Monday, July 17, 2017

Intelligence, smarts, and wisdom. . .

Over the last few months I have read several accounts of professors in university settings who write a paragraph of gibberish over a pint or two or five of good beer and then place the paragraph before their students for attribution and for comment.  In most cases the students were effusive in their praise of the wisdom and eloquence of the gibberish.  The theological students seemed to attribute their gibberish to Tillich -- easily understood since most of his work and those of his ilk are think and impossible to understand.  In every case, however, wisdom and intelligence was mistakenly applied to the mess of meaningless words.  The presumption being if you have trouble understanding it or if it is impossible to make sense of, it must be the smartest thing on the planet.

Carl Trueman suggests that the opposite is true.  Intelligence and smarts and wisdom show themselves not in making the simple complex or the complex completely incomprehensible, but just the opposite.  When the teacher can make plain what is complex, you see the power of true wisdom at work and you have encountered the gift of intelligence and smarts applied as it ought to be.  Trueman sees a lesson there:
Perhaps the dumbest man in the room is not the man who cannot understand gibberish, but the man who cannot see gibberish for what it is. And perhaps the most dangerous people on campus are those who understand this human weakness and take full, cynical advantage of it. Our political problems have deep educational roots. Until the matters of jargon and gibberish are addressed, I suspect that things are unlikely to improve.
How much of academia is bound up in the false idea that the wise are obtuse and the truly intelligent incomprehensible?  How much of our modern day penchant for fake news and fake wisdom and fake learning is bound up in the false idea that if you cannot understand it, it must be true and the speaker must be smarter than you are?

Youth may swallow up this foolishness but true wisdom dare not defer to that which sounds smart but makes no sense at all.  If we are equipping our youth with made up wisdom about gender and diversity and erudition and learning, we will end up with a generation of dummies.  Worse, we will have paid an arm and a leg for the privilege of being rendered stupid.  Those who teach bear the difficult burden of making plain what is complex, plain enough so that it can be grasped, anyway.  And if it cannot be, then perhaps the fault just may lie with the teacher and the thing thought wise is not so wise at all. 

1 comment:

Carl Vehse said...

"The theological students seemed to attribute their gibberish to Tillich"...

... or the legendary Franz Bibfeldt.