Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Victor Davis Hanson on wisdom

One of MH's favorite authors is Victor Davis Hanson -- farmer and professor of classics, conservative political pundit and military historian. What's not to love (other than his excessive enthusiasm for the Iraq War?)

He recently wrote a column that, in a much more elegant way, touches on some of the same themes as our recent piece on Democrats being smarter and more sophisticated than Republican stumblebums.

A sample from Hanson:

I spent nine years as an undergraduate and graduate student — three at UC Santa Cruz, four at Stanford University, and two in Athens, Greece. In that near decade, I met all sorts of supposedly brilliant professors, undergraduates, and graduate students in the humanities — Ivy-League Ph.Ds, whiz-kids with Oxford and Cambridge degrees, Rhodes Scholars, famous archaeologists, accomplished classicists and historians, well-know humanities scholars, and Oxbridge Dons with landmark books on history and philology. In addition, the last five years I have worked at Stanford again, and often have met another array of brilliant entrepreneurs, in fields as diverse as finance, law, medicine, engineering, and computers.

I contrast all this with growing up my first 18 years in southwestern Fresno County on a 120-acre tree and vine farm, where for most of my life I knew only neighbors who worked the soil, and survived the tough environment of the local schools. And then once again from age 26 to my mid-forties, I farmed as well as taught, and so I had a good idea of what the highly educated did during the day, and what the farmers and small businesspeople did on weekends and late afternoons.

Two conclusions I drew from all of this. While civilization advances on the shoulders of the educated, it is carried along by the legs of the muscular classes. And the latter are not there by some magical IQ test or a natural filtering process that separates the wheat from the chaff, but rather by either birth, or, as often, by their preference for action and the physical world.

Second, I have seen no difference in intelligence levels between those who inhabit the world of the physical and those who cultivate the life of the mind. That is, the most brilliant Greek philologists seemed no more impressive in their aptitude than the fellow who could take apart the transmission of an old Italian Oliver tractor, fix it, and put it back together — without a manual. And I knew three or four who could. The inept mechanic seemed no more dull than the showy graduate student who could not distinguish an articular infinitive from an accusative of respect.

Take a wild stab at how Hanson applies his insights to the current political field...


Auntie Lib said...

Let me guess: The ability to field dress a moose beats a community organizer any day of the week and twice on Sunday. Or maybe mayor, oil & gas commissioner, and governor trumps 143 days in the Senate.

Mark T said...

Circle the wagons. You know as well as I do that Obama graduating Juris Doctor magna cum laude works against him, that Americans are anti-intellect, as apparently are you.

What you wrote here, what your Mr. Hanson wrote is neither new or original. The question is, when it comes to a complicated financial crisis, for example, do you want a dumbass, or someone with an impressive academic background.

That's a generic, by the way. Don't answer.

Jay Stevens said...

I've absolutely found this to be true, too. Just as I wouldn't trust a mechanic to translate Plato from Greek, I wouldn't entrust my timing belt to a PhD in classics.

Still, bad timing on your part after Palin's appearance on Couric. Maybe Palin's smart, but she apparently doesn't know anything about the job.

Montana Headlines said...

If you believe that with Hanson or I are anti-intellectual, you haven't read either of us enough.

I'm glad you don't want me to answer your question, since it posits a false choice. What you want is someone who can see the big picture, hold true to some basic true principles, remain calm, and be clever.

That person might have "an impressive academic background," or might not. One of Hanson's points is that successful businessmen and national leaders have more in common with hunters than they do with university professors. I'm inclined to agree.

Jay, I haven't seen the Couric interview, but I've said from the beginning that for McCain's gamble on Palin to be successful, she has to be able to perform.

touchstone said...

I'd be curious to hear your take on the interview. To me, she sounded woefully unprepared and unable to answer any question pitched to her.

You get the feeling she's been told to respond with certain catch phrases and not really say anything of substance, but that this is new to her. Instead, she sounded confused and incoherent.

Montana Headlines said...

I still haven't had time to watch it, but I did see some parts of a transcript. She strikes me as being over-coached and trying not to say anything wrong.

That can be paralyzing. The reality is that a Veep has a particularly hard task. As Joe Biden is finding out, it doesn't work to say what you believe. You have to say what the #1 believes, and be prepared to defend what that guy believes in the same way that guy would defend it.

Not easy, especially with these two candidates -- Obama with his public generalizations and carefully worded evasions, and McCain with a career in which he has been all over the place -- part Reagan conservative and part TR Bull Moose -- In unpredictable ways.

I don't envy the task of either Veep trying to keep the story sttaight. Jon Stewart last night had a hilarious set on the two Veeps -- bottom line was an acknowledgement that the GOP lockdown strategy was the more effective.