Saturday, October 30, 2010

Elitism, Intelligence, Sarah Palin, Joe Miller

[I've been trying to write a concise, coherent and insightful post dealing with the attacks on educated people.  But as I read more, the attack seems not against just the educated, but the Elite.  But Palin's notion of  "The Elite" doesn't simply mean 'smart' and certainly doesn't mean 'upper class.'  Let's just call this a first draft on the theme.]

Sept. 4, 2009 (MSNBC)
“I’m not a member of the permanent political establishment,” Palin said. “And I’ve learned quickly these past few days that if you’re not a member in good standing of the Washington elite, then some in the media consider a candidate unqualified for that reason alone. . ."

October 24, 2008 (WN)

Q:  Who is a member of the elite?
Sarah Palin: . . . just people who think they are better than everyone else. . . John McCain and I are so committed to serving every American, hardworking, middle class Americans who are so desiring this economy getting put back on the right track. . .  [Emphasis added]
Q:  It's not education, it's not income based?
Sarah Palin:  Anyone who thinks they're better than anyone else.  
John McCain:  I know where a lot of them live.
Q:  Where's that?
John McCain:  In our nation's capital and New York City. . . I know who these elitists are, the ones she never went to a cocktail party with in Georgetown. . . They think they can dictate to America what they believe rather than let Americans think for themselves.
[Note:  Merriam's Online dictionary shows that while her definition is vaguely in the ballpark - an outsider's view of 'c' maybe - it doesn't convey the standard usage of that term.  McCain's is close to 'd.' 
a . . .the choice part : cream <the elite of the entertainment world> 
b  . . .the best of a class <superachievers who dominate the computer elite — Marilyn Chase> 
c . . .the socially superior part of society <how the elite live — A P World> <how the French-speaking elite…was changing — Economist> 
d : a group of persons who by virtue of position or education exercise much power or influence <members of the ruling elite> <the intellectual elites of the country>]

January 2009 Anchorage Daily News:
The dinner was held in the heart of Washington, D.C., at the Capital Hilton within sight of the White House. Palin's invitation to the Alfalfa Club was "a coup," said Letitia Baldrige, who served as the White House social secretary and chief of staff to Jacqueline Kennedy.
"It's something that everybody who's anybody in politics wants to be invited to," Baldrige said.
If a roasting by the most powerful people in America is a sign you've made it, then Palin had clearly arrived. Or, at the very least, was acknowledged Saturday night as one of the most interesting women in American politics.

November 23, 2009, From Talking Points Memo

O'REILLY: Let me be very bold and fresh again. Do you believe that you are smart enough, incisive enough, intellectual enough to handle the most powerful job in the world?
PALIN: I believe that I am because I have common sense, and I have, I believe, the values that are reflective of so many other American values. And I believe that what Americans are seeking is not the elitism, the the [sic] kind of spineless... a spinelessness that perhaps is made up for that with some kind of elite Ivy League education and a fat resume that's based on anything but hard work and private sector, free enterprise principles. Americans could be seeking something like that in positive change in their leadership. I'm not saying that has to be me.
So now the elite are spineless and propped up with an Ivy League education and a fat resume - that doesn't reflect hard work or private sector/free enterprise principles.  So the wealthiest of the wealthy who have made their money through free enterprise aren't in the elite?  

October 25, 2010 Right Wing News - Kathleen McKinley:
. . .These Ivy league schools have gone from being training grounds for Christian missionaries and ministers to propaganda factories for every leftist radical failed ideology known to man. Marxism, Darwinism, Freudianism, communism, multiculturalism, relativism, naturalism, positivism, socialism, liberalism, egalitarianism, feminist studies, gay studies, transgender studies, transvestite studies, outcome-based education, and radical environmentalism are not only taught, but celebrated. 
McKinley says this without a trace of irony given that Yale (she starts out mentioning Yale) was among colleges traditionally reserved for the sons of the economic and social upper class of this nation (often known as the elite), which had quotas for Jews and African-Americans, and didn't admit women at all.  No irony at all, even though both Presidents Bush graduated from Yale as well as William F. Buckley, and Clarence Thomas.

And Joe Miller.

Palin argues that elitists "think they are better than anyone else."  Is this as opposed to people who think they know more than anyone else?  After all, Palin, and her protege Joe Miller, talk as if they have a monopoly on the Truth, and everyone else is simply wrong.  Their statements are strong, declarative statements.  There are no qualifiers.  They leave no room for the possibility that they might not be 100% right.  Their opponents are 100% wrong.   It's clearly black and white.  Look at Miler's issues page, for example:
The only answer [There is only one option and I know what it is, if you disagree, you're wrong] is to return our federal government to the limits prescribed by our Constitution. Federal powers not specified in the Constitution are reserved to the States by the 10th Amendment.

I support the repeal of ObamaCare. First and foremost, there is no Constitutional authority for it. [The Constitutional authority isn't just flimsy, it flat out doesn't exist.]
I am unequivocally pro-life and life must be protected from the moment of conception to the time of natural death. [There's nothing you can tell me or show me that will change my mind.]

The problem here is that social truths aren't that easy.  Conception is one point on a continuum of when life could be said to begin.  Another possible point on the continuum to mark the start of life is birth.  There is no way to prove it.  Different communities define these 'truths' differently.  Unless you believe that God has defined all this.  But then, different gods have said different things.  And even different Christians interpret the Christian god differently.  And what is natural death?  Is dying in a motorcycle crash  or from a gun shot a natural death?

What makes Palin and Miller think they have a monopoly on the Truth?  That they know better than everyone else?  Why has Palin tapped into some clear need among many members of the US public?

First, her elitist language can clearly be seen as taking on the insiders on behalf of the outsiders.  "People who think they are better than anyone else" and who live in the nation's capital and New York (we all know these as power centers) and have parties that people like Sarah Palin aren't invited to are the Insiders.  All the rest of us are outsiders, in our own democracy.   What Palin has done so well, is create her own clique, her own inside, of which she is the center.

Second, is to attack those insiders as not being as smart as they think they are.  Hey, I taught at a university.  I can tell you a lot more than Palin can about PhD's doing dumb things.  I've worked with them up close.  I've done dumb things myself. But I can also offer an explanation of why many PhD's might look dumb at times. 

Howard Gardner came up with the concept of multiple intelligences.  His  basic argument is that IQ is just one of different ways that people can be intelligent.  In 1993 he listed seven intelligences and later added the last one:
  • Linguistic Intelligence
  • Musical Intelligence
  • Logical-Mathematical Intelligence
  • Spatial Intelligence
  • Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence
  • Interpersonal Intelligence
  • Intrapersonal Intelligence
  • Naturalist Intelligence  
You can get his FAQ's regarding multiple intelligence which explains all this with a lot more complexity and nuance.

In his book Extraordinary Minds, Howard Gardner defined intelligence* as
"the ability to solve problems or fashion products that are valued in at least one cultural setting or community."

Of the eight listed above, the linguistic and logical intelligences are those most favored in school examinations. These are the 'smarts' that IQ tests recognize.

But people who have these kinds of intelligences may or may not rank high on the other intelligences - such as interpersonal or bodily-kinesthetic.  We can see 'smart' people, with fancy degrees, who are physically clumsy and awkward and don't read interpersonal signals well. 

So, it is easy for an athlete who barely graduated to make fun of a famous scholar who trips over his shoelaces and is awkward when dealing with the opposite sex.  We all do better in the setting where our best intelligences are rewarded.  

What is critical is that we recognize and appreciate where people are 'smart' and where they aren't.  If I go in for surgery, I want a doctor who has linguistic, logical, and kinesthetic (good eye-hand coordination) intelligence.  If I go to a concert, I expect to hear someone with, minimally, good musical intelligence. 

Sarah Palin, it would seem to me, is shaky in terms of the two key academic intelligences (linguistic and logical-mathematical), but very strong on interpersonal and bodily-kinesthetic.  But people with higher linguistic and logical-mathematical intelligences, while being able to see Palin's strengths, will judge her more by their own strengths, and thus not be impressed. 

Joe Miller, on the other hand, as a West Point and Yale graduate, has strong linguistic and logical-mathematical intelligences.   For some, Miller's elite Ivy League education at Yale might seem to disqualify him in the eyes of  Palin followers because he's clearly part of the elite who got trained in "every leftist radical failed ideology known to man" (from Kathleen McKinley above).

So he's both an elitist insider and all the evil things that means to Palin supporters.  But only people strong in logical-mathematical intelligence get too hung up on consistency of principles from one situation to the next.  Besides, one could argue that he went to Yale as a subversive, to learn what the enemy was teaching.   But Miller hasn't made that point himself to my knowledge.

But he does seem to think he's pretty smart.  As mentioned above, he states his positions with authority and certainty.  There's no question in his mind about his correctness.  Wickersham's Conscience pointed out:
Miller claims he [sic] “He quickly mastered the law.” Shucks, WC has been a lawyer for more than thirty-four years and can’t claim to have “mastered the law.”
A lot of this goes back to Socrates and the notion that a wise man is one who knows what he doesn't know.  I suspect that some of the anger at people with certified intelligence (degrees from elite universities or in respected fields) is aimed at those who assume that their intelligence in their specialized field transfers to other fields.  "Because I have a degree in one field means I must be smart in every other field." 

I think Joe Miller has slipped into this category. He isn't nearly as smart as he thinks he is.  I'm not going to use examples of where I think he's philosophically wrong because those things are impossible to prove.  Instead I'll use more tangible examples, starting with his fiddling with the other attorneys' computers in Fairbanks.   
  • He thought he was clever and knew that he could hide his use of the computers by erasing his tracks.  But he didn't know nearly as much as he needed to know and by clearing the caches, he probably caused the discovery of his antics much faster than had he just left the caches alone, because he erased everyone's passwords for databases they used every day.  He was smart enough to know about caches, but not smart enough to know he only knew part of what he needed to know.**
  • He also wasn't smart enough to understand that having a private security guard was totally out of the norm in Alaska politics and would make him look silly.**
  • And he wasn't smart enough to understand that having his body guards handcuff a journalist would resonate poorly.  He probably thought that people would see it as a legitimate blow against the 'lamestream' media.  And his supporters probably do.
  • And he didn't understand that lying about his departure from the Fairbanks North Star Borough was going to be worse than getting it out of the way early in the campaign.  He seems to have thought that it was protected by personnel rules.  He hasn't been in Alaska long enough to have read about the Supreme Court, in the newspapers, deciding that people applying for high level policy jobs do not have the same privacy rights as regular employees.  And even though he's an attorney, he didn't look it up.
Only when he was up against the wall - with his own words that he lied in the computer incident and that he lied about it in the campaign, exposed - does he acknowledge his wisdom may not be absolute:
Miller has maintained the journalist was acting inappropriately, and he has never disavowed the handcuffing, but he says that other issues in his campaign were the result of naivete.
"Alaskans get to understand that, hey, they're electing someone like them. I've gone through trials, I have not always had a silver spoon, I've had challenges in life," Miller said at a recent debate. (from the Anchorage Daily News)
Naivete.  That just isn't Miller's style.  If he's naive about these things, what about his beliefs concerning the Constitution? 

But he is able to play Palin's outsider theme when he does this.  I'm like you regular Alaskans.  Flawed.  And, implied, an outsider. 

But if you go to the doctor, do you want someone just like you, or do you want some with specialized expertise and skill in medicine?  When you take your car to be repaired, do you want someone like you, or someone getting on-the-job training?

And when you elect someone to the US Senate, do you want someone just like you or someone with expertise and skill in public policy, power, and working with others?  As well as a developed sense of ethics?

I believe that the institution of the Senate forces people to play the game or become irrelevant.  Republicans, in recent years, have been more disciplined in keeping their members in line than the Democrats.  That means Republicans will have a harder time representing their state interests when they conflict with the party interests.

But individuals who use their intelligences well are able to play the game more successfully than others.  Some have the ability to block legislation.  Others can work out deals because they have empathy and can understand other people's needs and values and show respect for people with whom they don't agree.  They have the ability to actually create new legislation that improves people's lives.  No matter what, whoever gets elected to the US Senate becomes an insider compared to most other people.  They are in a club limited to 100 people.  Within that club, it is true, there are also insiders and outsiders. 

I think that's enough for now.  Just a note that this is just one possible line of interpretation of all of this.  I'm trying it out to see how it fits. 

*From the FAQ's Gardner defines intelligences differently:
an intelligence refers to a biopsychological potential of our species to process certain kinds of information in certain kinds of way. As such, it clearly involves processes that are carried out by dedicated neural networks. No doubt each of the intelligences has its characteristic neural processes, with most of them quite similar across human beings. Some of the processes might prove to be more customized to an individual.
The intelligence itself is not a content, but it is geared to specific contents. That is, the linguistic intelligence is activated when individuals encounter the sounds of language or when they wish to communicate something verbally to another person. However, the linguistic intelligence is not dedicated only to sound. It can be mobilized as well by visual information, when an individual decodes written text; and in deaf individuals, linguistic intelligence is mobilized by signs (including syntactically-arranged sets of signs) that are seen or felt.

**A newer story in the Alaska Dispatch cites Fairbanks co-workers saying Miller was paranoid about his personal safety and possible computer attacks on him and even requested a security detail.


  1. Thanks Steve, for this insightful and circumspect analysis of those elite heroes of the unintelligentsia, the two polidiots Miller and Palin. It is a hat that so many of the teabagger candidates are wearing, Angle, O'Donnell and Paul particularly.

  2. Fascinating. But the headline with the word intelligence next to the names Sarah Palin and Joe Miller seemed oxymoronic. It seems like you are trying to make sense of these two, who are not sensible. They are narcissists for whom consistency of speech and action are irrelevant. And their followers grab what they want and put blinders on to all inconsistencies. Also they are mean to those who legitimately disagree and are defensive. They lie. Sometimes people just act badly, and it has nothing to do with differing intelligence. Know I'm missing the point of your post, but overanalyzing crooked narcissists (and those who worship them) can drive you crazy.

  3. Those who know don't say, and those who say don't know.

    Just sayin'.....

  4. 1). In the past, I've never encountered people who have lied so many times as Sarah Palin, who haven't been held to account, once the falsehoods started catching up to them. Miller seems to be cut from the same mold. Max Blumenthal, in Republican Gomorrah, makes a great case for the importance of the way both Palin, and now Miller, play that out to their devotees, as part of a phony redemption process.

    Your essay takes on their falsehoods less than it takes on their seeming certitude, but it seems to dovetail part of what Max observed, in that it portrays their limited view of what intelligence is, one based quite closely to Palin's and Miller's Bible-based worldview.

    2). When I attended Oberlin College in the mid-1960s, the Jewish quotas you link to were still in effect in the Ivy League and some other colleges. They rapidly came down over the next five years. That change was just one of many civil rights advances in higher academia during the mid and late 60s.

    Oberlin didn't have any racial, religious or cultural quotas then, nor had it had them for a long time before the 60s. Some of my Jewish friends there called Oberlin "the Jewish Harvard."

  5. Well, in the district where I live (it is a workers' district) there is no room for "elitists". For example this October we had municipal elections and the Socialist Party which is very strong in my district (as a person told me once in Kőbánya even on the church there is a red star) but they lost because they were divided and finally they named a millionaire from a rich district who has nothing to do with Kőbánya and finally a local school principal won here, who was supported by the conservative party.

    I study in a good university but I don't consider myself a member of the elite and I haven't been called snobbish.

  6. Outstanding Article!
    Palin has to 'Quit making things up!
    Anybody who does not care/want a first class education for their children is a loser to me.
    She is a daughter of a supposed well liked teacher,I find her educational values very very odd.

  7. As a person raised by a blind man and being employed by the visually impaired for 18 years, i can and will say, that it isn't worth tryin to figure out what Sarah attempts to say or mean.

  8. The people who I know who are smart are aware of how little they know. The people who know little claim to be experts after hearing one or two comments that they think are clever that they can repeat.

    Palin referred to the lamestream media and I thought she was brilliant. She referred to it again and again and it got old by the second week after she said it. If a commedian did what she does night after night saying the same things, he'd get his 15 minutes of fame and never be heard from again.

    Joe went to two great schools but didn't learn a speck of anything, and he has been riding on those laurels for the last 20 years. He relates to people based on his many failings and delusions of greatness.

    (Please delete my first post. Smart people also spell check!)


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