Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Despising Intelligence

Danger Room reports on a little-known episode of imaginary Candian espionage:

The harmless "poppy coin" was so unfamiliar to suspicious U.S. Army contractors traveling in Canada that they filed confidential espionage accounts about them. The worried contractors described the coins as "anomalous" and "filled with something man-made that looked like nano-technology," according to once-classified U.S. government reports and e-mails obtained by the AP.
A good argument against coin-based espionage is that there’s no guarantee your target won’t pump the coins into a vending machine, toss them superstitiously into a fountain, or drop them in a homeless person’s cup. Honestly, you’d think that any idiot would be able to figure this out. And yet, this problem apparently bedeviled the minds of presumably well-educated people who held positions of great authority.

Which brings me to an excellent post by PZ Myers, in which he attacks the eugenicist assumptions of C.W. Kornbluth’s story “The Marching Morons”:
[I]t fed into a strain of self-serving smugness in science-fiction fandom, the idea that people who read SF are special and brilliant and superior, we are the technological geniuses and far-seeing futurists, while the mundanes leech off our vision. The eugenics movement built on the same us-vs.-them mentality, that there are superiors and inferiors, and the inferiors breed like cockroaches.
This quasi-Platonic claptrap is far more widespread on the Left than it ought to be, given that it’s the natural ideology of objectivists, racists, and their allies. PZ’s remark about fandom reinforces my distrust of consumerist identity politics (e.g., music snobbery, and underground culture generally), but that’s a rant for another day.
The most troubling part of it all is the attempt to root the distinction in biology—it's intrinsic. "They" are lesser beings than "us" because, while their gonads work marvelously well, their brains are inherently less capacious and their children are born with less ability. It's the kind of unwarranted labeling of people that leads to decisions like "three generations of imbeciles are enough"—bigotry built on bad biology to justify suppression by class.
And race:
Do you have any Irish, or Jewish, or Italian, or Native American, or Asian, or whatever (literally—it's hard to find any ethnic origin that wasn't despised at some time) in your ancestry? Go back a hundred years or so, and your great- or great-great-grandparents were regarded as apes or subhumans or mentally deficient lackeys suitable only for menial labor.
He also deals a glancing blow to the notion of “dysfunctional culture”:
[T]hat isn't about despising intelligence, it's about conforming to the trappings of your group and not adopting the markers of another class, especially when that class has a habit of treating you like dirt and talking abstractly about how to expunge you, your family, and your friends from the gene pool.
While assuming, foolishly, that you're too stupid to notice.

I won’t quote any more of the post, because everyone ought to read it in full; every word is a sermon in itself.

Since it's more or less the theme of this blog, I have to add that despite – or perhaps because of - their opportunities, their education, their knowledge, and their privilege, our expert class tends to make an awful lot of stupid, shortsighted, and dangerous decisions. The fact that they do so while living in relative luxury doesn't make them superior to people who make stupid decisions while living in ghettoes or trailer parks. Quite the opposite, in fact.


Cervantes said...

Actually I read that story as a youth and I thought it was basically just a goof -- an excuse for some low comedy. There was another Sci-Fi story, I forget the title now or for that matter, the author, but it made fun of eugenicists. The protagonist, a eugenicist, gets taken to another planet - or actually I think it was a moon of Saturn - where he is employed as a stud. Sci Fi of that era vied to use the most outrageous and ridiculous ideas, and it did make the pimply-faced set think and imagine.

Anyway, I wouldn't be so hard on Kornbluth.

olvlzl said...

So, you're saying it's just another of your aliens out to get lucky stories.

One of the more unpleasant experiences I've had was being exposed to a movie of Mike Hammer with Stacey Keach. A woman, watching the out of shape chauvinist slob getting the gorgeous gal half his age was pretty disgusted. It was pretty clear that it was a fantasy movie made for out of shape old men for their vicarious fantasy. More detail might be entertaining but it might also be disgusting.

Phila said...

Anyway, I wouldn't be so hard on Kornbluth.

I don't think PZ's point was to be "hard on Kornbluth," so much as to talk about the extent to which these ideas are part of the cultural miasma, and need to be examined and discarded on scientific and ethical grounds.

To be fair, most references to "cleaning out the gene pool" are low comedy. But I find 'em rather chilling all the same, or maybe for that reason. And I am actually troubled by the persistence of these ideas on the Left (e.g., as regards the South, the Midwest, the religious, "trailer trash," &c).

I'm sick to fucking death of all of it, really.

olvlzl said...

And I am actually troubled by the persistence of these ideas on the Left (e.g., as regards the South, the Midwest, the religious, "trailer trash," &c).

Yes, I agree entirely. "cleaning out the gene pool", it's ideas like that out of people who think of themselves as liberals or even leftists that have led me to believe that a lot of them are really libertarians, just a bit less unrealistic. The faith among relatively sophisticated people, that the state of genetic knowledge is that reliable drives me to despair. "Genes" have been oversold as an explaination for everything and it's not innocuous.