When Stupid Thinking Happens to Smart People

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An age-old question, pondered by those who think weighty thoughts, is “Why do bad things happen to good people?” Many books have been written on the subject. It’s one of the first questions kids ask their parents after they’ve stopped wondering why the sky is blue. This libertarian Christian’s answer would be, “Because, unlike government, God doesn’t try to micromanage every aspect of human life.” I’m reasonably satisfied with that explanation, but an altogether different question has perplexed me: why do smart people think stupid things?

Anyone who pays attention to the political scene is bound to observe the prevalence of what those in Twelve-Step recovery call “stinking thinking.” When we hear a particular stupidity once too often, something in us snaps. My own “snap” comes not when a dumb oaf commits this infraction, but when the guilty party is someone whose intelligence I generally respect. It happened again only the other day. Since I enjoy a good outrage as much as anybody, I’m writing about it while my irritation is deliciously fresh.

Those who presume to control the lives of others think themselves smarter and morally superior to the poor dolts over whom they would rule.

In a theology study group, where the president’s name had no conceivable reason to be mentioned, a friend of mine enthusiastically shared what she was reading in her spare time. It was yet another allegedly damning expose of “how the Russians stole the election for Trump.” She told us about this as if it were a conclusion as inescapable as the fact that the sky is blue. Now, I’m no great fan of Donald Trump, didn’t vote for him in 2016, and have no idea whom I’ll vote for (if anyone) in 2020. But perhaps because I thought this particular woman too intelligent to fall for this “Trump-Russia is the New Watergate” malarkey, I’d had all I was willing to take.

As we were obviously no longer discussing theology, I asked her if she had the slightest clue why most of those who voted for Trump cast their ballots as they did. I noted that in the months prior to the election, few people thought him a man of sterling character. That people who voted for Trump weren’t voting for a best friend, or for someone to babysit their dogs, marry their daughters, or stand as godfather for their grandkids. And that nothing the Russians could have said or done would have made Hillary Clinton any less trustworthy, in the judgment of those voters, than she already was.

The conversation was quickly steered back onto the subject at hand, but I believe I made my point. Not that I changed my friend’s mind. She will probably go right on believing that Trump voters are all horrible sexists and racists who want the poor to starve to death and the elderly to get sick and waste away. In the partisan bubble in which she lives, she isn’t permitted to think anything else.

Progressive bubble-dwellers’ nutty notions about Trump’s victory can be traced to one primary cause: their own mountainous vanity. They cannot conceive of how dangerous and destructive millions of Americans believe Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party to be. Only a dastardly conspiracy of Republicans and Russians could keep voters from bowing before the shining wonderfulness of the Dems. Vanity, in general, goes a long way toward explaining why so many stupidities are so readily believed by people who really ought to know better.

We might also recall that vanity was one of Lucifer’s chief sins.

Vanity also explains the prevalence of statist thinking on both Left and Right. Those who presume to control the lives of others think themselves smarter and morally superior to the poor dolts over whom they would rule. In contemporary America, we don’t like to take the blame for anything. Because we’re too smart to ever screw up, every undesirable occurrence simply must be someone else’s fault.

This vanity encourages us to believe that we can run other people’s lives better than they can. We might also recall that vanity was one of Lucifer’s chief sins. He thought he’d make a better god than God.

As this is not a theology discussion group, I know I shouldn’t mention that. But such a lapse can’t possibly be my fault. I blame it totally on my progressive friend.




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Comments

Robert H. Miller

I'm afraid that disinformation, whether from the Russians, the so-called alt-right, CNN, or even the Cubans--for whatever reason--is the price of free speech and a free press in a free country. Domestic entities have often put out misleading and erroneous "news stories." Unless they're slanderous or libelous, they're legal. Aren't foreigners also entitled to free speech? Is it too much to suppose that we all already know this and take it into account when considering election coverage?

I'm anxiously awaiting the details of the basis of Mueller's latest indictments.

Michael Morrison

If Trump, or the government generally, really loved us, he'd get a law passed making everyone read Liberty, and especially when Lori Heine has an article or essay.

I have been a Lori fan since the very first time I read one of her essays. Not only is her subject always of interest, but how she writes it impresses me.

And if I may, let me ask one li'l question: Why is it a crime for Russians, or even the government of Russia, to try to influence our already influenced and corrupt election process? But it is not a crime for that process to be corruptly and dishonestly influenced by, for example, CNN and MSNBC, not to mention all the other "news" agencies?

Stealing votes? Standard operating procedure in so many places, such as New York City and Chicago (and has been for many decades). Votes by non-citizens? Again, SOP in, for example, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Bought votes? SOP in Chattanooga, Miami, Atlanta, Detroit, New York (again), and so many, many more.

I cup my ears ... and still hear no outrage. Uh, is it possible because all those acts of fraud and corruption are Democrat SOP?

TWV

Not only should it not be a crime, the indicted Russians should be nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. Alas, from the evidence I have seen, their influencing attempts were pathetic and the effectiveness of those attempts, weak. Infowars and Stefan Molyneux (the latter a Canadian) had greater influence on the election.

Scott Robinson

Dear Lori,

Good reference to vanity being one of Lucifer's seven deadly sins. I actually think that vanity is what the original sin of humankind is. It's not that Eve and Adam ate the forbidden apple, but that after they did, they became aware of much of the world around them (Smart) and now had appointed themselves gods. I think that vanity is the act of being a self-appointed god. Just think of what the magazine, Vanity Fair, is about, they appoint themselves experts in cutting edge fashion and personality.

Belittle the Vain,
Scott

Luther Jett

Ms. Heine, I think you are right on two counts:

1) The vast majority of those who voted for the Current Occupant of the White House did so of their own free will, for reasons which are as complex as the reasons for which others voted for Ms. Clinton. In both cases, those votes were predicated by intense concern over what damage the chosen candidate's opponent might wreak if elected.

2) Given this context, the notion that Russian agencies "stole" the election is facile, at best, and yes, if there is anyone who actually believes this, their belief may be indicative of a certain vanity.

But unless I am misunderstanding, you seem to be ready to dismiss out of hand the notion that persons working on behalf of the Russian government sought to influence the outcome of the Presidential election. Note my wording. If I seek to rob your store by putting a brick through a window, but my brick fails to break the window, this does not detract, and should not distract, from my intention to violate your property rights.

There is quite a lot of credible evidence to suggest that the motive and the intent to influence our election was there. Whether or not the Russian brick succeeded in breaking the electoral window can be debated, but it still reeks of hostility. It is shocking to me that the current administration seems not to recognize the danger.

JJC

The current administration cannot acknowledge the Russian activity you mention because it fuels the effort by the opposition to overturn the 2016 election.

The previous administration could not discuss the hacking issues because it would further highlight a certain bureaucrat's "carelessness" with classified emails.

Scott Robinson

Dear Luther,

Aren't you being vain, declaring that the Russians are sinners for casting a brick at our electoral window? We cast bricks at the Israelis' electoral process when we wanted to make sure that Benjamin Netanyahu didn't get reelected. There are numerous other examples of us trying to influence the election results in other countries as well.

Best Wishes,
Scott

Luther Jett

Scott -- Why do you assume that I approve of any nation meddling in the elections of another?

"Everyone does it", in my opinion, is not a sufficient rationale for staying silent or for doing nothing when my own country is threatened.

And by the way, "Everyone does it / both major parties or candidates were/are guilty of subversion" strikes me as both specious and insidious. A rationale for doing nothing is in fact a rationale for complicity.

To respond to Ms. Heine's lengthy and well-thought-through reply to my original post -- You may be proven right, that there is nothing substantial to this. But shouldn't we make every effort to find out?

This is what I do not understand -- serious allegations have been made regarding the possibility that a foreign power has tried to influence our electoral process, using covert means and disinformation. If the allegations are false, should we have no interest in seeing demonstrative proof through a non-partisan investigation?

And if the worst is true? In the name of heaven, shouldn't we know?

Scott Robinson

Luther,

You have a good point that our wrongs don't justify the wrongs of others. Of course that brings up the question of what does "Let he amongst you who is without sin cast the first stone." mean? You could maybe argue that since God is so forgiving, we shouldn't be forgiving, because then we are acting like God. Is that the same as appointing ourselves as God?

A non-partisan investigation of the amount of meddling that was done in our election is good. Just like that investigation MUST show all of the data found that both supports and opposes their conclusion, ALL of the data that shows how the investigation proceeded MUST also be shown. I know, it quickly can drown us in data, however, we need to see all of this data so that we can reach our own conclusions about the meddling and the impartiality of the investigation.

Stupid Thinking is Done Without All the Data,
Scott

Lori Heine

Mr. Jett, I'm agnostic on whether there was any Russian attempt to influence the election. I can only say that if they did--and I don't find the evidence presented to be convincing--then they fail to understand the American people very well.

Hillary Clinton left a trail in public life at least two decades long. People had already formed their opinions of her (positive or negative) long before she ran for president. I don't think it's credible that anything the Russians could have done would have changed the minds either of her supporters or her detractors.

My main point in the essay is that those in the "resistance" appear to view Trump voters as gullible fools (or, perhaps, as aliens from some other planet). They approach the matter as if a significant number would have been neutral, or perhaps even enthusiastic, about voting for Hillary Clinton if not for those dastardly Russians--and the influence these people keep insisting must have happened but can never coherently explain.

Listening to their persistent claims makes me think of some invisible gas, injected into our atmosphere, that made many people crazy enough to cast their ballots for Trump. Or of that silly Facebook meme of the guilty-looking dogs, captioned with "The Russians pooped on the carpet."

You are absolutely right, however, that there is a difference between actually influencing an election and attempting to do so. Perhaps evidence may still come to light proving that someone did conspire with Russia to do so. But if they did, I think they were as silly as those guilty dogs.

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