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Honorary PhD

Too smart for our own good
When you spend too much time in academia, something happens to you

June 4, 2003
The Iranian

We in the Iranian Diaspora have a disproportionate number of academicians and physicians amongst our ranks. It appears as though every other member of our group is either a Ph.D., an M.D., or an M.D. with a Ph.D.

At every gathering, all one encounters seem to be Doctor This and Professor That. Nice to meet you, I say. "Who, Me? Oh, I am nobody. Just a degenerate puny, with only a despicable bachelor's degree."

In my vain attempts to break the ice and initiate conversations with these folks, I often feel like the proverbial construction laborer interrupting the engineers' conversation, inquiring about the whereabouts of his pick and shovel.

A friend of mine has a peculiar knack for picking out advanced-degreed Iranians at the dance floor. He believes Iranians with more than six years of post-high school education display a propensity to dance in a certain manner. He can't quite describe it, but he is on the money spotting them 100% of the time. "It's in the way they carry themselves during the act of dancing." He explains.

I admit that it is because of this very profusion of highly educated people in our midst that the Iranians outside of the motherland have achieved a level of success unsurpassed by other minority groups anywhere and at anytime. I further admit that it is much better to be educated than not to be. But this phenomenon, i.e., a high concentration of highly degreed folks in a relatively small population, has its down sides too. Let me explain.

When you spend too much time in academia, something happens to you. Your ways of reasoning go through a transformation, making you appear- even when talking about the most mundane issues- as though you were defending your doctoral thesis before a panel of skeptical and highly scrutinizing old farts. The philosophizing bug kicks in every time you are challenged on anything, no matter how insignificant.

Another thing that gets affected is the writing style. Every piece of writing done by the over-educated takes the form of a thesis. Even letters to their parents and relatives start with a synopsis, followed by discussions, charts and graphs, conclusions, and most importantly, the bibliography. A good number of contributions to Iranian.com also fit this description. (I am not naming names here). I guess there is no escaping what the rigors of academia engrain in your psyche.

I say all this not because I want to poke fun at educated people, but rather because I suffer from a form of inferiority complex. I can not deal with complicated concepts like a Ph.D. could. I need to reduce everything to simple facts before I can make an attempt to make heads or tails of them. And even then, I am unsuccessful most of the time.

I once asked a Ph.D. at the dinner table whether he thought a certain soccer team had any chance of defeating another team. Before I had finished my question, he was drawing the probability curve on a napkin, shading portions of the curve and assigning values to the X and the Y axes. He then proceeded to set the derivative of the graph function equal to zero to find the roots. I hear 'roots' and all I can think of is Kunta Kinte.

I have had the last 25 years to ponder over the question 'What the hell happened to the Iran we used to know?' I have seen and read books and papers and theses on the subject written by our intellectual elite attempting to explain the situation in their hyper-rational manner. All the mental gymnastics did nothing to me but add more confusion. I finally gave up looking for answers in the work of others and started applying my own simplistic, reductive techniques to try to better understand the plight of our country. My conclusions are included in the following paragraph:

Jimmy Carter was perceived by communists as being weak. Soviets invaded Afghanistan. The Islamic Movement was unleashed in the region to counter Soviet expansionism. Iran turned more Islamic than desired (but still served its purpose). Iraq was armed to the teeth and fooled into invading Iran to keep the revolutionaries in check. Soviets left Afghanistan. Iran-Iraq war ended. Soviets collapsed. Iraq was fooled again into invading Kuwait. Iraq was kicked out of Kuwait, its army decimated . Pakistan went out of control. Time to do some clean-up. Pakistan was cleaned (but not disinfected). Afghanistan was cleaned. Iraq was cleaned. And the mop-up continues. The overall policy has been successful. Gasoline is still a buck and a half.

It doesn't take a neurosurgeon to figure all this out. Now does it?

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