This is my contractual obligation post. Even the though contract is only with myself, I have made myself write 800 words. Leave now.
It is reassuring to watch a highly intelligent physicist trying to work out how to grate cheese. He achieved via experiment and being told how to do it by his wife, so it’s not as if I can crow that he might understand Dirac delta function but he would make a worse waiter than me, and anyway it was a tricky grater. These moments of humanity near pasta reduce the fear of better minds. We need these occasional seconds to know they are not just magical beings with “minds immeasurably superior to our own”. We don’t want feet of clay, but maybe a couple of toes of play-doh.
Some will blow these incidents out of all proportion – “met this guy who’s in charge of particle accelerator. Tell you what, I passed him a jar of mustard, he couldn’t even get the lid off. It’s all well and good trying to understand the universe, but how far are you going to get in life if you can’t open a jam jar?”
And with that we can justify our existence. These members of the intellectual elite may think they have all the answers, or at least some good questions, but they’ll starve in world of marmalade and gherkins.
We suspect those who know more than us. How can they know more than us, it must be some sort of trick. It is a pity most of us refuse to believe we are not the brightest spark, because most of us aren’t. Who are “the know it alls who make up our intellectual elite” as the preface of The Secret History of the World calls them. Hasn’t the anti intellectual elite got a tighter grip? Who is the Bertrand Russell of the present day?
Did all the smartypants become post modern and pointless? (I don’t think so).
I wonder why we want our betters to be no better than us. We like our politicians to have a pint, and so they indulge us before walking out of shot and gargling with claret. Nigel Farage is one of us, well, if we are a commodity broker and have made a guest appearance in a Harry Enfield and Paul Whitehouse sketch.
Boris Johnson is just like us too, because we have messy hair and bumble sometimes too.
As for our pop culture idols, we don’t look up at them anymore, but across at them and sneer, “she’s not so good”, the act of elevation is just to make the fall funnier.
Meanwhile, art is so vacuous now that artists’ work makes money while they are still alive, which can’t be a good sign, they’ll have to wait until they’re dead for us to start ignoring them.
It is a dispiriting part of growing up to find your superiors may not be as superior as you’d hoped; so many Wizards of Oz revealed to be behind curtains, a microphone and a PR team creating smoke and gravitas. I wanted my politicians to be Jimmy Stewart’s Mr Smith, struggling under the burden of their desire to do the right thing, an ambition for others not himself. The first one I met told me how much his wife rated vivisection then departed from the purpose of the discussion whenever he could perform an anecdote, more of a low division after dinner speaker than a Gladstone or Pitt.
Do we fear intellectuals or is it just envy that makes us suspicious?
Maybe it’s because we don’t see many of them. The media is not designed for talking at length, if you can’t pitch it in the gap between a feature on puff pastry and a debate on arse tattoos, then it must be an idea that is irrelevant. You must belong to that group that aren’t living in the real world. You must be made of veal and latin.
Now if you have got this far, well done. I started this late and very tired. I wanted to write something about our desire to see people humanised to the point of frivolity. I think I wanted to ponder on a mock egalitarianism that means dismissing people or avoiding proper discussion of ideas. After all, anyone who has a deeper understanding of something than us should not be given exposure as it makes us uneasy. What do all these climate change scientists know, I saw one of them go out without an umbrella and then it rained. What right have they got to tell me about climate when their hair is still wet.
I was going to yet again bang on about discussion shows which aim to create no more than the sort of discussion that we can make and do in the pub, things that are not thought provoking but a pat on the head for the thoughts you’ve already had, like the observational comedian who just repeats the things we’ve all said ourselves as opposed to the one that surprises us with our, until then, unthought of behaviour.
So, in summary, I should have taken the night of.
I will be making more sense at gigs in Sheffield, Manchester, East London, Exeter, Bristol and Radlett. Also new Christmas shows at Hammersmith with Brian Cox. All details HERE
Happiness through Science DVDs HERE