Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The false perception of intellect

We've all seen it to some degree or another. Most commonly it appears when some Hollywood star or starlet holds forth on a difficult and important subject, and his or her utterances are treated as some kind of epiphany from a God-like genius. Why is that? Why would a high school dropout's opinion be given any more credence that anyone else's? I hereby postulate a theory: it is easier to act intelligent than it is to be intelligent. A large percentage of our population can't tell the difference between acting intelligent and being intelligent, so those that are very good actors enjoy a level of credibility that they by no means deserve.

Consider this quote from Thomas Sowell (yes, I go to that well quite often):

A sense of logic underlies a sense of humor.

Now, I know I'm going out on a limb when I equate a sense of logic with intelligence, but I don't think it is too much of a stretch to state that a sense of logic is at least a form of intelligence. Work with me on this one, if only for the sake of seeing where I am headed with this.

I watched a documentary about the inner sanctums of the White House last night, and part of it involved interviews with the former tenant, George W. Bush. I was taken aback by the lucidity and humor President Bush wielded in extemporaneous speaking, even more so when I reflected back on his utter inability to correctly read a sentence from a prepared speech. The quickness of his verbal wit reminded me of the Sowell quote above, and it showed me that President Bush, despite years of the incessant media yammering about his stupidity, is actually quite intelligent.

I was also struck by how Bush is the polar opposite of the new tenant. President Obama has a (media created) reputation for being quite intelligent based on his ability to read a prepared speech. Away from the dais, though, he stammers and uh's his way through sentences, and I have yet to hear him say anything even remotely funny. I'm left wondering if my theory holds true and if Obama's owes the credibility he seems to have with a majority of our population simply to the fact that he is a better actor.

Time will tell, I suppose. Really, it's just a theory.