- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Author explains how societyfalls victim to ideology

Highly intelligent people with very bad ideas have wreaked havoc on American society, culture and politics in recent decades, Daniel J. Flynn argues in his latest book, “Intellectual Morons: How Ideology Makes Smart People Fall for Stupid Ideas.”

A frequent speaker on college campuses, Mr. Flynn has faced book burners, mobs shouting down his talks and officials banning his lectures. The following are excerpts from an interview with Mr. Flynn:

Question: Who are these “intellectual morons?”

Answer: The main people I cover in the book include people like [Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor] Noam Chomsky, who’s sort of like Michael Moore with his brain on steroids, and someone like [pioneer sex researcher] Alfred Kinsey, who Hugh Hefner looked up to and actually labeled himself Kinsey’s pamphleteer. It would include Paul Ehrlich, a Stanford professor who essentially predicted apocalyptic conditions in the world due to overpopulation, and when those didn’t come to pass he made still more predictions and more predictions. And he’s probably making some more predictions now.

Generally, they are people whose IQs certainly in most cases I would say outmatch my IQ, but because they rely on ideology rather than their brains to do their thinking, they’re wrong more than they’re right. …

Q: Given that you find these ideas going against common sense, why would intellectuals believe them?

A: I think the conceit of the intellectuals is that they are so smart that they can devise systems to run the affairs of billions of people or create theories to explain all of history. But there’s no one-size-fits-all explanation for everything.

Intellectuals kind of flatter themselves by thinking that they can come up with those explanations. Basically they come up with ideologies that they think are the Rosetta Stone for everything. And they’re not. Rather than sort of providing answers, they’re more apt to confuse people.

Being smart doesn’t necessarily make you a rigorous thinker, and a lot of very intelligent people are very lazy. Ideology is basically a crutch for people who are lazy. It allows them to not think. Ideology provides them a stock answer to any sort of issue, event, idea or person. But there’s no sort of knee-jerk response that’s going to fit everything. And that’s where they get into trouble.

Q: You talk about the people who actually follow these ideas — the collegeprofessors, the faculty, the students and the freshmen. What makes everybody from the professor down to the freshman go for such ideologies?

A: I think sometimes when a foolish or dishonest idea pays lip service to a broader idea that we embrace, we will not question that idea. When [Guatemalan author] Rigoberta Menchu put forward stories of brutal atrocities that her family faced or capitalist exploitation of her family, a lot of Western intellectuals and college students were more than willing to believe that, because it meshed with their political sympathies. The masses or armies of intellectual morons will buy these ideas because the ideas largely don’t go against the grain of their political thinking.

Q: What’s the real harm in believing such ideologies?

A: It’s not just a question of utility. I think that it’s a [question of] truth for its own sake. … Now, for us as Americans, we live in a democracy. It’s best to have an informed electorate, rather than a confused electorate. … Many of the intellectuals’ ideas may not impact the democracy on a direct level, but often times their ideas get to the masses in a more dumbed-down form. And it has an awful influence on making people ignorant. …

Q: What is the dumbest idea your book discusses?

A: Certainly the most evil idea is Margaret Sanger’s dream of concentration camps for, in her own words, 15 to 20 million Americans. … [People] she saw as genetic offenders. … She desired to forcibly sterilize millions of people and put them into prisons because they did not conform to her vision of what an ideal human being should look like or act like. … She is [now celebrated] as a champion of reproductive freedom and choice, but in reality she is someone who wanted to use the government to compel people to get sterilized.

Q: In many of the chapters, you spend a lot of time talking about the darksecrets of these intellectuals. You talk about Margaret Sanger’s plans for American concentration camps, [Princeton University professor] Peter Singer’s approval of killing disabled infants and Alfred Kinsey’s sadomasochism. Why?

A: I think it’s important. With regard to Kinsey, you can’t understand the Kinsey report without understanding Alfred Kinsey, because the Kinsey reports were not a reflection of America held up to its face. They were a picture of Alfred Kinsey’s degenerate predilections writ large, projected upon America. …

Q: Will this “antidote” be powerful enough to persuade someone who is steeped in these ideas?

A: Probably not. You can’t reason with unreasonable people. But for someone on the fence, I think this book will do a lot of good. More importantly, the book doesn’t attack left ideology or right ideology. It attacks all ideology. …

Q: So, this isn’t just a book attacking liberals?

A: No. If “Intellectual Morons” was a book … attacking the nefarious role ideology plays in deluding people to reality and I only looked at people on the left, I would be guilty of the very thing that I’m accusing the ideologues of. I would in fact be an ideologue myself. So, I think it was important to include people on the right and the left.

I have a chapter on [late University of Chicago professor] Leo Strauss … [whose] whole philosophy boils down to the idea that it is a good thing to lie to the masses for their own good. … A number of his students found themselves within positions of power in the United States government. … With regard to Iraq, I don’t know if these people were guilty of dishonesty or self-delusion or what it was. …

The idea of America invading Iraq may have sounded good to these people, but the test of an idea is not how well that idea works in your head. The true test of an idea is how that idea works in reality. And in reality, that idea has failed.

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