right there, at the great Duke, a group of 88 idiots.

"Stupid is as stupid does".

Oligonicella said...

Pastafarian --

"If you keep goats, and one escapes the pen, you'll come home to find your roses chewed up and goat shit all over the porch."

Oh Bubba, it is ever so much worse than that.

A friend of mine made her husband get rid of his ram and clean the porch when it humped the screen door.

TCB-n-a-Flash said...

The most intelligent people on University Campuses can get run out of town. Ann is your job safe w/o tenure? Or would you eventually get "Bradley'd" for being open minded?

Remember, in "The Emperor's New Clothes" the only REAL intelligent people in the story were the crook who sold the magic cloth and the child who called it out as BS. I see the academic intelligentsia as the crowd who cheered the naked king.

TCB-n-a-Flash said...

Better yet, in "The Wizard of Oz", the wizard never gave the Scarecrow a brain; he just gave him a degree.

LarsPorsena said...

"...was because I knew I could never survive in such a liberal environment. I don't know how you do it Ann. You're like our war correspondent reporting from the front line...

More like a war correspondent reporting from behind enemy lines.

Shouting Thomas said...

r_v, you plumb new depths of stupidity daily.

The intellectuals in the Soviet Union was all devout believers in Uncle Joe.

Haven't you read your Solzhenitzn? The eggheads all thought they'd been sent to the Gulags by mistake, and they knew that if only Uncle Joe understood their devotion to the party they would be released momentarily.

The commies were just in favor of destroying everything that brought form and tradition to life.

Your tacit statement that intellectuals form some kind of bulwark against totalitarianism is laughable.

Scott M said...

Your tacit statement that intellectuals form some kind of bulwark against totalitarianism is laughable.

Wasn't it Anita Dunn that said Mao was one of her two favorite philosophers? There's no disputing the love affair the progressives have had with foreign despots in the past.

Freeman Hunt said...

The smartest individuals?

Some of them, yes. Most of them, no.

Freeman Hunt said...

I think the title of this post may have been more true in the past. Now academia is so politicized that it's rapidly losing its rigor. What it has left anyway.

Freeman Hunt said...

I have a large sample of highly intelligent classmates. Lots of the very bright people went into academia. None of the geniuses did.

Alex said...

There's classroom intelligence and then there's street smarts. You academic types wouldn't last on the streets 1 day.

Steve Koch said...

Academics aren't the smartest people. Not even close.

Academic are the least mature, least courageous, and best trained non stupid people. Academics crave security and play by the rules to get that security. Academics never get the courage to leave school.

The smart people with balls go out in the rough and tumble real world and make it on their own.

Andy Freeman said...

As Eisenhower wrote in his farewell address:

"The prospect of domination of the nation's scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present and is gravely to be regarded.

Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific technological elite."

What? You thought that the military-industrial complex was the only danger?

sorepaw said...
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fleetusa said...

One sure way to understand this is to look at basic business finance.

University management has never been gifted in the realm of budgeting. Tuition increases continuously as well as pleas for government support leaving many students with unmanageable debt and weak degrees and job prospects.

There is a certain element of Ponzi scheme at work here leaving the taxpayers and students holding the bag.

Freeman Hunt said...

Plus, they now tell everybody to go to college. I'm sure that it used to be a real treat to teach the top young minds of the day.

chuck said...

Not pens, institutions. Academics aren't penned up like pigs, they are institutionalized like nutballs so that they can concentrate on esoteric things.

ken in sc said...

In 1970, I was in Air Force basic training with a guy who had a PHD in math who really could not tie his shoes. After he showed up on the drill field with his shoes untied, his flight mates took it on themselves to help him tie his shoes and boots. He could have become an officer. Thank God he did not try.

Paco Wové said...

"I found that every year I taught I was a year older but my students were the same age. Year after year they were pretty much duplicates of those of the year before. It is very easy to consider yourself smart, very smart, when comparing yourself to people decades younger, decades behind in life experiences."

Interesting. I was expressing the very same thought to someone just recently, comparing life inside vs. life outside the academy.

I knew a lot of really intelligent people when I was in graduate school and a faculty member. Many of them were also quite petty, vindictive, and childishly detached from reality when taken away from their fields of study... more so than people I've dealt with on the 'outside'.

Roux said...

Some of the smartest people I know are dumb as a rock... The key is knowing what you know and knowing what you don't know and knowing the difference. Sure it sounds a little convoluted but it's true.

Gene said...

Marcia: I wonder how some of the academics I know manage to tie their shoes, let alone navigate a grocery store. But I also know many who are excellent shots, can wield chain saws like nobody's business, and use pneumonic power tools!

Boy I wish I was in that department when I was in college.

Freeman Hunt said...

I enlisted the help of someone I know to have a 150+ IQ, and we tried to come up with a list of people we know who have IQs we would estimate at 150 and above. We came up with a decent list and then looked the people up on Facebook. None of them are in academia, except one.

We both have many friends who did go into academia. Those friends tend to be very hard working and very bright. I would estimate that the optimal IQ for academia is 120-140. (Possibly higher on the latter end for people in maths and sciences.) That's pretty darn smart, but it's not the "smartest."