Too smart for our own good
When you spend too much time in academia, something happens
June 4, 2003
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
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."
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
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?
this page to your friends