Originally printed in The Daily Targum, November 11, 1993
I'm the smartest person I know. Whenever I talk to anyone, I can't help thinking that this person can't possibly know what I know. Most of the people I talk to are idiots, and deserve to be sentenced to watching 'Who's The Boss' re-runs for all eternity.
It's not just the average dummies of the world, though. I'm not talking about the moron who asked me 'Going up?' when he boarded the elevator at the lowest level possible. 'No,' I told him. 'I've been a sinner, and I don't plan on repenting.' He didn't understand what I was talking about.
I'm not talking about the completely sober guy I met at a party last week who, upon hearing I was a Japanese major, told me that he 'liked Japan for helping America fight the Nazi bastards during Word War II.' 'Yeah,' I told him. 'And it's a shame that they accidentally dropped that firecracker over Pearl Harbor. Ruined their perfect safety record.' He didn't understand what I was talking about either.
These people are to be expected--we all know that the average American is pretty thick. But it s worse than I thought. Most professors don't understand me when I talk to them, so they just give me an 'A' because they know I'm saying something intelligent. (My professors this semester, however, are all brilliant. They haven't yet graded me. Smile.) Some professors I won't even deign to speak to, such as the political science professor my freshman year who lectured for the full hour on the horrors of the Chinese attack on Pearl Harbor that pulled America into World War II. (Evidently, there s a great deal of confusion about this war.)
Not only do professors not understand, our elected officials don't get it, either. I sent Bill Clinton a letter asking for a complete copy of his new health plan, and he sent me back a Xerox-autographed postcard wishing me 'the best.' At least he's better than Bush--I asked him for a copy of the Clean Air Act, and he sent me an 8x10 glossy of him, Barbara, and the stupid little dog. I used it as a dartboard.
Everyone I talk to says 'like' and 'you know' every other word. I read letters to the editor in the papers that are incomprehensible, or that completely miss the point, and I wonder just what the hell these people have been reading. Cashiers at the local drug store can't make change for a dollar without using the cash register's computer. And most of the supposedly intellectual people at this campus care more about getting a 'piece of paper' than a real education.
The only problem with all this is that everybody I talk to complains about the same thing. Everybody thinks they're smarter than most of the people they meet.
I will admit (grudgingly) that I am not as smart as I want you to believe. I pretend a lot. I throw around big words and obscure names, hoping that you ve never heard of these people, so you won't challenge me on them. I stroke my chin and nod understandingly a lot in class, when I'm just as clueless as the dude next to me. I go through life hoping that nobody will catch me in my charade, that nobody will discover that I m not the genius I want to be.
I think everybody does it. I think that the guy who told me about the Japanese role in World War II was trying to show me that he knew something about Japan; trying to show off. I make fun of him, but I remember trying to speak French to the last person I met who was a French major. (My French consists of: 'Je suis allez.' I was told I speak French like a Spanish cow, or something like that.)
Sometimes, I get busted. When I asked my boss how to solve a problem, he told me to do a 'RTFM.' I pretended I knew what he meant, and told him 'No problem,' and screwed up the project. All I had to do was ask, and I would have found out that RTFM means 'Read the Manual.' (You can figure out the 'F.')
Someone once gently pointed out to me that I meant to say 'Gaelic' and not 'Celtic.' Someone else asked if I meant to refer to Hamlet, or Macbeth. In each of these cases (and countless others) I was trying to sound impressive, trying to sound sure of myself, and ended up being just plain wrong. I felt pretty dumb, but in each case, the person with whom I was conversing could have made me feel a great deal dumber than I did, and didn't.
Maybe I should do the same. Maybe I need to realize that we're all just kind of pretending to know where we'll be in a year or two, pretending to know what we want to do with our lives, pretending to know who we are. Socrates' famous line was 'I know nothing.' I feel like that most of the time, only Socrates was being modest, and I really am pretty damn clueless. Then again, maybe he was just pretending, too.
I don't think I'm as smart as I thought I was.
But I'm still the smartest person I know, except for maybe my mom.
Jason Gottlieb is a Rutgers College senior triple majoring in Transcendental
Aenepdity, Palimpsestic Intertexuality and Orthographic Dissemination.
He got an 'A' on his last paper.