America’s hot-take economy has created a kind of smart that is indistinguishable from stupid. These days we’re soaking in it.
Appropriately, the moment that defines America in 2021 took place on The Real World Homecoming: New York. In a reboot of their 1992 conversations about race, the reunited loftmates agree that everything Kevin Powell said back then about his lived experience, the words that got him labeled an Angry Black Man, is now the accepted truth of Black life in America. Even Kevin’s old sparring partner Becky Blasband seems to admit systemic racism is real. But here’s where things stop being polite and start getting culturally significant: Becky quickly adds that she does not contribute to systemic racism because she was involved in an Afro- Brazilian dance class, wherein she “lost her skin color.” In other words, Becky—who by now has spent full episodes talking about her NYU education, her brilliant psychotherapist father, and her decades studying under a Russian theoretical physicist and healer—declares herself exempt from racism because she really crushed Cardio Capoeira at the Soho Equinox. She says this out loud, into a microphone, in front of cameras that are capturing footage. Yes, it is hilarious. But the incident is also revealing: A person can present their ideas with such eloquence and erudition that they fool themselves into thinking those ideas are not dumb. This is a kind of smart that is indistinguishable from stupid. It is Elevated Stupidity, and we’re soaking in it.
Stupidity is saying two plus two equals five. Elevated Stupidity is doing the same thing, except you invoke Pythagoras, decry cancel culture when someone corrects you, then get a seven-figure book deal and a speaking tour out of it. Elevated Stupidity has permeated all facets of life—reality TV, social media, Congress, your group chat, and your softball team. Elevated Stupidity stems from the idea that being good at arguing is the same thing as being correct. That rhetorical skill—or at least a degree of big debate-club energy sufficient to wear out one’s opponent—is the equivalent of intelligence. If being a good arguer is the same as being smart or correct, then do you know who is the smartest, correct-est person in history? Every Scientologist.