If you seek power over others, how much of an advantage does raw intelligence gain you?
If you look at the makeup of the U.S. Congress — which now has a 9% percent approval rating — or if you watch the Republican debates, you are not immediately inclined to label either the smart set. In fact, you have to be a dim bulb to repeatedly say many of the things that seem necessary for electability. On the other hand, a certain amount of cleverness is obviously necessary to outwit the media and your opponents.
Which is it? Two films that explore the relationship between power and brains are “Being There” (1979) and “Limitless” (2011). The films came out thirty years apart but deal with the same issues. “Being There” suggests that being dumb as a chicken is a huge advantage for those who seek political success. “Limitless” suggests that politics is the inevitable trajectory of a person who is far more intelligent than everyone else. Which is more realistic?
I’ll state my own view up front: politics is a gigantic waste of brains. If a person really has a gift for high-level thought, almost any profession would be a greater better to society and probably more self-fulfilling in the long run. Whereas it was probably once true that the political life attracted some of the best and brightest, it no longer seems true at all today.
“Being There” is both hilarious and serious, worth sitting down with at least once every few elections seasons. Peter Sellers and Shirley MacLaine star in this adaptation of a novel by Jerzy Kosinski about an illiterate and simple-minded man named Chance who happened to be in the right place at the right time. His utterances are few and most concern what he has done his entire life, which has been to tend one garden on one estate and otherwise watch television. [Keep reading…]
Issue no. 33 of Reason Papers is now online. Articles listed below:
Issue No. 33 – Fall 2011 (Full Issue)
Symposium: Rand and Hayek on Cognition and Trade
My monograph Against Intellectual Property, already translated into six other languages,1 is coming out in Czech (English version), by Mises.cz. Apparently the book will officially be launched at their Christmas libertarian meeting (hey, why don’t we have those over in America? sounds cool). Only libertarians could plan to celebrate a book about intellectual property at a Christmas party. Gotta love ‘em.
Anyhoo, now my stuff is in 11 languages other than English. Kinda cool for a boy from Galvez, Louisiana. Actually, I visited Praha (Prague) while doing the backpacking thing in law school in 1990 or so, and my brother lived there for several years–once when I visited him in 1999, I was invited to give a speech (on Crime, Punishment and Restitution) at the Liberální institut by Josef Šíma, now of the Prague University of Economics and now also on the Editorial Board of my journal Libertarian Papers. So it’s nice to have my monograph coming out in Czech.
What happens to a justice system when it grants legal immunity to those in power for their malicious acts toward the innocent and vulnerable? A 6-year-old boy is charged with first-degree sexual assault for playing doctor with friends; the Class B felony can be punished by up to 60 years imprisonment.
PLAYING DOCTOR BECOMES A FELONY
Last fall, a six-year-old Wisconsin boy played doctor with another boy and girl, both of whom were 5. Depending on whose story is credited, some touching of the girl’s bare buttocks occurred and/or a finger was inserted into the girl’s anus. (The girl denied the penetration to police.)
On November 15, 2011, the parents of the boy filed a federal lawsuit against Wisconsin’s Grant County district attorney, a social worker and a now-retired Sheriff’s Office investigator. The reason? The boy, who is now merely known as “D”, was charged with first-degree sexual assault. He has been so vigorously pursued by Grant County officials that D’s attorney Christopher Cooper states, “I think his life has been ruined, and I think it’s been ruined by reckless conduct by the defendants without any regard for the little boy and his future.”
At 7 years old, D cannot currently be prosecuted or even named in court records. But the parents accuse county officials of using threats to force them to sign a Consent decree (a blanket permission to deal with their son). They claim officials harangued them and D to admit his guilt and to have him receive social and protective services. If a confession was not produced, then the parents were told that D could be listed as a sex offender when he turned 18. That would label him a second-class citizen, both legally and in life’s important opportunities such as career, education, and residency.
If accurate, the parents’ lawsuit reveals a tale of arrogant power, political favors, malice, and utter disregard for a child’s welfare. [Keep reading…]
The problem FDR faced in 1938 was not all that different from that faced by President Obama and the Congress today. The bad economic times stretch on and on, and there is open talk of high unemployment as far as the eye can see. After years of claiming to see “green shoots,” officials are downplaying the chance of substantial economic recovery.
And it’s not just in the U.S.; the problem exist in Europe too, where there is a widespread belief that the European Union, as symbolized by Euro, cannot last. The OECD just predicted a double dip recession pending in the UK.
At the midpoint of Roosevelt’s second term in office, a profound fear gripped the White House that there was no real answer to the depression that seemed to continue on and on. Every respite was followed by yet another plunge in productivity, and clearly unemployment would not improve. Unemployment was 18%, which was higher than two years earlier. (Note that the broadest measure of U.S. employment today is 17+%.)
It is a documented fact that his advisers were the first to draw his attention to the possibility of stoking international problems involving the far East. Japan was the target and a series of embargoes, demands, sanctions, and diplomatic moves reinforced that the point of inspiring a massive movement in the U.S. to push for peace.
Responsible writers at the time drew attention to the plot and speculated about what was really going on. The history of the journalism of this entire period came to be buried in the ash heap of history following the Second World War. But it remains a fact that historians cannot and do not deny: FDR saw advantages in war and dearly wanted the U.S. involved – and that is true regardless of whether you believe that Pearl Harbor constituted his “back door to the war.” [Keep reading…]