More than a generation ago Chairman Mao embarked on a radical make-over for China that resulted in their Cultural Revolution. Long story short, the chubby communist decided that it was best to turn over the country to the common folks, and get rid of all the smart people. Professors, writers, and most of the nation’s intellectuals were either killed or moved out of their offices and into the fields, which ultimately resulted in China staying at the bottom of the international food chain for almost fifty years.
But it turns out that smart people are actually good for a country and its economy. They have ideas. They build and invent things, and help society operate more efficiently. They cure diseases and invent iPads. They help spread the wealth. They bring joy to society through art and entertainment and hope. The leaders that followed Mao realized this, and quickly opened society back up and let the smart people do their thing. They improved their educational system. They encouraged people to use their brains and their initiative. They allowed society to reward good ideas and hard work. The result…. in a few short years China has risen from a pauper nation into a world economic power.
Seems like a simple lesson that America can especially embrace. After all, we really perfected Capitalism and a society the stresses innovation and rewards great thinking and hard work. And during this economic crisis, it would seem that we could especially use a lot of both to pull us into better economic times.
So I am confused when I hear uber-conservatives blast brainpower as if being smart were some kind of crime, and wear their ignorance as a badge of honor. I was watching a little of my favorite sitcom network the other day – Cspan – when a Southern Congressman went on a rant about “Progressive Intellectuals”, as if the words were synonymous with “goat rapist”.
“I am not a progressive, and I do not support these so-called intellectuals that would lead us to socialism”, he screamed. He went on to pine for the “good old days in America”, which is really code for a time when society was dominated by middle to upper-class-white men. And I realized that if he had his way, Congressman Foghorn Leghorn and his cohorts would lead us into an American Cultural Revolution, and create a country that values a fictional past over a progressive future. They want to spearhead an American Taliban that would drive us all back a generation or two. Create our jobs in coal mines and cotton fields, and have us drive quality autos like the 1984 Mercury Marquis. Put the women-folk back into the kitchen and whore house where they belong. Don’t worry about global warming, or education, or building an equitable society….. instead let natural selection run its course and chew up the weak.
The truth is we need big-brained people to help think our way to a better world. The internet, life saving drugs, solar energy devices, digital cameras, organic farming methods, and digital television were not developed by bearded guys living in caves or rednecks that still think the world is only 6000 years old. We need smart Democrats, Republicans, and Independents. You can be smart and be conservative or liberal, educated or self-taught. Society just needs to admire, and insist upon smart – whether smart comes from a college professor, a software engineer, a hockey mom, a construction worker, or anyone from any walk of life that chooses to question “how can I make this better” and is willing to work for it.
And that means supporting smart as an integral part of American life – instead of making it somehow shameful. We should have disdain for ignorance, not education. It means making sure our schools are funded regardless of budgetary implications. It means not allowing the books our children read across the country to be chosen by a small group of people with religious or political agendas. It means always separating fact from fiction, and not allowing our leaders to convince us our best future is to live in the good old days.