I don’t know about y’all, but I ain’t never seen nobody put “intellectual” on their business card or resume. To the best of my severely limited knowledge they don’t give out intellectual degrees neither. I got three degrees and a high school diploma and it don’t say “intellectual” on none of them.
David Harsanyi at The Federalist:
The Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote something exceptionally silly the other day. He referred to MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry as “America’s foremost public intellectual” – an assertion without any discernible merit. Coates was then called out (justifiably) by Politico’s media reporter Dylan Byers. No big deal. Writers can get a bit exuberant from time to time.
So Coates decided to defend his initial overstatement with an even lazier piece. And within the pleasant prose of his follow-up is the type of transparent and ugly race baiting that depreciates anything else he has to say on the topic. Accusing others of racism to deflect attention from your own indefensible contention is especially pathetic.
In his follow-up piece, Coates, after informing us he speaks French, lays out Harris-Perry’s impressive resume: she has Ph.D. from Duke, she’s taught at Princeton and Tulane, she was a Du Bois lecturer at Harvard, wrote two books, and is trustee at the Century Foundation. Even more, “I made this claim because of her work,” Coates goes on, “I believe Harris-Perry to be among the sharpest interlocutors of this historic era—the era of the first black president—and none of those interlocutors communicate to a larger public, and in a more original way, than Harris-Perry.”
Harris-Perry’s accomplishments are impressive, and Coates may very well deem Harris-Perry the sharpest interlocutor of the Obama era — but none of that makes her the or even a foremost intellectual in America. “Foremost” is to be of “first rank or position: preeminent.” It seems that Harris-Perry has yet to offer the kinds of ideas or hold the kind of audience that puts her in the first rank of intellectuals.
I wouldn’t call her accomplishments impressive, even though she has a better than resume me or Barack Obama. If you hang around school long enough you generally pick up some various diplomas and degrees, and there are thousands of academics in this country with fancy credentials who can’t walk and chew gum at the same time.
1:a smart person who enjoys serious study and thought
2: an intellectual person
To me, “intellectual” is almost derogatory, kinda like “artiste”. It denotes somebody who is puttin’ on airs, a nobody who is pretending to be important. A definition that in Melissa Harris-Perry’s case, seems to fit pretty good.
There is some really smart people out there. Generally speaking we don’t call them intellectuals, we call them something more specific like “mathematician”, “astrophysicist” or “legal scholar.” They don’t sit around thinking deep thoughts, they actually work on stuff.
Bob Somerby at The Daily Howler:
At MSNBC, at the Washington Post, new liberal and mainstream elites are being assembled and certified.
Often, they call themselves wonks, nerds or geeks. It’s the liberal world’s top humblebrag!
That said, who are these new wonks on the block? Quite possibly, they will define the horizons of the liberal world over the next many years.
Who are the new wonks? Struck by two year-end lists at the Post’s Wonkblog site, we felt it was time to find out.
One example: Who the heck is Dylan Matthews, we finally decided to ask. And we’ll admit it:
We were surprised by the profile the analysts brought us—a profile written by Matthews himself at some point after May of last year. The post can be found at this blog, where Matthews has archived his work from the early years:
MATTHEWS (2012): I’m a policy journalist who focuses on taxes, budgets, and other elements of US economic and fiscal policy. Currently I’m a staff reporter for Wonkblog at The Washington Post. In the past, I’ve written for The New Republic, Salon, The American Prospect and Slate. This site exists as an archive of my work, and in particular of a blog that I started writing as a middle schooler in February 2004 and have continued, in some form, ever since.
Until May 2012 I was an undergraduate at Harvard College, where I studied moral and political philosophy (though Harvard being itself, my degree is technically in “social studies“), wrote a regular column for The Crimson, served as president of Perspective Magazine, and was a DJ for the underground rock department as well as tech director for WHRB.
Say what? He started a blog as a middle schooler? That said, we were even more concerned by Matthews’ achievements at Harvard.
We demanded more information. As if they had a bone to pick, the analysts directed us to this report from July 2010, in which Katie Glueck profiled “five rising stars under age 25.”
Dylan Matthews had made the cut with five years to spare:
GLUECK (7/10): Dylan Matthews, 20, The Washington Post
Read the blog of Washington Post celebrity Ezra Klein and you can’t miss the work of his assistant, Dylan Matthews. Matthews is a rising Harvard junior, and like his boss, he has had a meteoric rise through the political blogosphere. At 14, Matthews started his own blog, at 16 he was freelancing for Slate, at 18 he worked at The American Prospect, and at 19 he signed on with Klein. Matthews guest-blogs and researches for Klein and also helps him produce Wonkbook, which is a left-leaning, more economically-focused version of Mike Allen’s Politico Playbook. At the age of 20, Matthews has access to a national audience with whom he shares his views on complex, high-level policy matters.
“It’s a tricky border to walk, but you have to have an appropriate humility about what you can do and yet have the confidence that if you have a smart point to make, to make it regardless of experience,” he said.
Matthews said that a host of other bloggers, including Klein, have set a precedent for youthful representation in political discourse.
“People have acknowledged that young people, like Ezra or [blogger at Center for American Progress] Matt Yglesias, can do useful writing, or in Ezra’s case, reporting, even if they haven’t cut their teeth at the metro desk for 10 years, although that’s incredibly useful as well,” Matthews said.
There’s a bit more; we’ll suggest that you hungrily fall on each word. But we were struck by the youth—and the admitted humility—of this new wonk on the block.
We’ll admit it. We were also struck by the keister-kissing in that last quoted remark.
Needless to say, people should be judged by the strength of their work. We have no particular view about the strength of Matthews’ work to date.
If you do the math you’ll see that this wonky genius is all of 23 years old. But even he didn’t call himself an intellectual.
When I was 23 I knew it all too, but all I had to show for it was a high school diploma, an honorable discharge, a wife and two kids. I didn’t get serious about school until I was in my thirties.
One of the (many) things I hate about Vile Progs is conceitedness that they are always the smartest people in the room. It would be one thing if they were, but they’re not. They aren’t even brilliant in a narrowly focused way like Dr. Sheldon Cooper.
In my experience, really smart people understand the limits of intelligence. The more you know, the more you realize you don’t know. It makes you humble, not arrogant. Maturity helps with that too.
Vile Progs on the other hand, may make obeisance to humility but they think they are The Shit. They are all, each and every one, God’s Special Snowflakes (except they don’t believe in God because there can’t be any being that is superior to themselves.)
That is the secret of their devotion to Obama. Following him makes them feel smart and important. By following Obama, everything they say and do is smart and important. Conversely, anyone who doesn’t follow Obama is unsmart and unimportant.
BTW – If you want to save yourself the trouble of reading the stupendously brilliant essays of Dylan Matthews, just take a gander at his picture instead: