Where for previous generations the significant question was “right or wrong”, for many Americans today the more important question is smart or dumb. We love our amoral geniuses, our Sherlocks, our Houses, our Da Vinci’s, brilliant individuals whose cruelty, depravity, and at times immorality we allow because it comes wrapped in neat logic and dazzling intelligence. TV shows like Dexter or Breaking Bad suggest that the modern hero isn’t a hero at all; he is an intelligent villain. Why is that? When people use physical prowess to manipulate and belittle others we call it abuse. Why then when they mental prowess do we celebrate it? Is there even a difference? Let’s look at an example:
Allen is at a bar. He sees a pretty girl, and wants some way to impress her. There two guys laughing loudly at the table across from him. He knows he can take them. So he goes over glaring at the two, and says “Shut up.”
What has Allen done? He has effectively created a stage to display his best attribute: arm and torso muscles. If the men comply, it shows he is superior. If they don’t—good—he’d prefer a fight. He’s seen enough Disney movies to know that no one likes the guy who swings his fists for no reason, but if they attacked him, then he could really show off. Allen is giving the two men no choice. Even by declining they are not avoiding a physical confrontation, they are losing one. Allen has forced them to be his foils, pulled them into a physical contest against their will for the sake of making himself look better.
Now let’s look at another example.
Allen is at a diner party. He sees a pretty girl, and wants some way to impress her. Two guys are chatting across the table about Communism. Just from hearing the level of vocabulary they use, the ideas they are exhorting, he knows he can take them. So with a cocky smile he cuts their conversation, “That’s not what Marx means at all.”
What has Allen done? He has effectively created a stage to display his best attribute: his brain muscle. If the men comply, it shows him to be superior, if they don’t—good—he’d prefer a fight. He’s seen enough Disney movies to know that no one likes the guy who doesn’t know when to shut up about what he knows, but if they attacked him first then he could really show off his argumentation. Allen is giving the two men no choice. Even by declining they are not avoiding a mental confrontation, they are losing one. Allen has forced them to be his foils, pulled them into an intellectual contest against their will for the sake of making himself look better.
What is the difference between bar Allen and diner party Allen? There isn’t one. Both men force others (against their will) into their arena of dominance. Allen from the bar pulling them into a physical confrontation, Allen from the dinner party pulling them into a mental confrontation. Both are acts of aggression.
In large, society criticizes forcing physical confrontation. It still happens, but on a much smaller scale. On many public stages forced physical confrontation is both socially and legally unacceptable. The result of this is that young men (and women) who have the muscles to physically dominate learn to suppress the urge to. They can’t just hit someone or wrestle him to the ground to create a winning scenario for themselves. Alternatively, there is no such norm or law for forcing mental confrontation. Young men and women who can remember greater amounts of information, or who are make quicker mental connections, can logically pummel and pin whomever they want. Some readers might argue, “There is a difference between hitting someone and proving them to be illogical.” I disagree.
Being able to give or take a hit largely depends on commitment, namely a commitment to certain groupings of muscle. I choose not to lit weights or do abs-workouts on any regular basis. Because of this my arms and abs are underdeveloped. I know how to do these things. At one time I did do these things, but because of life, time, stress, and other passions I choose to stop practicing. My arms and abs are out of shape.
Being logical is also a product of practice. Some one can know how to be logical, they might have been very good at it in college, but because of life, time, stress, and other passions they choose to stop practicing. They are mentally out of shape.Or maybe they are fit, but not training to be a heavyweight. Either way, it is the individual’s freedom to be weak, physically or mentally weak. I can choose not to devote time to lifting or curling or crunching. Another person can choose not to devote time to reading or writing or thinking. Neither of us deserves to be attacked for it.
As someone who loves ideas, and avidly trains to be mentally stronger, it is easy to criticize ideas and decisions, to keep a running count of thoughts and point out any and all contradictions, to don the seat of authority and gleefully repel every attempt to take it from me. These are the behaviors of an intellectual thug. Might doesn’t make right. Neither does intellectual might. Just because you can convince someone of something, doesn’t mean you should. Just because you can point out the weakness in someone’s thought, doesn’t mean you have the right too.