That Sinking Feeling

At the age of 62, I have met enough mediocre, dumber-than-rocks people to have become somewhat immune to disappointment.
However, I can still be surprised when I find myself talking to people who, at least on the surface, look to be smart, intelligent and successful, yet, when the discussion shifts to specific topics, they show themselves to be glib, superficial, and utterly devoid of useful thought.
This last week that occurred at dinner on a client visit, when I found myself with a Vice President and an Account Executive. As was probably inevitable, the discussion shifted to current politics.
The VP said that he thought Donald Trump was “fine”, then, after a short pause, he said wistfully “I just wish they would take away his damn Twitter account”. The reality that taking away his Twitter account does not magically change a person’s behavior for the better was a fundamental fact that he had either not thought of, or was determined to ignore. The Account Exec nodded in agreement, then went on to say that he thought that government needed shaking up, and Trump was just the man to do it.
The discussion suddenly shifted elsewhere, which was just as well, since I was probably about to say a few things in response that neither of these supposedly smart Captains of Industry would have liked.
One irony, at least to me, was that the VP was Indian.
This incident is not new. I have become wearily used over the years to finding out that seemingly intelligent people are either politically disengaged (they often decline any and all opportunities to talk about politics, possibly fearing disagreement and disputes) or they have a knowledge that is hopelessly inadequate. I used to think that conspiracy theories were only attractive to dumb people, but over time I have had to accept that even incredibly smart and clever people quite cheerfully sign on to all sorts of cockanamie nonsense all the time. In fact, smart people become incredibly good at elaborately rationalizing their decisions to sign onto total tosh.
I used to wonder why electorates in the Western world often made awful decisions come election time. Leaving aside the fundamental reality that on average, 50% of the electorate is of below-average intelligence, the sort of shallow, glib, flip rationalizations for current events that I heard over dinner last week go a long way to explaining why, even allowing for the Dunning-Kruger effect, we cannot reasonably expect any uptick in overall electoral intelligence any time soon.


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