14 September 2011

The half educated.

Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, the philosopher who became the first president of Czechoslovakia, used to complain of the malign effects of 'half-education' (Halbbildung). Having risen from poverty to become a professor, Masaryk was acutely aware of the danger or receiving just enough learning to feel that you were set above the run of humanity. The half-educated, be believed, would be susceptible to any intellectual fad that they might use to demonstrate their superiority to the masses.
Which is to say, in other words, "a little learning is a dangerous thing." Surely one of the more stellar observations on mankind's pathetic ego.

Once, recently graduated from law school, I took it upon myself to disagree with a clerk at the DMV on the law applicable to the matter at hand. What prompted me to do so, apart from the aforementioned asinine ego that had me in its grip at that moment, I'll never know. I'm glad I've given her a good laugh over the years, especially as I later found that that particular aspect of Missouri law, a masterpiece of convolution, required some concentrated study to get the hang of.

Mr. Masaryk touches on a problem that's always interested me, namely, what does it take to develop real understanding of a subject. The short answer is, naturally, close and extended study. Only that leads to real understanding as opposed to merely having a tenuous grasp of shadows and mists.

I dislike not having acquired a profound understanding of any one area of knowledge in this life. The frustrated scholar in me. I've invested a lot of time in trying to develop critical reading skills to solve problems in a circumscribed area and that has served me well, as it turns out.

But the respect for those who have accomplished a scholar's grasp of an area is still there and it's one of life's pleasures to encounter it. Similarly, it's distressing to be exposed to people who allow themselves to be satisfied with intellectually despicable theories that "explain" events. 9-11 Truthers would be in that category.

Mr. Hannan thinks Wise Men who push Keynesianism on us are similarly afflicted. FDR did his utmost to screw up the recovery that was just waiting to happen during the Depression but The People Who Think They Understand Economic History think government spending saved the day. It did, but it wasn't the economy that got saved. It was FDR's reelection after he used taxpayer dollars to buy votes and overcome his unpopularity.

But it's Keynesianism that's the operative "ism" for our educated and economically "literate" leaders. That's the theory that you can raise the level of water in a swimming pool by taking water from one end of the pool and pouring it into the opposite end. (I know. If it's a round swimming pool this illustration completely breaks down, but please bear with me here.) And it's the belief that this scooping and pouring is all the more efficacious (useful) if it's done by people like Nancy Pelosi, John Boehner, and our shariah-loving Kenyan.

"When the crash comes, blame the half-educated economics graduates who led us there." By Daniel Hannan, The Telegraph, 9/12/11.

No comments: