Sunday, November 16, 2008

Kristof on Obama and Brains

Nicholas Kristof has a great article on Obama being our first intellectual president in a while. As he explains, an intellectual is not identified by his IQ, but by his attitude towards knowledge:

"An intellectual is a person interested in ideas and comfortable with complexity. Intellectuals read the classics, even when no one is looking, because they appreciate the lessons of Sophocles and Shakespeare that the world abounds in uncertainties and contradictions, and — President Bush, lend me your ears — that leaders self-destruct when they become too rigid and too intoxicated with the fumes of moral clarity...

Mr. Obama, unlike most politicians near a microphone, exults in complexity. He doesn’t condescend or oversimplify nearly as much as politicians often do, and he speaks in paragraphs rather than sound bites..."

Among the many views I hope America began to repudiate with the election of Obama is the notion that all knowledge can be expressed in two sentences, that any nuance to opinion amounts to waffling, and that flexibility in the face of new evidence is a strength rather than a weakness. If the Bush administration taught us nothing else, it is that simplistic "for us or against us" thinking simply will not do in an increasingly complicated and interconnected world.

Kristof is also quick to remind us that being an intellectual is no guarantee of success as a leader. However, it's a good start, and a damn sight superior to the alternative.


Anonymous said...

One can see what book Obama has read recently:

ScienceAvenger said...

Yeah, God forbid we have a leader actually interested in understanding the world around him. And notice that, as usual, the real story bears little resemblence to the fantasy version supplied by the partisan GOP propoganda machine.