Among all the other required skills and credentials, contrarian Thought Leadering for our nation’s prestige centrism press demands a kind of blank-slate Chance-the-gardener cluelessness about really incredibly basic normal-life stuff. That way you can stroke your chin and gaze thoughtfully into the middle distance and be like, “Query for my liberal friends … why is it … that you ‘drive’ on the ‘parkway’ … and ‘park’ on the ‘driveway’…” and then cash your check for three hundred thousand dollars while all the rest of us convulse on the ground in amazement at the purity of your insights.
It’s fine (for the people who hire for these jobs) if the cluelessness is only or largely performance; New York‘s Jon Chait, for example, is nobody’s genius, but I suspect he is not half as big a dumbass as he pretends to be for a living, and that is no small part of what makes him kneebucklingly vile and immune to respect and incapable of shame. The trouble there is that a cynic only feigning brain damage might have a hidden dignity threshold, a depth of asininity they will not pantomime even for the big bucks. This is what makes The Atlantic‘s Conor Friedersdorf a unicorn in the field. He is either the most shameless sandbagger who ever lived, like on the scale of the guy in The Prestige who had secretly been carrying a fishbowl between his knees for his entire life for the sake of a dumb magic trick, or a genuine real-McCoy idiot, or both.
Here Conor is on Twitter (where, like all our media’s most irradiated perverts, he does much of his best work), asking a breathtakingly dumb question. Do you think it’s possible, he wonders, thinkfully, for young children to understand a simple concept—some people are like this, others like that, and some are like neither or like both, and it’s all OK—being explained to them very simply?
Imagine just how out of touch with human life a public intellectual has to be before they will think to ask whether pre-kindergarten-aged children can be expected to grasp the idea that some are one way and others another. Have you ever met a pre-K child? That is literally all they talk and think about. Sorting things into categories is their whole deal. What does this man think childhood is? Does he think schools are there to teach you the things you already understand? How does he think a young child comes to understand what “a table” is? What the number two is?
There’s no way that kids will understand, asserts the professional thinker for America’s most prestigious magazine, confidently, in public, that some dogs have short fur, others have long fur, some can’t really be described as having either, and still others have curly fur. Children, in Conor Friedersdorf’s imagination (apparently the only place he’s ever encountered one of them, as anyone who has met them can attest they know roughly one thousand different types of dinosaur), can understand two kinds of things, but not three or four. Three of some things is too many. There are two kinds of animal, cats and dogs. There are two colors, red and blue. There are two kinds of orifices on your body, the eating kind and the pooping kind. The kids will be ready to learn about third and fourth kinds of things later. Perhaps in graduate school.