A friend of mine, a cowboy in the rancher-philosopher mold, once passed along some equine-related knowledge to me.
“The thing you have to remember about horses,” he said, “is they aren’t as smart as they think they are, but they’re smarter than you think they are.”
I reminded him I was much more city slicker than good ol’ boy and didn’t really run into horses that often. He assured me it was just as applicable to jackasses. I thanked him, and as with all of his advice, I’ve remembered it and done my best to keep it in mind through all my dealings and relations.
George Carlin, a far smarter man than I, and probably smarter even than I realize, pointed out that when you think about how dumb the average person is, the really scary thing is to realize that half the population is even dumber than that.
Lucky for us, almost everyone is smarter than average. Just ask them.
If I had a poll – heck, I will have a poll. Look over there. Compared to the average newspaper reader, how smart are you?
I can’t predict how people are actually going to answer, especially after reading this, but I can practically guarantee how you want to answer: you’re at least as smart as the average person and probably a little more intelligent. You know it. I feel the same way about myself, and there’s no reason to have false humility about it. And we’re right, all of us.
In a purely mathematical sense, we can’t be. There must be a slow-witted underclass out there that some of you – not me, you people – are part of and don’t realize it. Obviously, we overestimate our own intelligence relative to others. We do the same thing when asked about our sense of humor, ability to get along with people and really anything that can’t be quantifiably disproved and shoved in our faces, though we’ll deny it even then.
Mainly, we just make sure the criteria for our judgments about ourselves and others work in our favor.
The things we rank as important are the things we care about most.
I’m a smart guy because I will discount all the myriad areas of human understanding I have no part in and value on a weighted scale the few things I do understand. And anyone who doesn’t know the same things as I do is a moron. If I don’t know anything about music or cars or math, that’s because they don’t matter, and history or literature do. So I’m smarter than average.
Actually, I’m one of the handful of geniuses that refrains from calling myself such only because I don’t want to sound rude.
Which is all tongue-in-cheek, but not much of an exaggeration, or atypical.
One of the reasons I’m terrified of government power is because I know most in government are typical people and full of themselves. They think that because they’re smart enough to get elected that they’re smart enough to run other people’s lives better than those people. And they are gifted, in some area that they value greatly, but not in every area. And we people are dumb at running our lives, but not so dumb as they like to think.
This is what wakes me up in a cold sweat, dreaming of legislators and lobbyists and aides hem-hawing it up, convinced that they’re much smarter than they actually are, solving all of our problems.
I only fall back asleep when I remember they aren’t as dumb as I think they are.
They can’t be.