September 17, 2004

Revenge of the Picnic Planner

3:15 a.m. A thump, followed by a plaintive, "Mommy, I fell outta bed!" Followed by an hour and a half of retucking in, fidgeting, switching beds, talking about the cat, forcing Hublet to simultaneously toss the cat outside and fetch milk for the Boy, and finally, blissful slumber occasionally punctuated by flailing limbs. I am bruised, sore, and in need of a coffee IV. But The Boy is feeling quite chipper in his backward underwear, mismatched clothes and orange socks. So I soldier on.

Sorry for the lack o' post yesterday, but as you may know, today is the Dreaded Annual Picnic, and I have somehow become the de-facto chairperson of the committee. This ALWAYS happens to me here, and it ain't because I am the lone competent person awash in a sea of morons. No, it's because in this case I am the lone "professional" on a committee of administrative assistants and manual laborers. Just in case you thought that intellectual snobbery was relegated to the mainstream disciplines, let me clarify that for you right now: it's not. And it's annoying as hell. All the grand high departmental muckety mucks come to me with questions about the committee's doings, EVEN THOUGH they got the email clearly naming someone else as the chair AND they get weekly update emails from that very chairperson. But since the chairperson just happens to be an administrative assistant--you know, someone without a Master's degree, and therefore someone not to be trusted with matters of dire import like, for instance, the freaking picnic--they come to me, the "kindred spirit," the "person who understands the aforementioned crucial nature of the picnic," the "at least marginally competent chick if you overlook the fact that she terminated her degree at the MA level." Yep, that's me, the appropriately credentialed go-to girl for party planning. My mother must be so proud.

To say that intellectual snobbery is a pet peeve of mine is akin to saying that Godzilla was a somewhat larger-than-normal reptile--an understatement of great and abiding magnitude. It irritated me when I was "in the club," and it irritates me even more now, because it is completely pointless. Yes, I suppose it's human nature to want to build yourself up and feel good about who you are, but I was under the impression that intellectually gifted people possessed enough self-awareness to understand that the ability to bullshit your way to an advanced degree doesn't make you anyone's benevolent overlord. In the humanities, it just means that you're good at reading, synthesizing information, and writing it down. Nice skills to have, but not necessarily superior to everyone else's. Let's put it this way--if I'm stranded, post-apocalypse, with a history professor and a plumber and there's only enough resources to feed one of them, well, I'm feeding the plumber. I prefer avoiding dysentery to a dissertation, thanks.

I sometimes think that intellectual snobbery is replacing old-fashioned class warfare. Actually, that thought process got solidified for me when I read Bobos in Paradise, which dealt quite skillfully with the resentment that the impoverished intelligentsia feel toward the rich and under-degreed, and watching the leading lights of our professoriate foam at the mouth about W has only reinforced that view. Here's the thing, folks: so you're smarter than the average bear. So what? In America, it's not what you know, it's what you do with it that counts. And I hear that lately there's not much of a market for snobbery and bitterness, what with Dan Rather having it cornered right now, you know?

Posted by Big Arm Woman at September 17, 2004 10:24 AM

Boy howdy about the intellectual snobbery. It's application of sorts has directly affected my husband over the years. Gainfully employed as an engineer without *gasp!* an engineering degree (Chemistry and MBA making wobegone substitutes, apparently, for the Heavenly Edict otherwise known as a BS in Engineering), he has been outright tormented by his equivalents. One lady, upon learning of his lack of degreed demigod status, quit speaking to him.
But, today cannot be all bad, with or without engineering degrees and preplanned food-laden free-for-alls. There's orange socks around, and orange socks are the color of fun. The day is saved and life is good.

Posted by: Sally at September 17, 2004 01:31 PM

Not only the professoriate is infected with that idea.
Since the over-degreed spend most of their time telling the rest of us how it is, we have come, through repetition, to believe that the sustained seat time in a classroom is the most important and most accurate indicator of all the virtues. Any virtues possessed by the seat-time challenged are acknowledged, if they are, in the sense that a dog's loyalty is considered cute and occasionally mildly useful.
And the chattering classes know they need to insure a society where their lack of capacity beyond phrase-turning is not going to hurt them.
That requires some serious social engineering, not all of which does us much good.

Posted by: Richard Aubrey at September 17, 2004 03:11 PM

Also read Joy's thoughts on the relationship between leftism and the desire to be perceived as an aristocrat:

Posted by: David Foster at September 17, 2004 09:43 PM

Hey, I'm a history professor, and I can run pipe, do limited rewiring, drywall, and a host of other handy things. I can also tell you why intellectual boot camp (aka grad school) is a good thing for developing a bullshit detector. That said, I agree about intellectual snobbery. The ones I know tend to be snobby about everything, not just their degrees. They annoy the crap out of me.

BTW, if I need work done, I call a local contractor, Joe, who's better at it than I am; just because I can do it doesn't mean I want to. He's a really bright guy who collects books on home repair. Another contractor here was heard saying that Joe doesn't know what he's doing, because he has to read books on the subject. Joe said that if this other guy wanted to learn to do things properly, he'd loan him a book or two. Deconstruct that for snobbery, will you?

Posted by: Michael at September 18, 2004 09:33 AM

I've been saying for a long time now that if there was a federal tax on employing college graduates of, say, $1000 per annum for BAs, $2000 for MAs and $3000 for PhDs, employers would quickly demonstrate to college grads the REAL real-world value of most degrees.

Posted by: ManFromPorlock at September 18, 2004 12:18 PM

Yes, MFP, and that would alter the "real" world sufficiently that your scenario would become meaningless. Of course, it already is.

Posted by: Michael at September 19, 2004 04:40 PM

The heros up here in the mountains right now aren't the professors but the godbless'em construction workers and heavy-equipment operators who are helping those trapped by the heavy flooding.

Posted by: Marie at September 20, 2004 09:52 AM