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January 20, 2011

JeffB.'s Girlfriend Is a Dirty Whore And Further Ruminations on Palin and Intellect

I'm totally kidding about the "dirty whore" part. (Not that there's anything wrong with that, and this time, I seriously mean it.) But JeffB. points out something important I want to ramble on about.

I think his girlfriend and mom are on to something here -- and it's something that bothers me about Palin too. Which is a real shame, because this is such an easy fix.


Ace - one problem with your theory....educated conservative women really dislike Palin too.


I've met many who fall into this category, but I'll focus, for my anecdotal data set, on my mother and my girlfriend, who are both *extremely* conservative. My mother is a woman who, literally, popped champagne when Clinton was impeached. This is a woman who declared, after the 2004 election, that "after a decent interval I expect to see some crucifixions." She was once an unreflective '60s liberal, but since the Republican Revolution of 1994 she would vote for a dead dog before she would vote for a Democrat.

My girlfriend has a somewhat different profile: if anything, she *more* culturally conservative than I am: a devout evangelical, deeply anti-abortion, disgusted with the degradation of modern culture and thoroughly contemptuous of the Left in all its various guises. Obama, quite literally, gives her the willies: she can't even bear to listen to the man SPEAK because his voice, to her mind, just oozes sickening patrician contempt. (In other words: this lady is serious marriage material.)

But they both strongly dislike Sarah Palin, and the aversion is on a gut level. What distinguishes them from many others? They are professional women. They're both hardworking, educated 'elites' (in the limited sense that they have postgrad degrees, a Ph.D in psychology for my mother and an MBA for my gf). Both of them say the exact same thing about Palin: she exudes an anti-intellectualism that repels them so much it practically feels like an insult. It's like rubbing a cat the wrong way...they look at her and they say "this woman can't hack it, she's fleeing from tough questions, unscripted forums, non-softball interviews."

They don't -- ABSOLUTELY DO NOT -- hold the same things against her that the Left does. They don't give a shit about her YouTube videos, or the stupid "blood libel" controversy (and other small-beer shit like it). In fact, both my mother and my GF have remarked frequently about how nasty and vicious and unfair the media is to Palin -- they sympathize with her on that regard. But they still have a visceral dislike for her style, and are especially stuck on how her public profile and importance seems to have been magnified out of all proportion to her *actual accomplishments*. "What has she done" my mother said, "other than quit her damn job and fall ass-backwards into the thronging arms of a cult of personality?" It's not the worst point in the world.

Think on that. And remember -- as men (of the 'educated class,' yadda yadda yadda) we ought to resist the temptation to say "hey, *I* don't have that reaction to Palin! Therefore it must not actually exist!" As hack comic Sinbad would say, "women be different than men!"

I don't want this to turn into a "THAT'S THEIR PROBLEM!" sort of debate. I'm not bringing this up to justify their reactions to Palin, only to point them out from an anthropological perspective. Palin seriously irks a lot professional-class women regardless of their politics -- it's not because these women are liberal, or seeking self-justification, or secretly hate themselves, or whatever.

Just thought I'd contribute some grist for the mill.

Okay, short story: back in college, steve_in_hb, not_steve_in_hb, and I had a brief and uninteresting argument about whether we were "intellectuals" or not.

not_steve_in_hb said, basically, "Of course I'm an intellectual, and of course, whether you admit it or not, are you and steve_in_hb."

I said, no, of course I'm not, and of course neither are you.

I forget steve_in_hb's position -- I'd imagine he was closer to my line of thinking but so convinced of that he didn't find the discussion interesting at all.

It was all a semantic disagreement. not_steve_in_hb was defining "intellectual" as meaning "possessing a strong intellect and enjoying intellectual pursuits." I was defining it as system of tribal loyalties and signals, less of an objective and simple category as not_steve_in_hb defined it, more a matter of self-identification with a particular class and type. not_steve_in_hb felt it was just a question of whether you objectively thought a lot and considered thinking your primary strength; I defined it, seriously, as whether you were the sort of person who would decide to wear a fucking beret or an unnecessary monocle (and yeah, we met That Guy, the guy who wore a monocle at a party for no reason other than to demonstrate he was the sort of guy who wore a monocle at a party for no reason).

So, you know, the discussion was brief and uninteresting, really, as it boiled down to a simple question of definition of terms -- by not_steve_in_hb's definition, he was right; by my definition, I was right. End of discussion.

This is a crucial distinction, I think: I rail a lot about "intellectuals" but I almost always make it clear I am railing not against actual intellect or intellectual achievement but about pseudo-intellectuals, false intellectuals, people who self-identify as intellectual-types because that's their favorite tribe.

People who are "intellectuals," if at all, not primarily due to the intellectual meat they bring to the table but because they basically wear monocles at parties. Or monocle-substitutes -- they adopt a system of tribal signaling and class loyalty. You know my basic schpiel on this by now.

Can I just point out an annoyance I have with them? We only get to see European movies in the original language, which we don't speak, because the intellectual-types insist that they need to hear the "music of the original language," or whatever, failing to note that the "music of the original language" is the least important element of a film. A film's dialogue is (in almost all cases, except for deliberately convention-breaking films that focus on nothing but) rather unimportant in a movie. The visuals are the thing. And if you're watching a movie in a language you don't understand, you're spending 90% of your time reading text when the actual director intended for you to firstly be looking at the images he had put on film.

So they're like, wrong, wrong entirely, but this is the only way we see European movies, because intellectuals are stubbornly wrong on this point. And despite the fact that in Europe, symbol for all that is intellectual and classy for this cadre, actually itself dubs all foreign films into their own languages. And they're pretty awesome at this, due to decades of experience with matching lip-movements with words -- watch Das Boot in English (as the German director intended it to be seen in English-language countries) and you'll find that only notice a mismatched lip-flap once every ten minutes or so. 90% of the time it looks like they were speaking English when they originally filmed it.

Further they have a big cadre of very good voice actors who have made a career of this.

We could do the same, but we don't, because, well, intellectuals are very good at missing the point and then congratulating themselves for so doing.

Anyway. But no, seriously, let's miss all the gorgeous imagery, which is really the whole point of the film, in House of Flying Daggers because we're too busy reading kinda-dumb dialogue text at the bottom of the screen. Because it's vitally important that we hear the "music of the original Chinese language." No way on God's green earth we could ever hear the "music of the Chinese language" except in this hyper-visual movie, I guess. It's not like I can just hop on the subway and hear all this "music" as I please. No, no seriously, I want to go to a moving picture show to read yellow text. I really want to spend that time reading a very short, very dumb book of yellow text.

My point is that "intellectuals" often show a lack of actual intellect and often simply repeat the Erroneous Wisdom passed down to them by other people they think are "intellectuals." Thus this whole "music of the original language" nonsense; if they bothered to think about the subject, and bothered to look to the example of our intellectual and cultural betters in Europe (and the rest of the world, actually), they'd see their stubborn preference is in fact detracting from their experience, and prefer good, professional dubbing.

But they don't, because the point is usually not to actually enjoy these films as the director intended (that is to say, looking at the imagery he's caught on film) but in signaling to others they're elevated enough to prefer watching films in their original language, which is just gibberish to them, and not the way the director meant for the film to be experienced, but what does he know? Other intellectuals say it must be this way and you wouldn't wish to express a contrary opinion. Or else other intellectuals might suspect you're not an intellectual.

Okay, so back to the matter at hand: There is a big difference between being anti-intellectual (as I define it, as a class self-identification) and being actually anti-intellect.

I don't even see how someone can be the latter. I'm not anti-athletic-talent. God, how all we boys used to dream of having exactly that. An entire genre was created -- the superhero comic book -- just to service little boy's fantasies about suddenly becoming athletically omnicompetent.

I'm not anti-musical-talent, or anti-social-skill, or anti-cunning, or anti- any of these obvious gifts. I don't think many people are.

But some people do seem to be anti-intellect sometimes. Or at least they sort of talk that way. They sometimes seem to signal they're denigrating the intellect per se, and not just the parasitic weeds of pseudo-intellectuals that has grown up around it.

And this is what I've noticed with Palin: Sometimes I do not know if she's speaking specifically against the self-annoited "smart set," consisting chiefly of people who aren't notably smart, or if she's speaking against intellectual excellence altogether.

I assume, actually, she means the former-- but I do have to say she often, to my mind, leaves the question in too much doubt. People may demand specifics, which I don't have at hand, but this is a general impression When she knocks this sort of person, I myself often detect, mixed in with anti-intellectualism, which is good and proper, an impulse which seems simply anti-intellect, no suffix, and I'm not really always sure which she means.

One time I wrote that Palin had to demonstrate her intellectual chops to a skeptical public, and a commenter actually wrote (paraphrase) no, her strength is actually she's not a smartie; that's why people respond to her.

I told him that was the most singularly awful campaign motto I had ever heard. Because people want their president to be a smartie -- the job demands it. Not genius level IQ, perhaps, but smart enough to get what the geniuses in the room are talking about. To suggest that a weakness of intellect is actually a strength is -- well, that is the impulse towards pure anti-intellect in strongest form. And that, absolutely, will not fly.

Does she mean anyone who went to a good school is unworthy? Anyone scoring near-perfect on their college or post-grad admissions test is by nature not a "real American"?

I actually doubt that, but her carelessness in specifying I'm talking about x not y causes, I think, that reaction among the educated class, and even the conservative educated class, who are quite proud of their achievements (as everyone is proud of their own achievements) and who are going to react just as you'd imagine when they hear someone running down their most important pillar of self-worth.

The conservative educated class should, naturally, be on her side, as everyone in the conservative educated class kind of hates the liberal pseudo-intellectual tribe too; almost everyone in this class has suffered, exactly as Sarah Palin has, from sneering condescension and denigration of one's talents based only on a -- rather admirable, actually -- refusal to stupidly mouth the received pieties of self-appointed intellectuals.

So they should naturally rally to her. But they by and large don't, and that's because they often hear within her words not a call towards egalitarianism and an end to stupid tribal loyalties and signals, but instead the creation of a simply different tribe with its own loyalties and signals, from which they are specifically, and by definition, excluded.

Politicians can't afford to alienate too many constituencies. You have to get to 51%, one way or another. All politicians with any sort of ideological rigor have already written off, entirely, a full 45% of the public; of the remaining 55% persuadables, they have to capture a large fraction of what's left. And alienating a somewhat large -- and very influential, with actual influence exceeding its not-tiny numbers -- cadre of people is self-defeating and, therefore, quite dumb, actually.

And it doesn't have to be this way, as I've said. There is no reason not to include such people in the group. Such people are necessary for the coalition. Perhaps they don't need to be overly flattered (they get a lot of that already) but it's certainly not necessary that they be insulted, either. And there is an easy enough manner of not running them down, too, while also running down the exact people they want run down.

Why exclude them? George W. Bush made his play -- weakly -- for the black vote by saying (paraphrased) "not enough Republicans have stood up and asked, "Can I have your vote?' Well I'm asking you -- can I have your vote?'"

Did that work? No, not really, not with blacks; but importantly it worked with persuadable whites who liked the idea of a Republican president asking for the black votes.

I don't see Sarah Palin really doing that with the educated/"elite" sort of voter. She doesn't seem to be asking them to join her coalition. She seems to be defining her coalition in terms of specifically excluding such people.

Maybe she's angry at them as a whole -- she's taken a lot of nasty jibes from them as an undifferentiated group -- but if she actually wants to be a politician, she has to get over that, and mend fences, and ask for their vote, and make it clear that they are not merely permitted to join the coalition but are actively sought for the coalition.

And telling people who sort of have a lot of ego riding on the idea that they're the intellectual elite that they're not elite, and, in fact, kinda suck is not a good way to do that.

Beat up on the liberal pseudo-intellectual elite only -- they ain't votin' for ya anyway and the conservative educated elite doesn't like them either.

But no one is going to endorse any philosophy or premise that reduces his own self-worth. Just doesn't happen.

People vote for those who flatter them, and who make us feel better about ourselves. We're all kinda dumb like that. And if Sarah Palin has the sort of intelligence her supporters say she has -- craftiness, cleverness, cunning -- she really sort of has to demonstrate that.

10% of the country is highly-educated and another 20% either thinks well of the highly educated or aspires to be highly-educated, and, despite insinuations from the media, the conservative side of the country is actually more educated than the liberal one. So speaking carelessly on this point is highly damaging to any candidate who wants to win the conservative nomination.

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posted by Ace at 02:13 PM

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