Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Morons, Everywhere Morons

On Fray and meat life experiences converge in an inescapable conclusion: we are surrounded by morons. It would perhaps not be so alarming if the morons were pumping out gas or nailing in shingles, but it is clear that morons have infiltrated the highest eschelons of power. The ubiquity of morons suggests a depressing conclusion: we will always have morons.

Why are there so many morons? Well, part of the difficulty is that there are so many ways to be a moron, and perhaps the most common the conviction that one is, in fact, a genius. Narcissism and idiocy seem connected, and for this reason I would suggest that there are probably more male morons than female. But the absolute numbers are so large that one's chances of encountering a moron (male or female) on a given day approach 100%.

The narcissism of the moron is one of its most perplexing characteristics. How can people be so proud of being so stupid? Common behavioral traits of the moron include: loudly proclaiming inaccurate information, assuming an authoritative tone and dismissing questions as irrelevant, relating non-sequitor anecdotes designed to show that the moron's opponent is a monster, and falsely labeling others' arguments as logical fallacies that the moron has, of course, garbled. Not reading seems to be another common trait of the moron. The American moron (though not only the American moron) also seems to feed on nationalism and more than a pinch of racism. It should go without saying that anybody writing a top post that generalizes about morons is himself a moron.

Allow me to suggest (this is another rhetorical strategy of the moron -- enticing some unseen crowd by assuming that readers/onlookers are allies) that there are two broad categories of moron. The first category is the regular moron, the person who is simply too stupid to formulate or critique an argument. The second category, however, is the person clever enough to formulate a brilliant but incorect argument. To distinguish the simple moron from the genius moron, I will refer to the later as the "oxymoron."

Karl Marx is the paridigmatic example of the oxymoron. I have been reading him lately, and his genius should be self-evident. It is no mean feat to critique both capitalism and utopian socialism, to incorporate these critiques into a philosophical system that includes one of the most profound contributions to the study of history (the notion of class struggle) ever formulated, and to create from this philosophical system a viable and very powerful political movement. I can't think of anyone else who has done anything like it. Well, maybe Ghandi. I suppose some would include Martin Luther. Whatever, you get the idea (note another classic strategy of the simple moron -- infuriating vagueness at crucial points of the argument).

What a catastrophe! Is there any idea as promising as Marxism that has gone so sour? In my Chinese history classes, I assign a memoir of the Cultural Revolution called Spider Eaters. Picture schoolchildren murdering people in the name of socialism and you get an idea of how badly things can go when people are convinced by an oxymoron that they are not morons.

The book's epigram is particularly interesting. It is from a short story by the Chinese writer Lu Xun (not a moron, the first clear example of that rare species we have yet encountered), who wrote that he was very thankful to the people who first tasted crab. For crab is so tasty! And yet, Lu Xun reflects, if people tasted crab, there must also have been those who ate spiders and discovered the spiders were poisonous. There must, in short, have been morons, and we have profited from these morons. We now know to eat soft-shell sandwiches and avoid black widow petit-fours.

Rae Yang, the author of Spider Eaters, suggests that socialism is another such thing -- we needed morons to try it out so that we would know that it sucked. Rae herself was such a moron, a Red Guard who swooned over Mao the way others of her generation screamed and fainted at Beatles concerts. Because of Rae, I now know that however splendid socialism may seem, it has a rather nasty side effect of empowering morons.

This post seems to be about intelligence, but really it's about politics. What to do if one values justice and fairness, if one would like to see the world include more crab eaters and fewer spider eaters? It seems to me that one answer is to stop making morons powerful. As should be clear by now, virtually everybody is a moron. Would it be possible to create a utopia of the impotent, where everybody was so weak that even a great gang of morons could not fuck things up for the rest of us?

Probably not. Instead we are stuck with spider eaters, people willing to take any path no matter how destructive. The only hope is that when destruction comes, the odds are that the morons will be hit worse. See you in hell, morons!