The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

The Tyranny of Bright Normal

Posted on | January 17, 2018 | 1 Comment


Why do the media hate President Trump so much? Well, to begin with, he’s a Republican, and they’re Democrat operatives with bylines. Beyond that, however, the media think of themselves as members of what Richard Florida calls “the creative class,” and Trump’s a bright normal.

Readers familiar with The Bell Curve understand that cognitive sorting occurs by occupation and education level. However, students of economics understand that not all skills are created equal. You may think I’m a clever writer, but what’s cleverness worth in the marketplace? How much demand for clever writing exists, and how limited is the supply? The average reader doesn’t discern much difference in value between writing that’s just competent and writing that’s truly excellent and, in the grand scheme of things, I am nothing more than what the digital gurus call a “content provider,” the value of which is a dime a dozen.

Being a mature adult, I long ago adjusted to this economic reality, but this is quite obviously not true of the reporters who spent Tuesday afternoon shouting questions at President Trump’s physician. What’s the salary of a New York Times White House correspondent?

A. Probably more than you make;
B. Much more than I’ve ever made;
and yet also
C. Far less than he thinks he’s worth.

This is one of the most astonishing things about the media elite. They’re paid salaries that far exceed the average American’s income, yet they consider themselves as underpaid and underappreciated, and therefore emotionally identify with the oppressed victims of social injustice.

Why? Because status is always relative.

It is a natural tendency of human nature to judge our own standing within social hierarchies by comparison to others. People who are ambitious and competitive — which is how you make it to a gig as White House correspondent for the New York Times — do not judge their own status by comparison to the average American. The U.S. median household income is $59,039 a year, and I can guarantee you that Michael D. Shear (who got the lead byline on the New York Times front-page story about Tuesday’s press conference) receives an annual salary much higher than that. Yet he doesn’t make as much as he thinks he’s worth and, even in a position near the pinnacle of American journalism, his social status is less than that of, e.g., White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders, whom he views as his moral and intellectual inferior.

This is the great curse of the “creative class,” you see. No matter how clever they are, or how fortunate their life circumstances, their high SAT scores and diplomas from elite schools don’t make them equal to the people who actually run the world, i.e., the bright normals.

One of the awful things about the Left’s attack on The Bell Curve as “racist” was that this controversy obscured what I considered the most important part of Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray’s work, which has nothing at all do with race, and everything to do with how the structure of our education system in the 20th century developed into a highly efficient system of cognitive partitioning. If you have a copy of The Bell Curve handy, it will help to re-read Section I, “The Emergence of Cognitive Elite,” pp. 25-115.) In the first three decades after World War II, the development of near-universal standardized testing, and the democratization of education (which enabled smart-but-poor kids to attend college, a privilege hitherto largely reserved for the offspring of the affluent elite) operated as a sort of skimming machinery, that scooped up the vast majority of kids with high IQs and deposited them on university campuses. This was a genuinely revolutionary shift in our social order, the impact of which was little understood at the time.

Without rehashing everything Herrnstein and Murray explained about the process of cognitive partitioning and its results, let me call your attention to the graphic on page 40 of The Bell Curve, showing the mean verbal SAT scores of students who were admitted to various colleges in 1961. At Georgia Southern or North Carolina State, the average student’s score was in the 400-450 range. At Colby and Amherst, the average student scored in the 580-620 range. At Harvard, the average was nearly 700. By comparison, the average verbal SAT score of a high school senior who didn’t go to college was a bit above 300. SAT scores correlated (not perfectly, but rather well) to general IQ, and so we can see that the typical college student in 1961 was smarter than most kids who didn’t go to college, but there was still a great range in the intelligence of those who received bachelor’s degrees. The Bell Curve explains that, realistically, the minimum IQ necessary to get a college diploma is 110. There are some people with IQs lower than 110 who have bachelor’s degrees, but they’re anomalous exceptions and didn’t attend very prestigious schools, or major in demanding fields. They’re high-school P.E. teachers with degrees from Southwest State, or office supervisors who by persistent hard work acquired a B.S. in business management.

Donald Trump is obviously a lot smarter than those people, but I’ll bet $20 his SAT verbal wasn’t as high as Michael D. Shear, who attended prestigious Claremont McKenna College and got a master’s degree in public policy from Harvard. Credentials like that qualify you as an intellectual and, whatever our president’s successes in the world of real-estate development, reality TV and politics, no one has ever accused him of being an intellectual. He has called himself a “very stable genius.” It might be more accurate to call him an overachieving bright normal.

According to the Wechsler criteria, a child with an IQ of 130 or more is considered “gifted.” A score in the 120-129 range is “very high intelligence,” while scores between 110 and 119 are considered “bright normal.” It is perhaps insulting to suggest Trump would score below 120, but if you polled the White House press corps, I doubt they would call the President “gifted.” However, I’m quite certain that you would find that most of the D.C. press corps consider themselves “gifted.”

Every reporter in Washington thinks he’s smarter than Trump, but they’re not billionaires, are they? He’s got access to nuclear-launch codes, and the injustice of this situation — The Tyranny of Bright Normal — enrages Harvard-educated media types like Michael D. Shear.

Let me digress briefly to explain what’s wrong with Richard Florida’s theory of the “creative class,” namely that it’s bass-ackwards. He has mistaken correlation for causation and, if anything, has reversed the causality of the association between communities having (a) high average incomes and (b) substantial arts communities. It is the money-making function — capitalist success — of cities like New York that makes possible the cultural amenities (ballet, opera, museums, etc.) which attract the “creative class” employed in those endeavors, much in the way the economic success of Italian city-states made possible the artistic achievements of Renaissance. Yet the “creative class” theory has been taken as gospel by many urban-development types, with occasionally ludicrous results. While I was in Massachusetts last fall for a book event hosted by Pete Da Tech Guy, we visited a Mexican restaurant in Worcester, a somewhat run-down city that was once a major manufacturing center. Picking up the local free alternative weekly Worcester Magazine, I was thumbing through it and noticed an ad proclaiming the city’s enthusiastic devotion to LGBT rights.

I doubt that anyone in America, asked to name a city notable for its vibrant homosexual community, would name Worcester, Mass., off the top of their head, but it was obvious the local Chamber of Commerce had bought into Richard Florida’s analysis, which uses “a gay index (ranking cities by the concentration of gay couples in the population)” as one metric of urban growth potential within his “creative class” theory:

Mr. Florida says the ”most successful places” are the ones that combine all “three T’s” — tolerance, talent and technology.
Take San Francisco. Not surprisingly, perhaps, it ranks first on the high-tech index and the gay index, comes in fifth on the bohemian index and the innovation index and 12th on the creative class index. It was no accident, Mr. Florida contends, that Silicon Valley took root just a few miles away: “Silicon Valley was near San Francisco, where the geeky engineer with hair down to his waist and no shoes walks into a bar and no one blinks.”

This is an erroneous reversal of cause and effect. San Francisco has been one of the most prosperous cities in America since the Gold Rush of 1849, and got a huge economic boost during World War II, when its port facilities were essential to the U.S. war effort against Japan. This was also true during the Korean War (1950-53) and the Vietnam War (1964-73). A helluva lot of U.S. tax dollars flowed through the San Francisco Bay area, and if proximity explains Silicon Valley, it’s not because of hairstyles, but rather because of the University of California-Berkeley and Stanford University. Much of U.S. leadership in computer technology can be explained by our Cold War rivalry against the Soviet Union. The Pentagon and NASA funded a lot of research and development, and much of that work was done at schools like Cal-Berkeley and Stanford. Also, incidentally, the weather’s pretty nice in Santa Clara County, where real-estate was still relatively cheap 30 or 40 years ago. Furthermore, let us not forget, California had limited taxation thanks to Proposition 13 (passed in 1978). In short, the region now known as Silicon Valley had a lot of advantages when the tech boom hit in the 1980s when — need I remind you? — Ronald Reagan was our President.

Let Professor Florida theorize all he wants for the values of ” tolerance, talent and technology,” but first, the money has to show up. Was it an accident that California became the world’s high-tech leader during the decade when a former California governor was in the White House? The federal government is a wonderful mechanism for aggregating massive piles of cash and dumping them in key industries. If our government decides the Navy needs more ships, that’s gonna mean a lot of jobs in the vicinity of Biloxi, Miss., and Norfolk, Va. Whether or not that would lure many geeky long-haired engineers to those towns, the point is that government policy affects economic development, as does geography. San Francisco and New York are both major seaports, as are Seattle and Boston, a couple of other cities that would rank high on Professor Florida’s “gay index.” But trying to translate that into a magic formula to promote economic growth in Worcester, Mass.? That’s just bass-ackwards thinking, and probably a waste of time. But I digress . . .

Intellectuals have their own peculiar prejudices, one of which is a preference for elegant theories over ugly facts. The errors of Professor Florida’s theory are, in this regard, quite akin to the D.C. media establishment’s errors. None of those “gifted” White House correspondents imagined that Trump could actually beat Hillary, not only because they’re Democrat operatives with bylines, but also because Trump’s election didn’t fit their liberal theory of “social progress.”

In the collective opinion of the elite media establishment, Obama’s presidency was a watershed triumph, and to have the First Black President be succeeded in office by the First Female President was entirely logical to those who believe with quasi-religious certainty that the Democrat Party is always on The Right Side of History.

Unfortunately for them, on the night of Nov. 8, 2016, they watched helplessly as the ugly facts destroyed their elegant theory.


Look, it’s not like Democrats have a monopoly on sympathy for the downtrodden. Everybody likes to cheer for the underdog. Everybody likes to see Goliath get clobbered by little David’s slingshot. The problem with the liberal media is, they don’t realize they’re Goliath.

The White House correspondent for the New York Times thinks of himself as standing up for the oppressed victims of society while he writes his hostile, negative coverage of the Trump administration, but it is his own prejudice — his haughty disdain for the ordinary Americans who voted for Donald Trump — that he is actually defending.

“Damn those Republican voters! All those Bible-thumping yeehaws out there in Middle America, with their pickup trucks and blue-collar jobs! How dare they reject an alumna of Wellesley and Yale Law in favor of this vulgar businessman! What’s the point in getting a Harvard degree, if a bunch of dumbass hicks in Iowa and Wisconsin can decide to put Trump in charge of the country?”

Really, that’s the bottom line, the real motive of media bias. To borrow a phrase, it’s the rage of a privileged class. Modern journalism is populated by people who were identified as “gifted” as children, and whose teachers led them to believe that being clever with words would qualify them to become influential “thought leaders,” using their cleverness to make the world a better place. So they went to their elite colleges and gravitated to liberal publications, and discovered what a pathetic racket journalism really is. Oh, your high-school English teacher may believe journalism is a glamorous and exciting profession, but what does an English teacher actually know about the ordeal of cranking out a story on deadline with an editor calling you every 15 minutes to ask when you’re gonna file?

“Damn,” I said, one dreary afternoon 30 years ago in the offices of the Calhoun (Ga.) Times. “I just can’t seem to get motivated today.”

“You need some motivation?” asked the news editor, Mitch Talley, grinning rather sadistically. “Get to work, or you’re fired.”

And that’s it, you see? All the cleverness in the world — yeah, I was “gifted” as a child — ain’t gonna get you out of the grind.

Now imagine yourself as Michael D. Shear, a guy with a master’s degree in public policy from Harvard, who worked eight years for the Washington Post before hooking on at the New York Times in 2010. He’s the White House correspondent, the most prestigious position at the country’s most influential newspaper, and his high-school English teacher is so proud of her former “gifted” student. But there he is, day after day, faced with Sarah Sanders as White House press secretary in the administration of a Republican president he never imagined could possibly get elected, and this ugly fact is not only the negation of his liberal theory of “social progress,” but also a continual insult to the media establishment of which he is an eminent member.

Michael D. Shear will never own a golf resort in Palm Beach. Michael D. Shear will never be married to a 5-foot-11 Slovenian supermodel. Michael D. Shear can never “grab ’em by the p–sy” and get away with it.

Life is unfair. Harvard-educated “gifted” kids look at the success of a guy like Trump and say to themselves, “This is fundamentally wrong.” According to the media’s worldview, being clever is synonymous with being virtuous. High SAT scores and diplomas from prestigious institutions are the only standard of value they recognize. The policeman on patrol, the soldier in combat, the factory worker grinding away for an hourly wage — they’re a bunch of worthless idiots, in the eyes of the establishment media. When people like that vote Republican, it just confirms their idiocy, in the eyes of elite journalists like Michael D. Shear.

Oh, the psychological pain of the D.C. press corps! The emotional trauma they must endure with Trump as president!

They are “gifted” children who never grew up. They never adjusted to reality, but instead embraced the Peter Pan fantasy of social justice, a world ruled by clever people on behalf of clever people, where nobody can ever say to them, “Get to work or you’re fired.” What they want, you see, is a world where the bright-normals are not treated as equals of the “gifted” children, where the tall muscular extroverts don’t lord it over the geeks with Harvard degrees, a world in which Slovenia supermodels are impressed by high SAT scores. And it’s never gonna happen.

The President of the United States is 6-foot-3 and 239 pounds of vigorous health. He aced his physical, and maybe he needs to cut back on cheeseburgers, but his cognitive function is perfect. He’s not the one afflicted with dementia, no sir — it’s those hysterical “gifted” kids in the Briefing Room, who spent 45 minutes embarrassing themselves, shouting stupid questions at Dr. Jackson. Why have they been reduced to impotent helplessness? Damn those Republican voters!

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If you got a laugh reading this, you can hit the tip jar. Don’t have a master’s degree from Harvard, but sometimes I’m kinda clever.





One Response to “The Tyranny of Bright Normal”

  1. Brights, Clevers, and Intellectuals | Rotten Chestnuts
    January 19th, 2018 @ 8:49 am

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