Tuesday, September 4, 2007

The Smart and the Clever

It was helpfully pointed out to me some years ago by my most observant older sister, and has since been confirmed to me by individuals of no mean powers of perception that my younger brother is smarter than I, though less clever; which qualification, if my grasp of exigesis does not slip, is an optimistic way of pointing out that at least Esau got the soup. Time will tell, and till He does, I will do my best to enjoy the tortellini.

Sybling rivalries for a moment marginalized, my sister's statement does place before us a demarcation in the exercises of the mind that is worth negotiating. Wherein lies the difference between cleverness and mere smarts? Or, for that matter, smartness and mere clevers? Being that which I am, the alleged representative for the alphabetically senior position, a part of me likes to defer the solution of this quandry to one of the Smarties, but the local MENSA chapter being in session till further notice, I shall proceed on my own.

1. Smartness is constructive. It deals in things in themselves, things of themselves, and sometimes I'm told, things doing both at once. It perceives a thing inning, or ofing, recognizes its essential function, the productive motions of said function, and lastly, brings of these motions the products themselves; an apple, in Newton's rather disappointing case. I should mention at this point that the constructivity which is the stock in trade of smartness is not without its exceptions; take Einstein for instance; personally, I'm quite all right with E being equivalent to MC squared, but your average zoning commisioner in mid-twentieth century Japan was markedly less keen on the idea.

Going back to my original point, Smartness, in its systemization of natural or mechanical functions, takes note first of the general operation and than of the operations subordinate to it. We will call this the Hierarchy of Mechanism, and illustrate it thusly: the heart (Dominant Instrument) pumps blood through the aorta (Subdominant Instrument) to the brain (Non-essential Instrument) which then tells the aorta it is getting the shorter end of the stick and that it should renegotiate its contract. The aorta goes on strike, the market (Body) threatens to stagnate (Die) and the heart, not to be undermined, hires a new aorta from a foreign market (i.e., illegally imported Vietnamese cadaver) that will pump the same amount of currency into the market regardless of union regulations. From this, we derive not only the novel science of Triple Bipass Economics, but also the sobering truth that the operations of Smartness have little regard for democratic ideals. Smartness, then, has not often held elected office, which ought to explain at least a few things to regular viewers of C-Span. But let us not abandon ourselves to calumny.

As an historical force, Smartness succeeds most when its energies are wholly devoted to cutting through the various dilemmas that political or scientific impass erects before it. Here we are best served by the example of the Gordian Knot. Alexander, when confronted with this nodal conundrum, and possessing neither the Patience of Job nor a background in Eagle Scouts, followed the path of action dictated to him by his own native Smartness and cut through the entanglement with his sword. Put the same dilemma in front of a contemporary congress, and it will find some way to ensure that no sword or other sharp instrument is employed in the procedure, and a bipartisan subcommitee of UN-approved Eagle Scouts lays down an authoritative sanction on the Knot, with the mandate to untie itself by such-and-such a deadline at the risk of a cessation of all discourse. At all of which, of course, the Knot laughs, and then extends a few of its loops into the Czech Republic and the choicer parts of Austria. All of this is Smartness in an advanced state of diplomatic decadence. It does us little good however, to reprimand Smartness too much for the inevitable onset of Senility. All good things must come to an end, All Paths of Glory Lead But to the Grave, on occasion by way of a Miami assisted living center. So it is with Smartness, and we will leave her to her rice pudding.

2. If Smartness' child is Construction, then the offspring of Cleverness is Paradox, who goes out less often for sports. The best expertise tends to suggest that a positive, consistent environment is the best for the cultivation of Smartness, but Cleverness thrives under a more peculiar set of circumstances, these usually furnished by several family neuroses, a bicycle horn and a wardrobe full of clown suits. I would own that Cleverness is the rarer quality of the two, as it is too often clipped in the bud by the society into which it is born; France, for instance. It is clever, in a minor sense, to invent something like those mock-pillories with painted figures and holes for the head and the hands that you see clowns in at carnivals. It is the domain of the Smart (and the Sadistic) to get rid of the clown, add a blade, and commence with the decapitation of the ruling class. Such are the rewards the Clever Man got for his pains in France, whose Cleverest son, Voltaire, was also her most renowned exile. As a side note, we strangely find in the above opposition, that when we harmonize the opposed elements, that is to say, leave the painted figures and Clown with his head in the pillory, and add the blade and beheading as an afterthought, we produce Irony, which is the only state in which Smartness and Cleverness may mutually exist. One can only hope.

Unfortunately, too much musing on this subject has wearied brain and body, and I find that I need something to eat. And it seems my brother's soup has grown cold.

-Thomas Banks-

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