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Lobotomizer, Lobotomize Thyself

December 29th, 2007 · 2 Comments

A paean to stupidity at TCSDaily admonishes conservatives not to worry overmuch about being seen as dim if they adhere stubbornly to tradition, even in the face of countervailing arguments that may seem both cogent and unanswerable. Since dangerous utopian dreamers may be the more intellectually dazzling debaters, “the desire to appear intelligent at all costs can be downright suicidal” if it means acceding to their radical schemes. There’s something to this, of course—the idea is just a crude rehash of Hayek—but it’s worth bearing in mind that what we’re being offered is just a meta-level rational argument for not always yielding to the strongest-sounding rational argument in particular cases. Selective stupidity can be smart too.

More to the point, though, the particular spin put on the old argument here—the dangers of wanting to seem smart—is a little bit rich coming from Lee Harris, whose signature is an almost comically desperate effort to give his essays a patina of erudition. Like some hungover freshman at midterms regurgitating every scrap he recalls from his Western Civ survey course, Harris peppers one turgid thumbsucker after another with Cliffs Notes–level nods to hoary figures from the Western canon. So we get such gems as:

Their stupidity, as many of them no doubt hazily realized, was their best defense against the inroads of clever madmen intent on turning their world upside down—men like John Stuart Mill, for example, to whom tradition meant nothing, and who was willing to throw out the solid heritage of the past in the pursuit of the latest fad, dubbed by him “experiments in living.”

This is not, appearances the contrary, a summary of the argument offered in On Liberty. It is a way of announcing loudly, and in only slightly coded form: “I am either illiterate or dishonest; decide for yourself which assumption is less charitable.” Fortunately, we already know that Harris thinks conservatives should not mind being called stupid.

Tags: Moral Philosophy



2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Lee // Dec 29, 2007 at 5:24 pm

    “Selective stupidity can be smart too.”

    That’s an insightful take on Hayek—for me, anyway. I had never thought of his argument as being parallel to Schelling’s and Parfit’s stuff about selective irrationality being rational.

  • 2 southpaw // Jan 5, 2008 at 12:57 am

    Earlier today, I hazily realized that my own stupidity–and that of my ancestors–had thwarted Emmanuel Kant, a man for whom spiritualism meant nothing, who was willing to abandon the fundaments of his religious faith for the nebulous goal of what he called “synergistic coexisting.” But, as I say, it was a hazy realization.