First, an admission: I am, or have been, a great big intellectual snobby snob snob. Surely you've noticed. I'm all running around with my big ideas and my fifty-cent words, just cracking myself up with esoteric jokes. I recently asked a clerk at Cumby's if reading the New York Times (which he was doing) for free is the coolest part of his job. I sometimes refer to said paper as "the NYT." I consider postmodernism to be one of the greatest threats to humanity.
In my defense, though, I had an epiphany several years ago that gave me some insight into myself and made me a much less judgmental person: I don't hate stupid people, I just hate people who love being stupid.
It's a well-known fact among my friends that I should not be allowed access to the local paper under any circumstances. The former journalist in me bears claws and fangs like a wild beast at front-page, above-the-fold stories detailing how hot it is, how fun a festival was, or how much kids like ice cream. The homicidal maniac in me sharpens its knives when I see Ray Routhier making every pedestrian job in the world sound like rocket science. I know, every job has it's challenges, but Ray, IT'S SO FUCKING CONDESCENDING to try to instill drama in the process of making sure there's enough pens in a hotel room drawer. I'm sure that lady has enough actual challenges in her day that wouldn't be good PR for her employer, so please, please, either tell it like it is, or stop treating the poor woman like a two-year-old who's doing a weawy, weawy good job!
But for all that, it's the letters page that threatens to put me over the edge every time. I actually really love opinion pieces and find it fascinating to get a glimpse inside the heads of people who don't think like me (it's also one of the reasons I'm addicted to reading blogs). But the requirement is that these people are at least thinking like someone not like me. In my experience, for every thoughtful, well-researched letter to the editor, there's another six that read like the verbal vomit of self-satisfied children, replete with grammar nightmares and some sort of irrelevant attack the slightly more eloquent equivalent of "...and anyone who doesn't agree smells bad and eats poop!"
I count among my very favorite people of all time a mechanic who works with me. Let's call him Mike the Mechanic, because that will be fun. He's old school, which means he specializes in mechanical repairs: nuts and bolts and oil and metal and wood and nails and putting things together and taking them apart. He takes a lot of shit behind his back because he's a simple guy who's been outrun by the complexity of the machines he cares for. It pains him to know that he doesn't always do a very good job, in part because his education ended with his training as a military mechanic in the 70s. His boss for twenty years in his current job was a delightful but eccentric old coot who didn't have the patience to bring my friend up to date on anything. He'd get frustrated by a shallow learning curve and opt to just do everything himself.
Mike's son has Asperger's, a condition that went unrecognized until the boy was twelve. Mike himself shows little glimmers of it himself along with an unacknowledged case of dyslexia. I've never met anyone who works so hard for such meager returns and it breaks my heart to hear him talk about how under-valued and ignored he feels.
What I love about Mike is that, despite deficits that he recognizes, he's a perpetual dream machine and a hungry consumer of random information.
There was a time when he came into work in the middle of the night to fuel the boats and when I got to work at quarter of five, we'd spend a quiet hour or so chatting about this and that, the politics of our workplace, the politics of the world, a foreign movie that enchanted him.
Our schedules don't line up like that anymore, but sometimes when things are quiet, he'll ask if I have a minute and we'll take in the maintenance shop. We've recently covered depression and medication (he told me he'd gone down the same road as me a few months before), French first lady and chanteuse Carla Bruni and his desire for me to use my internets skills to get some of her music for him. He's also asked me to find him an English-language international newspaper and information on schools where someone interested in mosaics might thrive, for his son. He tells me that he feels unfulfilled doing what he does and what he thinks he'd be good at. He asks me for advice about how to pursue those things.
I'm outrageously lucky to have a big cheering section that wants me to fulfill all the promise I toted around in my childhood, but in some ways none of it means more to me than when Mike says, "I never understood what you were doing here. I don't want to tell you how to do anything, but it seems like you can do anything and this place will just take advantage of that, but it's not where you belong."
There's a lot of clever, talented, artistic, wordy, and science-minded people in my life by design. Like I said, I'm an academic snob. I like people who are challenging and crazy-making and brilliant. But what I like about them, I also like in people like Mike who may not have the tools to do groundbreaking projects, but who love the fact that they exist. Who's disappointed in the way the world works and isn't satisfied to accept the explanations of pundits and politicians, but wants to (painstakingly) read as much as he possibly can about everything he can trying to find some answers. Mike isn't smart in the way we traditionally think of it, but he has the far more enlightening characteristic of curiosity.
Just for a little contrast, and to bring the conversation around to where I started, there's a fellow in Mike's department who is his dead opposite in terms of all the lovable things I've mentioned. He's also a mechanical man, but has been shrewd enough to insert himself into tasks over his head, where Mike has waited to be invited to learn. As a result, he's generally regarded as more proficient at his job. I'm not sure that's true, but what interests me more (or doesn't, as the case may be) is that he has no interest in life or the world beyond the narrow scope of coming to work, coming home, and going hunting. He's the sort of person who says in all earnestness things like, "Well, I don't know much about politics, but it seems like if they think ________ is the best way..." He makes the kind of pointless jokes intended to demonstrate that he's just a good-natured guy that actually demonstrate that he's a misogynist, racist jackass with nothing to contribute. Among my co-workers there's a running joke that they should hide the pencils when he's around me because he almost always manages to say or do something that fills me with the horrible desire to stab him with them.
So there it is. Several years ago I put the brakes on my unreasonable expectations of people's knowledge base and shifted my animosity to people who just don't give a fuck. I recognize that this is a heavy declaration, but I think that there's literally nothing more offensive to me than people who are closed to inquiry. It's a simple thing. We live in a shrinking world and our survival depends on our ability to understand things beyond what happens to us individually. Plus, and this comes out of the depths of my own fucked up depressed-person's nihilistic worldview, but what on earth keeps you going if you have no interests outside of the six things you currently know??? Shit, that's dark, but I'm not really joking.
Anyway. I've (mostly) learned to let spelling and grammar stuff slide. I've (mostly) learned to be respectful in debates with people who just don't know better. I'm trying to be a more open person, and if you want to meet me halfway, broaden your horizons.