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Samizdata quote of the day

There is no idea so stupid you can’t find a professor who believes it.

– H. L. Mencken

24 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    Echoed by George Orwell’s “There are some ideas so absurd that only an intellectual could believe them.”.

    If I had to choose between being ruled by the top half of the bell curve and the bottom half, I’d choose the bottom half.

  • Gene

    Oh, I think I’d choose the top half, but would always keep my weapons loaded and easily reached.

  • Zerren Yeoville

    If your only options are being ruled by Dr Simon Pritchett or by Fred Kinnan, always go with Fred Kinnan.

    The ‘omnipotent moral busybodies’ who ‘will torment us without end’ or the ‘robber barons’ whose ‘cupidity may at some point be satiated,’ as CS Lewis put it. Not an attractive choice, but not a difficult one either.

  • pete

    It is a lot easier to find a professor these days. When I was at university in the 70s my subject department had one professor. Now I see from its website that it has five. The number of its undergraduates has not changed significantly.

  • pst314

    no idea so stupid…or evil.

  • Dom

    Natalie, you’re assuming professors are at the top half. They’re probably not.

  • Stonyground

    I think that the problem is a specialised rather than a varied and all round education. No matter how brilliant someone may be in their own particular field, if they lack any knowledge of basic science, history, the way life is in other countries and have no basic practical skills they can still be an idiot.

    With regard to science, rather than a body of knowledge, I think that understanding the principles upon which that knowledge is based is more important than the knowledge itself.

  • Penseivat

    Life continues to prove that there is often little connection between education and intelligence.

  • Itellyounothing

    The West seems to be run by the worst of the educated and the stupid, their uni mates and their less intelligent family members….

  • lucklucky

    November 10, 2019 at 11:18 pm

    no idea so stupid…or evil.

    Yes the evil specially. Universities breed social supremacists.

  • Rowdy

    I’d rather we were run by a collection of plumbers, electricians and corner shop owners than by fearfully clever Simon Schama and his chums.

  • Runcie Balspune

    Don’t ever confuse Intelligence with Eduction, you can always point out the Archbishop of Canterbury normally has a higher degree (currently an MA) but still thinks we are are overseen by a supernatural deity.

  • These days the Professors don’t just believe in stupid ideas, they’re the source of a lot of ’em.

  • Mr Ed


    fearfully clever Simon Schama and his chums.

    AIUI, Professor Schama was a tutor at Cambridge to Diane Abbott, of whom ‘fearfully clever‘ is not the first turn of phrase that comes to mind, well to me, anyway.

    Not to say that Abbott, and her Party, gaining power would be anything other than a(nother) disaster.

    Perhaps we can persuade Mr Corbyn, another not noted for his sharpness, to take over the recently-vacated Presidency of Bolivia from his old pal?

  • Mr Ed


    the Archbishop of Canterbury normally has a higher degree (currently an MA) but still thinks we are are overseen by a supernatural deity.

    I’ve yet to see anything that persuades me that he thinks that. I know that he mentions his friend, but as to what he actually thinks, I can’t say that anything else about him makes me think that he is a believer. He certainly has the ‘Leftie’ look.

  • Paul Marks

    The idea comes from Cicero.

    “Some things are so absurd that only a philosopher could believe in them”.

    The idea being that some intellectuals become so cut off from Common Sense (from normal reasoning) that they come to insane conclusions – and because they are arrogant they despise (and dismiss) any ordinary person who tires to point out the madness of what they are presenting.

  • Rich Rostrom

    It’s true, but not necessarily a bad thing. Because creativity, innovation, and intellectual discovery require willingness to believe that “all sensible people” know are wrong or useless.

    Intellectual radicals are “swinging for the fences [boundaries]”. Mostly they strike out or pop up [are bowled for a duck]. But a few hit home runs [sixes].

    (I write of genuine intellectual radicals, not the “herd of independent minds” who repeat “progressive” shibboleths. It should also be noted there were lots of professors who embraced obvious nonsense in support of traditional”Establishments”.)

  • Paul Marks

    By the way….

    Neither Mencken or Orwell were guilty of plagiarism – in their time most people (even quite ordinary people) had read Cicero. It would not have seemed necessary to either man to say “this comes from Cicero” – because they would have assumed that people would know that. You will find that they both (even though they are atheists) quote from the Bible without saying “I am quoting from the Bible” – because, again, nearly everyone in their time knew the Bible.

    I am told that the reason that “Deadwood” (the television series) had people saying “fuck” and “fucking” all the time was because modern people would not understand the Biblical cursing real 19th century people in the West of the United States would have used.

    An educated person would have read Cicero (“On Obligations”), Marcus Aurelius (“Meditations”) and Boethius (“The Consolations of Philosophy”) – even in the Dark Ages these Roman works were not lost, even though many Greek works were lost. Those people who could read, read these works – either in Latin or in the local language.

    In the play (and film) “Our Town” (set in a New Hampshire town in the late 19th and early 20th century – it is mentioned (in passing) how undemanding the education of high school students is – just such things as “the orations of Cicero”, no irony is meant. These things really were considered easy.

    After all President Calvin Coolidge translated the classic Greek texts – for fun. And he was not considered a highly educated man.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Contrary to what some comments imply, the main issue, i submit, is not the relationship between intelligence and education, but between education and mental health. (Though Paul M and Rich R make good points.)

    When i look at US politics today, i seem to discern an inverse relationship between education and mental health, but am not sure how intelligence comes into the equation.
    I am also not sure that this inverse relationship holds in any other country, though Canada seems likely.

    There is also the issue that the stupid and uneducated can do no worse than spree murder, and they do that very rarely; while the intelligent and educated can do a lot more damage, when insane.

  • Snorri Godhi

    As to who i’d like to “rule” over me:
    I’d like to be “ruled” by people who are firmly convinced that they are going to rot in Hell if they violate my Lockean rights.

    I put “rule” in scare quotes because i am not sure that one can properly talk of “rule” in this case.

  • Nicholas (Unlicenced Joker) Gray

    When even a hero like Professor Dumbledore can be tricked into signing Climate change petitions, then you know it’s true!

  • Revelation

    More H. L. Mencken classics:

    An anti-semite: Someone who hates Jews more than is absolutely necessary.

    The urge to save humanity is almost always a false front for the urge to rule.

    People do not expect to find chastity in a whorehouse. Why, then, do they expect to find honesty and humanity in government, a congeries of institutions whose modus operandi consists of lying, cheating, stealing, and if need be, murdering those who resist? (He was also Nostradamus it seems)

    Socialist: A man suffering from an overwhelming conviction to believe what is not true.

  • Penseivat

    Plagiarist I may now be, but those Mencken quotes will be blagged and used.

  • Fraser Orr

    It is worth pointing out that “common sense” has its limits. There are some ideas that on the surface seem stupid, but are actually correct.

    For example:

    * The faster you go the more time slows down.
    * There exists an invisible hand that guides the economy to remarkable efficiency.
    * No matter how much you increase tax rates, tax revenue stays roughly the same.
    * The Monte Hall problem.

    Etc. These ideas all, on the surface, seem really stupid, but are all quite clearly correct. “Common sense” is an oft applied rule, but it is only useful for the common, and often isn’t even useful then. For example to say we need “common sense gun regulation” is a sneaky manipulative rhetorical trick to force you into a false choice: either you are a bad person, an idiot or you agree with the speaker.