Interview: John Hodgman

By CLEA SIMON  |  November 21, 2008

We’ve become so anti-intellecutal. What’s it like being a public fake intellectual?
I am frequently pelted and chased with pitchforks. No, I live in Park Slope, I’m pelted only with adoration and requests for tickets for The Daily Show.

Have we as a nation gotten dumber?
No, not at all. I think that we need to re-emphasize elementary level and pre-school level education, and particularly high school science and math, that’s where the big economies are going. We have to stop treating our educational system as if it were a third-rate bureaucracy akin to the DMV. We have to devote some real resources there, because we cannot promise kids jobs in manufacturing. That’s the unfunny part.

But our strength as a country is the entrepreneurs we produce, what we’ve got going for us is the innovation that sprung up during the Internet revolution. Those guys who are creating Twitter and Facebook, all those Web 2.0 applications, are completely transforming the way we interact with each other, and they’re operating at the top of their game, and we’ve got all these incredible universities who are pumping out incredibly talented graduates. If you look at popular culture, the geeks and the nerds who may have been loathed in high school are inheriting the earth.

Really? That’s encouraging.
Even on a basic level, even if we’re talking about a different kind of intelligence - not book learnin’ but regular smarts - I think the American people have got that, too. Because you know what? Sarah Palin isn’t doing too well right now. Her ratings are tanking. I’m only pointing you to the evidence that’s being gathered.

Those of us who live in the Northeast need to separate our fear of what other people in other parts of the country think from the reality. This is an incredibly close election, and a lot of people will vote for McCain, but they are not necessarily voting for McCain because they are stupid. I think the most cheering and exciting thing about the Obama campaign is that it is predicted on the belief that the truth matters. He is talking to them like adults, and people are responding to that extremely positively. I’ve been angry for eight years if only on a literary level that every communication coming out of the Bush administration treats us like infants. If you infantalize people, they are more likely to feel like and act like infants. But if you treat them like adults, they will act like adults.

There was a bump and now Obama is leading. If you and I agree that Obama is the smart choice, right? You have to presume that most Americans are making the smart choice. The data suggests they are.

I hope so.
Speaking as a registered Democrat, if we believe that the American people are too stupid to vote for us, we don’t deserve to govern. Period. It is anti-democracy to believe that. It is offensive to me. I voted for Kerry, but I feel what we have to do is understand what motivates people and to treat them with respect as adults and be as clear as possible in presenting a truthful and honest alternative and trust that people will respond to that. And I feel that others did not display that trust.

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