The Aspiration to Intelligence
Yes, I mean you.
Aaron Sorkin is quite simply one of the most brilliant writers of all time. Rapid fire dialogue is his signature. You can tell as soon as you start watching his work that his hand touched the page. His credits include The West Wing, The Newsroom, The Social Network, A Few Good Men and Moneyball, just to name a few. He has clearly demonstrated his own intelligence and he challenges us to do the same.
Raising kids today requires competing with massive amounts of digital input. The exposure of young people to video and social media feeds of all kinds is extreme to say the least. I have watched as YouTube video makers have become revered stars in my home. Children are aspiring to play video games online as their actual career goal. Being an Instagram model is a thing. Vapid reality stars influence young girls through their example of brand consumerism and plastic surgery.
I am not trying to beat up on people. I get that part of culture is just for fun. We get to relax and watch mindless content if it helps us relax. But this has become pervasive and I can’t help but wonder, should this be the only thing we absorb?
I love someone who challenges our notions and veers us away from what is popular and toward what is interesting. A few years back, Aaron Sorkin won the Golden Globe for Best Screenplay for The Social Network. After all the usual thank you’s to his team, he said something that was exceptional:
I want to thank all the female nominees tonight, for helping demonstrate to my young daughter that elite is not a bad word. It is an aspirational one. Honey, look around…smart girls have more fun and you’re one of them.
Aaron Sorkin, The Golden Globes
Smart girls have more fun. Who says things like that anymore?
In the first episode of The Newsroom, Jeff Daniels plays Will McAvoy. He is on a panel answering questions at a local college listening to a young female student stumble through her silly question, “What makes America the greatest country in the world?” His two co-panelists give stock answers and Will tries to do the same. The moderator forces an answer. As Will looks into the audience, he sees a vision of his ex-producer/ex-girlfriend MacKenzie holding up a sign that reads, “It’s not, but it can be.”
Will knows MacKenzie is a hallucination, but he listens to her anyway. He goes for it and launches into an impassioned speech exhibiting every piece of knowledge on the United States and its place in the world. And then he said this:
We aspired to intelligence. We didn’t belittle it. It didn’t make us feel inferior.
Aaron Sorkin, The Newsroom
We have raised up leaders who inspired us through their incredible life stories and through their genius in leadership. And we have raised up leaders who pander to the lowest common denominator. Idealizing the vacant and vapid content we are being presented has left no room for intelligent thought. Are we, as a nation, even thinking anymore?
It is simply a miracle that we, as a nation have ever gotten this right. But we have.
I do not diminish the incredible symbolic importance of a black man getting elected president. But my euphoria was a smart guy getting elected president. Maybe for the first time in my lifetime we had elected one of the thousand smartest Americans president.
It is time to face the fact that we are causing our own downfall. How can we consume huge amounts of vacuous content without literally losing our ability to reason clearly. In a world that values appearance over value, likes over genuine connection, we will never become who we are meant to be.