A Sideways Glare at Contemporary Society
One of the many things they never tell you in high school is that there’s a big difference between knowing stuff and being smart. If you know stuff, you get to amuse your friends and win impromptu arguments, but unless you get on Jeopardy, it’s not really a paying proposition. However, if you’re smart, you can write your own ticket. Here’s a simple example. Given a map, I can generally find most of the countries in the world. I get a little confused with all the new “stans” that showed up in Asia in the 1990s, and I don’t think even John Kerry knows what’s going on in the Balkans, but I get by. For the most part, this is useless information, since, in all my years, no one has ever come up to me and said, “By the way, where’s Singapore?” My point is that just knowing something is useless — unless you know what to do with the information. Knowledge for its own sake may be a philosopher’s wet dream, but in practical terms, it doesn’t pay the rent.
However, let’s not get carried away with the educated idiot analogy because the other thing they never explain in high school, even while they’re teaching it, is that in order to be smart, you have to know stuff. Information is fundamental to problem-solving, and you need to learn as many facts as possible because, without them, even the smartest person in the world is a dolt. Again, let me explain. Because I do know where Singapore is, I’m way ahead of the curve. I understand a lot more about my world than the person who doesn’t have a clue about the Lion City. For example, I know why it’s King Midas rich, how it got that way, and why it’s probably going remain in the Daddy Warbucks’ Top Ten. Take a look. Singapore is on the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula, on the fastest trade wind from the industrial East to the All-Consuming West. That means it’s a natural stopping point for literally millions of megatonnes of shipping. When that kind of dinero is going in and out of your front door every day, some of it is bound to sit down and stay awhile. This analysis is a no-brainer — as long as you know where Singapore sits in the world. However, without this tidy little tidbit, even Google can’t tell you why an insignificant city state the size of Philadelphia can cough in Asia and people in Rotterdam, Antwerp and Hamburg get a cold.
Here’s the deal. In this world, there are two kind of stupid people, and even though they might look like there light years apart in education, income, social status or what have you, they are essentially the same person. First, there are the folks who believe that because they know who wrote Candide, they’re qualified to spout philosophy. Then there are the other folks who’ve never heard of Francois-Marie Arouet but spout philosophy anyway. Group A thinks that learning inherently makes them smart and Group B thinks they’re innately smart and don’t need to learn anything. However, talk to anyone in either group and the conversation is the same.
Basically, it works like this: whereas you can know stuff without being smart, you can`t be smart without knowing stuff.
And if they’d just teach that in high school we’d all be better off come election time and at dinner parties.