I’ve noticed a few new commenters lately, and I’m delighted to hear from them. In my post from yesterday about the desire we’re seeing on the part of some folks on the Left to get that messy democratic accountability out of the way, a commenter identified as Severian talks about the Faustian temptation (which I mean literally/literarily: Faust turns to necromancy because he believes himself to have mastered all other fields of study, and because only godlike power is worthy of his intellect — see Scene 1) for smart people to think they could Do Things Right if only the nincompoops would get out of the way:
But then about half of us stop, because we realize that no matter how high our IQs actually are, we’re barely qualified to manage our own lives a good bit of the time, let alone half of West Virginia’s. The other half, though… well, the other half takes it to heart that the President is super-duper brilliant (because by extension, so are they), and if his programs aren’t working, that can’t possibly be a failure of intelligence, so it has to be a systemic flaw. If we only let the Smart people really hold the reins for a few months, well……
As I read that this afternoon, I tried to put my finger on when I came to the realization that sometimes smart isn’t enough. I’m still not sure just when that happened, but I think I do recognize the period in my life when that lesson was reinforced to me.
Sometimes I joke about having married the first sane woman I dated. Now, that’s not entirely true; I’ve actually developed friendships with several of my former girlfriends, and remember them fondly (including a couple who may read this blog) — sometimes life just gets in the way. But for several years in my very early twenties, I seemed to be a magnet for damaged women. I mean, they still had all the standard parts — some of them arranged quite attractively, in fact — but they were all extremely unhappy, frequently on the rebound from/involved in bad relationships, occasionally self-destructive, and convinced that getting involved with me would give them what they needed to get their lives right. They were looking for someone to rescue them from their messed-up lives, and because I was smart and willing to listen, several of them nominated me for the gig. At least one of them actually told my mom that she thought I could “fix her.” Yikes.
Now if this were a movie, I’d probably regale you with various humorous tales of crazysex and such, but it isn’t a movie, and I don’t have those sorts of tales to tell. What I did see, however, was a series of women who seemed determined to keep damaging themselves, losing jobs, partying too hard, augering in, and I was at least smart enough to realize I didn’t want to be caught up in the vortex of their bad decisions and the people those lifestyles of bad decisions usually attract. Out of self-protection as much as anything, I backed away as kindly as I could, but it wasn’t always easy; I was stalked at least twice.
I know what happened to some of them, both those who turned out well and those who didn’t; others have drifted away and I wish them well, though I have my doubts. I know at least one has died. In any case, I knew that I couldn’t take the responsibility for fixing their lives, which is what several of them wanted, and I knew I had neither the ability nor the competence to do that.
Which brings us back to Severian’s point: I realized that there are problems that I can’t fix, and the best I can hope for is to try to keep my own life between the ditches (which I do with varying degrees of success.) And I’m a pretty bright guy — heck, even the Major might attest to that, even if I disagree with him on so many things. So why should I trust people — even people as smart as I am, even people who are smarter (although statistically, that’s not an enormous group) — to fix problems for entire swathes of the population? If we can’t pull it off on a retail level, what makes us think we can do it wholesale?
Somewhere along the line, I realized that. It’s a shame that the other half of that group Severian mentioned doesn’t see it as well, but it also indicates to me that they might not be as clever as they think they are.