Complex Superiority

Apr. 6 - There was going to be an Almanac yesterday—Wednesday, for those of you who like to be precise about these things—in which I wanted to include several observations along the following lines:

On April 7, 1943, Albert Hoffman produced LSD for the first time at Sandoz Laboratories in Basel, Switzerland. That same day, Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini met for an Axis conference in Salzburg. Calculate the distance between Salzburg and Basel. Speculate.

I obviously never got around to it. My day was Mollijacked.

She'd been cranky Tuesday night, was cranky Wednesday morning, had a slight fever, and completely usurped my day. She wasn't seriously ill. Her only symptoms were her crankiness and a slight fever. Her temperature was 99.9 according to the Calcumalator's interpretation of our Celsius thermometer. She just needed lots of food and water, no sleep whatsoever, constant entertainment, and every last particle of my attention. I gave it to her.

But it's a shame I didn't get to write yesterday, because I wanted to relate a Studieskolen anecdote.

The higher you go in your Studieskolen career, the more of your comrades drop by the wayside to repeat courses, take a month's holiday in Thailand, or evade the authorities. As courses shrink from attrition and as students' schedules change, the student population of your courses will therefore obviously evolve.

Our current class has never really gelled as a group. We all want to learn this infernal language, but some of us want to enoy the process and take it easy, while others apparently find it more rewarding to roll their eyes and belittle other students. The only thing we have in common is a certain level of difficulty with our instructor, who may be an extraordinary teacher of Danish under some circumstances but has not, alas, been at her finest with us.

So there's been this friction between factions and a certain general negativity all along. On top of all that, our classroom is too small, the coffee machines haven't been working very well, and the ventilation system apparently stops working an hour or two before our class begins.

"We're switching classes for the next course," two students informed some of us the other day, "because you're all too stupid and it's slowing us down."

(Those weren't their exact words, but that was certainly their meaning—and their tone.)

Somewhere I've justified the existence of this whole sprawling mess of a website as a celebration of plain stupidity, "which I've learned to accept in myself but still find troubling in others." And one of the surest signs of stupidity you'll ever find is someone telling other people how stupid they are. What, after all, does it achieve? Let's walk through the possible consequences, broken down by the actual intelligence of the person being insulted:

(1) The person is abysmally stupid. In this case, they probably won't even understand what you're saying. They'll simply look back you with those big, dull, bovine eyes and say, "Huh?"

(2) The person is slightly stupid. Slightly stupid people are by definition just stupid enough to think they're extremely bright. Telling someone who thinks they're extremely bright that they're actually stupid will trigger their cognitive dissonance reflex, which is, in slightly stupid people, situated dangerously close to their left hook reflex.

(3) The person is of average intelligence. Most people of average intelligence know perfectly well that their intelligence is above average. Telling them they're stupid therefore only communicates to them that (a) you don't really know them, (b) you lack manners, (c) you're obviously an idiot yourself, and (d) you're an asshole. It can trigger anything from laughter to violence, depending on environmental conditions and blood-alcohol content.

(4) The person is pretty smart. Pretty smart people tend to know their limits. They're comfortable acknowledging a certain level of ignorance in certain areas, but they don't like to have it generalized. They will feel insulted. Reactions will vary, but none will be pleasant.

(5) The person is very smart. Very smart people probably won't even understand what you're saying. Even if they do, they're so used to dealing with people less intelligent than themselves that they'll assume that you're talking about someone else or that you're simply too stupid to know what you're talking about.

Expressing your intellectual superiority to inferiors therefore strikes me as a losing proposition. (There are enormous and extremely relevant political ramifications to this observation that I'm not going to delve into.)

I don't know the actual distribution of intelligence in my Studieskolen class, but it's probably safe to say that the disgruntled uber-students haven't cornered the market. The uber-students are certainly very bright, but they're also very young. In a classroom discussion of Danish "drinking culture," for example, one of them opined on Tuesday night that it was socially unacceptable for older people to drink in bars.

"At what age would it become unacceptable?" asked the teacher.

The uber-student shrugged. "Thirty?"

* * *

After our class Tuesday night, I happened to be on hand when one "ordinary" student (whose Danish is extremely good) addressed one of the uber-students and wished her the best of luck in her new course.

"I hope it's fast and challenging enough for you," said my friend, with a sincere smile.

"It can't be fast or challenging enough," said the uber-student, with a smile of equal sincerity.

"Then I hope it's as hard as can be," said my friend.

"Can't be hard enough," said the uber-student.

They were still smiling at one another, but the sincerity of their smiles had taken a beating.

"You sound awfully arrogant," said my friend.

"Yes," said the uber-student. "Because I am arrogant."

And she left.

An arrogant young woman who boasts of her superior intelligence and takes her arrogance as a point of pride. I'll cut her some slack and assume she's been reading a lot of Ayn Rand novels.

And we all know what happy, sunshiney endings lie in wait for the heroes and heroines of Ayn Rand!

Happy Thursday!

2005, The Moron's Almanac™

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