Jayne: Can intellectual curiosity make America great again?




Greg Jayne, Opinion page editor

‘We used to be smart,” Biff says, trolling for a reaction as he takes a sip of Guinness.

“Used to? What do you mean used to?” Bubba replies, taking the bait. “We’re still smart. Maybe a little paunchy around the middle, but our minds can run laps around those young punks.”

“No, WE used to be smart. Americans. We used to be the smartest people on the planet. Now I’m not so sure.”

“We still are. Put a man on the moon, developed the Internet, still create groundbreaking technology. If it weren’t for us, the world would not have Facebook or Twitter. You can’t get much smarter than that.”

“Maybe. But I think that there is a problem with Americans and intelligence.”

“And what might that be, Einstein?”

“The problem is that we no longer celebrate intelligence. We no longer cultivate it. There is a faction in this country — and not a small one — that rejects learning as something for the fancy-pants elite. We’re anti-intellectual.”

“Don’t be ridiculous. Just look at our president. He’s always telling us how smart he is, and he celebrates it. Why, he knows more about ISIS than the generals. He told us himself.”

“Exactly! Do you think we would have fallen for that in the past? I don’t think tribalism and simplistic explanations will Make America Great Again.”

“Yeah, you’re probably right. But c’mon. If you look at the rankings, we have the best universities in the world; some of the smartest people from all over come to the United States for an education.”

“True. And how are those universities regarded here? They are constantly denigrated as being isolated and elitist,” Biff continues. “They constantly are being criticized for, you know, promoting critical thinking.”

“Well, doesn’t it seem like colleges have become a tool for the left, always spewing that liberal dogma?”

“I don’t know. It seems to me that if a professor has spent his or her entire life studying a subject, they might have some expertise. It seems that we are awfully quick to ignore people who might know what they are talking about because their conclusions don’t match what we read on the Internet, that citadel of certainty.”

“Give me an example,” Bubba exhorts.

“Take climate change. More than 95 percent of climate scientists believe that human activity contributes to it. These are people who conduct studies and have those studies vetted through peer review. Wouldn’t it make more sense to pay attention to them rather than believing that climate change is a hoax perpetuated by China?”

“No, it was created by the media to promote its leftist agenda.”

Intellectual curiosity

“That’s another thing. The media. I would think that those who are close to a situation and talk with the people involved might know a little something. That doesn’t mean the media is infallible, but at least it is invested in finding the truth.”

“Truth? Who knows what truth is these days?”

“Well, that’s a problem. These days we’re more interested in personal validation than intellectual curiosity when it comes to serious issues.”

“What do you mean?”

“Like vaccines. The anti-vax movement has no foundation in science; in fact, science has repeatedly debunked it. But plenty of people believe that vaccines are dangerous.”

“Yeah, that’s just foolish. But I think you are painting with a broad brush. I think most of us are intellectually curious.”

“Really? You must not be paying attention. How about this: The administration just let go 12 top scientific advisers at the EPA and reportedly will replace them with representatives from industries. They aren’t even pretending to care about knowledge.”

“Well, maybe people from the oil industry know more about the environment than scientists.”

“Or maybe,” Biff says, polishing off his beer, “we don’t even care about being smart anymore.”