Month: September 2014

Ah, the aristocrats

After two hundred years of self-governance the aristocracy has seized the reins of power and is taking us on a journey. God only knows where we will end up, but I have a feeling it will be an expensive and uncomfortable ride.

All the smart people, where do they all come from? They’re in your email inbox offering advice. Turn on the television and they’re talking 24 hours a day, telling us what we shouldn’t be doing. Invasive and inescapable, they attack every aspect of life. They inform our teachers on better ways to “educate” and hold seminars at the airport on how to live a better life. They’re in our offices, consulting on ways to cut waste and save time. Blink twice and another one will appear with answers to problems we hadn’t even become aware of yet. Where would we be without all these super smarties with their MBA’s, JD’s and PhD’s; these sophisticates; this modern aristocracy? They could build a utopia if we dummies would just get in line.
It always amazes me to think about who built this country. The greatest standard of living achieved since the dawn of time was built by men who never went to college. According to the Census data I perused in preparation for this column, less than 8% of Americans had a college degree in 1960. And yet, the average person in 1960 had a plethora of skills that their college educated 21st century counterpart does not have. People knew how to get things done once. This was made painfully apparent to me recently when I was presented with a mechanical problem that I didn’t readily understand. After consulting a reputable tradesperson, who was an expert, I was presented with a very expensive solution to my problem. Not satisfied, I sought the help of an elderly tradesman whom I knew could better advise me. The modern solution would’ve been in the thousands of dollars. The 1960’s solution I was able to execute with a brief tutorial from my elder friend was less than $100. Same set of variables, same eventual outcome, just a different approach. What will I do in a few years when my friend isn’t around to offer the solution? Go to the antique store and look for a very old book, I suppose.
Sophistication itself is not a bad thing, but the word gets misapplied often. The first time I was truly annoyed by the word “sophisticated” was almost a decade ago. In dealing with a business problem, I consulted an attorney and upon explaining the situation, he informed me that an adversary was a “sophisticated person.” It would later dawn on me that he considered me unsophisticated. That’s okay. I wear blue jeans, drive a truck, and speak the local dialect. In a casual meeting, few people would find me sophisticated. The reason I was annoyed was that I didn’t find the other person to be all that sophisticated either. I’ve known plenty of people that drive BMW’s and wear the right clothes who couldn’t think their way out of a wet paper bag. I’ve known plenty more whose level of intelligence is far superior to my own, and yet to the casual observer they would appear most unsophisticated. What is this idea of sophistication? I’m not sure the man in the $2,000 suit telling me about sophistication had a good grasp of it himself. The dictionary says to be sophisticated means that one has “worldly experience and knowledge.” It makes no mention of the car you drive or the suit you wear. A degree from a mediocre state university doesn’t guarantee any level of sophistication; neither does being a community leader in Owensboro, KY. My alma mater has graduated several great minds, but I know a lot of brainless morons who’ve been “degreed” also. This community has had plenty of politicians that were anything but sophisticated.
Samuel Pierpont Langley is a name that probably doesn’t ring any bells with most people. He was an inventor from Boston who set out to make a piloted flying machine around the same time as the Wright brothers. He had all the credentials, all the know-how, and all the funding to make man fly. He was a downright sophisticated guy, and most people have never heard of him. That’s because the unsophisticated bicycle mechanics from Ohio flew in and stole all the glory. Underfunded, undereducated, and underappreciated, the brothers had something the sophisticate did not: practical knowledge, elbow grease, and a dream. That’s what great successes are built on, and it always has been. I wonder what we could do these days if there weren’t so many sophisticates in our way. After two hundred years of self-governance the aristocracy has seized the reins of power and is taking us on a journey. God only knows where we will end up, but I have a feeling it will be an expensive and uncomfortable ride.