Elitism, Intelligence, and Cultivation
Ideas Worth a Shot
April 16, 2013
I have decided to take the government of the United States in hand and put it on a more practical footing. (Care from hand to foot is policy in this column.) I say “more practical,” instead of “practical,” because government always falls into the hands of the crafty, remorseless, and unprincipled. Anyway, I undertake this emendation in a radiant spirit of noblesse oblige. I am that sort of person.
To begin: The country desperately needs to embrace an uncompromising elitism, this being simply the belief that the better is preferable to the worse. Somehow America has gotten this simple principle (if I may employ the Latin phrase) bass-ackward. In the things of civilization, we worship the lame, the halt, the dim-witted, and the proven unable. How smart is this?
In correction, I will first raise the voting age to thirty. The present practice of allowing children of eighteen to wield the ballot is transparent madness. The excessively young are callow, uninformed, and lacking experience of the things they affect with the votes. Hormonal turbulence and an eigtht-grade education—about what a high-school diploma is worth these days—do not recommend them as fit to stir the pots of governance. If you are parent to teenagers, you will see the unwisdom of letting our tender sprouts decide anything beyond their choice of godawful music.
When the Teen-Vote Amendment was being pondered, the argument was made that since eighteen years was sufficient to die in Vietnam, it was sufficient for suffrage. This is like saying that because a five-year-old can die in a traffic accident, he should have a driver’s license. Youth is a serviceable substitute for stupidity. We regularly outgrow youth and, occasionally, stupidity. We should give future voters the chance.
By the age of thirty, most people have experience of life as it is actually lived, perhaps of parenthood, of making a living and of the shocks the flesh is heir to. I grant that my laudable policy runs against the cult of brainless youth which is thought the apotheosis of democracy. Good. This opposition constitutes near-perfect proof of its advisability. As a rule, any idea that you cannot utter without losing your job is a good idea.
My second contribution to enlightened government will be to reinstate the literacy test as a requirement for voting. It is not evident why an inability to read qualifies one to influence policy regarding, war, schooling, and the intricacies of national finance. The situation is dire. In Detroit, for example, the rate of functional illiteracy has been measured at some fifty percent. If half of the population cannot read at all, most of the rest don’t read much. In most cases this will mean never having willingly read a book. I don’t want these running a country. Or a car wash.
The objection will be raised that to require literacy will be to disenfranchise various minorities. The solution is for the various minorities to learn to read.
However, in my humble (but infallible) opinion, the bare ability to read is hardly grounds for participation in government. For that matter, neither is the possession of an alleged college education. Survey after survey has shown that, with exceptions to be sure, college graduates do not know in what century the Civil War was fought or what countries engaged in World War One, cannot name the three departments of the federal government, list three cities in Mexico, or find Japan, or for that matter Africa, on an outline map of the world. The universities in America have become a profitable fraud, and should be prosecuted under the RICO act. (I will consider this happy prospect in a future column.)
My solution to this measureless ignorance will be to require potential voters to sit for the Graduate Record Exam and score modestly on it. Why is it thought that people who hardly know what they are voting about will do it wisely? I repeatedly see that about half of the public believes that Iraq was responsible for dropping those buildings in New York. Here we have categorical proof that half the population should not be allowed within rifle shot of a voting booth.
Actually, while spilling forth these my luminous policies, the thought comes that it might be reasonable to limit the franchise of those of IQ 130 or higher: roughly Mensa intelligence, the top two percent. This will outrage those of us who do not meet this standard. But why? If I need brain surgery, I want it done by someone who can do it better than I could do it myself. Why should this principle not apply to government? Do we not hire plumbers because they plumb better than we do?
Registration of voters by IQ strikes me as a good idea if only for its value as amusement. Think what it would do for campaigns. No longer would election be possible by orating endlessly of The American People, and The American Dream, twelve times per teleprompter screen. I love to imagine: “Yes, Mr. Bush. You are against evil, doubtless because it is a very short word. But what consequences do you see of de-Baathification in light of the doctrinal divides of the eighth century?”
Now, the US being a profoundly anti-intellectual society, my admirable plan will be objected to on grounds that Americans don’t want to be ruled by pointy-headed intellectuals at Harvard. Let us think about this. An intellectual is one who deals in ideas. He is not necessarily of high intelligence, nor necessarily right. The majority of the highly intelligent aren’t intellectuals, and they are not clustered in ivory towers. They are doctors, engineers, scientists, soldiers, and businessmen. They are geographically dispersed and politically all over the map. And they would be a hell of a lot harder to herd by the imbecile-ranchers and con men of Washington.
Of course the distaste for intellectuals means distaste only for those intellectuals with whom one disagrees. Conservatives love Rush Limbaugh and detest Rachel Madow, while liberals take exactly the opposite position. Both Limbaugh and Madow are intellectuals.
However, a major current in American political life is resentment of one’s superiors. It isn’t universal, but it’s there. Thus the whole edifice of fiat egalitarianism: the insistence that all children should go to college when most haven’t the brains, putting students in advanced-placement courses on grounds of race and sex instead of ability, the desire to abolish grades, the insistence that intelligence doesn’t exist and that all people and groups have the same amount of it. Me, I’m happy to let those smarter than I am invent things for me. If the world had waited for me to come up with Newtonian mechanics, it would still be waiting.
There you have my plans. I expect outpourings of gratitude from a nation jubilant at its deliverance. These can take the form of large checks. I’d like a Maserati, too.