INTELLECTUAL MORONS: HOW IDEOLOGY MAKES SMART PEOPLE FALL FOR STUPID IDEAS
By Daniel J. Flynn
Crown Forum, $25.95, 292 pages
REVIEWED BY LARRY THORNBERRY
The confusing thing about the word "intelligentsia" is that it sounds like it has something to do with intelligence (the being smart kind, not the military information kind). It doesn't. Readers who don't already understand this will after they finish "Intellectual Morons."
Mr. Flynn's latest?he covered some of the same ground in 2002's "Why the Left hates America"?could have been subtitled, "A History of Recent Idiocy." Sadly, there's plenty of it to go around. In "Morons" Mr. Flynn goes after the puzzling question of how so many otherwise intelligent people fall for ideas so dumb that an acute 12 year-old wouldn't consider them for 10 seconds. We're talking about professors, politicians, clergypersons, reporters, television producers, and writers?what Mr. Flynn calls the "cognitive elite."
These folks are bright enough to dress themselves in the mornings, balance their checkbooks, get their cars serviced on time. Some small number may even understand the infield fly rule. But they fall for -- and emotionally defend -- ideas as bizarre as: the United States threatens the world with imperial designs and orchestrated the 9-1-1 attacks. The automobile is the biggest threat to world security. Ten percent of the population is homosexual.
They also fall for and ardently defend such notions as: words and works of literature mean whatever you think they mean; all the world's resources will be gone by (insert your favorite date here); save for size, strength, and plumbing, men and women are essentially the same and we should force the world to operate on this understanding; Beethoven's Ninth Symphony is about rape; and, always a favorite with this crowd, "Bush is like Hitler."
To be fair to book-buyers, Mr. Flynn doesn't really answer the question in his subtitle, "How Ideology Makes Smart People Fall for Stupid Ideas." Instead, he enumerates the manifold ways in which they do. By way of explanation, Mr. Flynn only notes that for the "cognitive elite" ideology has replaced analytical thinking, which shows that the author has a firm grasp of the obvious. What it doesn't explain is why so many on the elite left (and some on the right) have chosen to seal their cerebral cortexes in an orthodoxy so rigid Torquemada seems a non-directive counselor by comparison.
Even so, Mr. Flynn's profiles of some of the gurus of the more toxic ideas America (and much of the rest of the Western world) labor under, and the movements they've created, are worth reading. "Morons" is quick intellectual history -- more accurately a history of the anti-intellectual and the pseudo-intellectual -- of the past century, and how many popular but untrue and toxic ideas undermine free society.
In "Morons" we meet some of the usual suspects. There's the downright peculiar sex researcher, Professor Alfred Kinsey, whose methods, Mr. Flynn suggests, wouldn't pass muster in Scientific Design 101 but is still the world's most quoted sex "expert." There's Paul Erlich, the Chicken Little's Chicken Little, who surely holds the record for predictions of environmental calamities that never came to pass, but is still showered with grants and awards and is a very frequent visitor on national talk shows.
Mr. Flynn profiles others of the left pantheon who have brought forth various intellectual grotesqueries, including: Margaret Sanger, W. E. B. Dubois, Alger Hiss, Betty Friedan, Noam Chomsky, Gore Vidal, Rigoberta Menchu. He shows how there is apparently no ceiling on how preposterous or fraudulent these people's thoughts or claims can be -- so long as they are politically correct -- and still be respected and cheered by the professoriate and other wholly-owned subsidiaries of the hyperthyroid Left.
Mr. Flynn beats up on academe pretty hard -- but was there ever a more deserving punching bag? He demonstrates once again that there are some ideas so silly --? so contrary to easily observable fact -- that it seems only academics can take them seriously. As Chico Marx so cogently asked, "What are you going to believe, me or your own eyes?." No doubt Chico's remark explains why even at the height of the Soviet Union there may have been more true-believing Marxists per square yard in Cambridge, Massachusetts than in Moscow.
The unlikely careers and even less likely ideas of Michel Foucault, Herbert Marcuse, Jacques Derrida, Stanley Fish, and Peter Singer -- theory-besotted humbugs who have done the most to make the current campus atmosphere both intellectually incoherent and morally repellant -- get the full Flynn treatment.
It provides no comfort that the people who plug toxic ideas aren't certifiable. In fact, one of the most bizarre things about their bizarre thoughts and notions is that they are promoted by men with higher than average IQs and no psychiatric diagnoses. But these false prophets are all the more dangerous because their foolishness is not immediately apparent except to those who pay close attention to what they say and then think about it, and because their ideas are taken so seriously by so many and influence the young on college campuses.
"Intellectual Morons" is not a happy read. It's a bit depressing to be reminded in detail what a sorry slough so much of our intellectual firmament -- particularly the university -- has fallen into. But for anyone with any respect for truth, and an understanding that ideas do in fact have consequences, it's essential to understand the forces of de-civilization that comes at us daily from people who are smart enough to know better, and from institutions we used to be able to rely on.
Larry Thornberry is a writer living in Tampa.
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