Is intelligence un-Australian?

I’m not saying Australians are thick.

BUT – we have a kind of love/hate relationship with intelligence.  On the one hand, we’re really not dumb.  After all, we’re the country that invented the Hills Hoist!!! (here is a Hills Hoist, in case you’ve never heard of it. It’s an alternative energy source drawing on the power of sunsets).  And the Cochlear Ear Implant!

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On the other hand, I don’t reckon Australians like to think for FUN.  Intellectual activity, like discussing the meaning of life and whether climate change is for real and what the hell is the Higgs Bosun particle, is hard work for a lot of people, not entertainment.  It’s what you do when you’re on paid time.

If you’re at a barbecue here you don’t want to talk about ideas – it’s about eating sausages, and who won the match, and the best way to make Rocky Road.  Nobody wants to be like the French or the Czechs, who (if you believe their films) chat about post-structuralist identity and the Lightness of Being over their cornflakes.

But I DO!  Sort of.  I don’t know anything about football or tennis or Rocky Road, and I LOVE talking about ideas. I will happily talk about ideas over breakfast, lunch, after sex and while buying washing machines.  I’ve been known to beguile ten hour car trips with nine hour arguments about the existence of god.  I SHOULD BE AN HONORARY CZECH!

Ironically – once when the Demon Ex and me were arguing about how we might weld together our respective families, he said ‘Well the thing is your kids are so different from mine – they’re not used to conducting dinner table conversation in Italian (his kids aren’t Italian, btw), or relaxing for a spot of Rachmaninov before bedtime’.  No – they like Lady Gaga, and World of Warcraft!  Guess it served me right, the Arrogant Intellectual being put in the Bogan Basket along with all the other beknighted aussies.

We Aussies sometimes get pissed off with Asians because, look, they come to this country, right! and THEN whaddya know, they’re sending their kids to violin lessons and Advanced Physics for Kindergarteners!  It’s not fair!  How come all the top university entrants are called Nguyen or Wong these days!  Why don’t these people relax and let their kids watch tv after school like normal people!

As a normal Aussie parent whose kids are competing with the violin virtuosos from across the ocean, never mind the Italian-speaking Rachmaninov-imbued kids of my British ex-partner, I can’t help thinking it’s downright un-Australian to try too hard to be clever.  On the other hand, if nobody does, I won’t have anyone to talk to.

I can always talk to Mr F though.  A couple of nights ago my 17 year old sweetipie was having a ball trying to convince my friend that the free market was the solution to all of society’s problems.  Mr F’s bedtime reading at the moment is something like ‘The A-Z of Economic Theory’ (building on a solid intellectual base of World of Warcraft).   Anyway it was just lovely to watch how Mr F’s little blue eyes lit up with intellectual enjoyment as he demolished (what he saw as) my friend’s feeble objections.  It was like turning the ignition key in a BMW and feeling the engine roar. It’s probably ‘intellectual arrogance’ but I like to think of it as using your brain for kicks.

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43 comments

  1. You’re on to something, my thinking friend. Using the brain for kicks! I like it! D’s 28 year old daughter is teaching ENGLISH to, like 2-year olds in Taiwan. Oh and for kicks the Taiwanese kids take EXTRA school on the weekends. OH, they work 10 hours a day, and for fun take chess! None of them have seen Gilligan’s Island, i’m sure of it! What a crisis!

    • Yeah, it is a culture clash! They value education so highly in the confucian system. It seems silly to resent it – fair’s fair, if you work hard you get the results..but still I think some Aussies do. And I do think the Aussie value (if you could say there is one) of ‘stuff work, have a beer mate’ is not so bad!

  2. A great post. When I was studying medicine at university most of my fellow females had to pretend to be working in Woolworths to get dates. Pathetic. I left the country decades ago because I was so bored. I have long pondered this question about stupidity, and its twin, the tall poppy syndrome. I met a guy from New York who seems to get it – the country is just so isolated. It’s like a cul de sac. In most countries, when people emigrate they keep going back, the cultural and intellectual exchange continues, but going to Oz people just seem to collapse on the beach and stay there. There just isn’t enough people concentrated in one place to get much serious intellectualism fermenting. Most of the great minds come to Europe – Germain Greer, Clive James, John Pilger, the list goes on and it continues to go on. Many people blame the weather, and affluence and that is another aspect. Great thinking usually comes from trying to solve problems, but if you’re sitting watching the sun set on a warm evening with a beer in your hand, what problems have you got? Horses for courses, and the Oz course is a pretty easy one.

    • I think Australians are pretty intelligent (well why not, it’s not like intelligence runs in countries) – but we have a chip on our shoulder about it. We don’t think intellectualising is fun so we if we can avoid it we do. For people like me and it seems you too, it can be horribly boring!

  3. I have to agree with Carrie Rubin (I nod my head up and down yes, yes, every time I read one of her comments) I have never heard of the Hills Hoist – that looks simply amazing. Even though I don’t have kids, I think it is very important they get a childhood filled with playing and a chance to be just kids…life becomes complicated so quickly.

    • It’s a clothesline, it’s supposed to be in every Aussie backyard (and doubles as something kids swing round and round on, when they’re little enough, or put sheets over to make a cubby thing). Brilliant us! And yeah, I think playing and lying around and just wasting time is important at any time of life…

  4. It’s not just Aussies. It’s Americans, too. And, it’s one of the reasons I frequently find myself alone in the midst of social gatherings. Too much conversation about the trivial — yes, is that sausage the most perfectly grilled sausage ever? let’s discuss for 30 minutes. Also, it pretty much describes the Republican party in the U.S. — which seems to believe that anything that reeks of intelligence or thought is something to be ridiculed.

    • God yeah – the republican party seems full of self righteous morons. There’s a place for the trivial, even I don’t want to discuss the meaning of life ALL the time – but yeah, sausages for thirty minutes? Noooooo! Or..shoes, diets, sport, beer, hair….yawn…

  5. We have the same perception in Canada – we aren`t lazy, Asians are driven to the point that they cannot enjoy their life – until they are our bosses, and earn more than us. Must be a commonwealth thing, I remeer the same things being said about SE Asians when I was growing up in the UK. Tgis is funny, though, thanks

  6. Except for that awful-but-quite-charming shit you Aussies do to the English language, I don’t think we’re much better in the States. We glorify reality-show idiots who must have quit school after the 3rd grade, and we glorify rappers (I don’t care what color they are, they’re all flippin’ morons), emulating their thoughts and the STUPIDEST of their talk so that we can sound “cool” (or “street”, I guess the term is). We don’t glorify brains. We have a knee-jerk reaction to joblessness and economic crisis and create legions of morons like the Tea Party.
    But yeah, you are so right about kids needing to have fun. It chaps my ass when people want to have school year-round. I’m one of the first to say that kids are lazier than dirt these days, but for f**k’s sake, summer is summer and kids will cherish the memory of the trip to somewhere or the summer at grandma’s a lot more than they’ll remember taking some test. They need love, chores, books, and FUN, not just one thing. (Says the dad who let his little girl sit at the computer for 3 hours this morning)

    • Awful but charming…thanks! That made me laugh (we think the same about you :)) Well if terrorists ever target the less-than-intellectually-gifted, they’ll know where to find them – on the set at Jerry SPringer or whatever the current show is. Talking about little girls on computers, Ms M spends all day on hers. She says she’s so glad she has the internet, it’s taught her all sorts of things..grammar, spelling, history! Weird sexual stuff she oughtn’t to know about at her age.

  7. How lovely to have a child like Mr. F! (My 15 year old has the same tendencies, explaining to the rest of us why the God Particle is actually called the God Particle…) Apparently the Demon Ex could not see the true gifts of your children. One more reason to have given him the heave ho!

  8. Mate!!! (how can you say that thinking is un-Australian), Mate??? (it’s really not you know, but I think it just comes from laziness, or maybe it is a kind of common language male language, and I suppose sport is one of those easy topics where males share a commonality), Mate (some of us blokes also struggle with the whole sport thing too), Mate (and quite a few of us males find conversations questioning ethical relativism and economics fun too), Mate (but I’ll admit that quite a lot of us males also find looking at womens boobs and other parts stimulating as too, but you already know that, female appreciation is another common male language).

    I’m glad you and Mr. F. around, it would be so boring if all that we Aussie’s spoke about over dinner and at BBQ’s was sport, cars, power tools and women. Mental gymnastics is a lot of fun and I know what you mean about using your brain for kicks. Having a long discussion on car trips is a whole lot more interesting when it’s not about the places we are driving through, the weather, or the usual humdrum. If you’re going to be stuck in a mobile prison (your car) you may as well enjoy the conversation and open your horizons a bit.

    So bring on the intellectual social discourse, even when listening to Rachmaninov, although I prefer Beethoven, Chopin, even Guns and Rose or Jimmy Barnes. I’d love to have a conversation at the table in Italian, but I am currently language disabled, but I am working on it. BTW, I don’t think you are a ‘normal’ Aussie parent, you have raised to very intelligent, independent, and free thinking kids, and that is down to you Rose.

    CS
    (Who loves being trapped in a car with Rose having long discussions about the animal cruelty, the futility of war, and sex)

      • Guns and Roses, you’ll have to kill the real Guns and Roses first if you want to use their name for your band. If you need a guitarist who now can play at least 7 chords (badly), then I’m your man, assuming its not a girl band your planning 🙂

      • well yeah, I guess I will need a guitarist – unless it’s going to be like Milli Vanilli. You have to wear tight black leather pants though and grow your hair long. Piercings might help.

      • Ok, you’re on, I’m off to the get those earings I’ve been lusting after for some time, get a pair of real leather pants tight enough to show every lump and bump (note to self, must remember to leave enough space for the pair of socks to pad it out), I’m not visiting the barber again, I don’t have to anyway now since I am no longer wearing green, and what the heck, a few tattoos too. All I need now is that chest hair implant, and maybe a ponytail? Oh that’s right, only middle aged advertising executives have ponytails now days… CS

  9. I visit Australia once a year (I once picked cucumbers on a nudist commune to make ends meet. Picking cucumbers is not a particularly affirming activity for a naked man to undertake. One cannot help but feel inferior) and I think, yeah, Australians tend to see over-intellectualism as being a waste of time (that doesn’t mean they value being unintelligent). They just see things as either “is” or “is nit”. The shades of grey aren’t useful to them – and when you live in a country when there are 50 different things that can kill you between your back step and the outhouse, maybe they have a point. In America, however, the situation is altogether more dire. We are punished for questioning anything – punished, by the way, from both sides – liberals are shrill and think too much according to Republicans and Republicans like me have “drunk the kool aid” or are “fascists” because we question the intellectual vapidity of the liberal agenda. meanwhile, the President listens to the opinions of Oprah, Jay-Z and George Clooney. We’re screwed. I;d have more chance of getting ahead int his country if I had of foregone 5 years at Rutger’s and worked on getting an orange tan and some abs instead!

    The hope for Aussies is that there is hope. Keep bringing in the violin and physics kids and ban the bible and guns. You’ll be fine in 20 years!

    • That’s hilarious – picking cucumbers in the nude!! I agree, here there’s that thing of political correctness too, people are afraid to question certain things because they’ll be labelled as racist or out of line in some way. It’s important that people are able to question ANYTHING – that’s how societies grow. If somebody says something like ‘Asians stink and we should drop a bomb on them’ (or something) the best reaction is to say ‘why’ and tell the person why you don’t agree, not to just shut them down. The exception is lawbreaking though and incitement to violence, in my view.

    • I would have real trouble being a nudist at a farm picking cucumbers, far too suggestive, I’d need to carry around a bucket of ice to tip over myself. Cucumbers, zucchini, watermelons, in fact all melons, far too suggestive for my liking… I’ve heard tales of men scooping out the inards and using them for all sorts of strange purposes… Some people get really turned on by the vegetable aisle at supermarkets… CS (Rose knows all about this subject see, http://livinginfairyland.wordpress.com/2012/03/07/hot-as-a-cucumber/)

  10. Oh girl, Aussie’s and “Americans” (and by that I mean U.S. citizens) have so much in common! Like the urge to be dumber than your’ average bear. Then there are those of us that fit in the category of “the intellectual elite” which is a crack-up, since it’s the “dumb” that are the elitists! (when Obama was running, there were all these morons complaining about him being the intellectual elite, which was mind boggling to me, since I would PREFER that my President was more intelligent than I. Seriously!!!!)
    I’m glad your’ kid’s smart, I’m glad my kid’s smart, I’m glad WE’RE smart! I hope the rest of our peeps catch up sometime in the future (Bill Gates and the high-tech world is helping a bit with that!)
    Okay, that rant over, let me just say. i think the Aussie and American propensity to “dumb down” probably has something to do with the continual need of the child (us!) to separate from the parent (England)!

    • Maybe – I hadn’t thought of that, about the child/parent relationship! Yeah it is odd that people didn’t like Obama cause he was clever. It’s like the pollies (politicians) can be either representative (ie dumb-ish) or clever, but not both. I guess also that shows that your last guy wasn’t right for you – as my last guy wasn’t for me. The right guy will LIKE that we’re not thick, and admire our kids for their adorable qualities!

      • Well, they kept saying they wanted a president they could have a beer with, like Bush which was ironic, since George W. was clean and sober. I personally think it would be a hoot to have a beer with Obama, since than man is SMART and oh boy do I love to hear him talk, though I suppose I could understand being intimidated by him, and…no, no I couldn’t, I have a couple of friends (yes, only two!) who are smarter than me, and, even though I’m intimidated by them , I it as a challenge!
        As to the guy: Yes, ABSOLUTELY! Not the right guy at all! I retrospect, I think I thought that he was brighter than he was (I ascribed to him the previous beau’s intelligence) and I also thought he was weirder than he was…here’s to us finding an intelligent weird that appreciates us, and our’ terribly-terribly smart kids!
        And here’s to the Bill Gates types that make intelligence “sexy”!!!

      • They say that kind of thing here too – we had a PM, Paul Keating, who was supposed to be a bit ‘above it all’, wore French tailored suits, listened to classical music – a certain proportion of Aussies didn’t like it. I once had a dream Obama was an ex boyfriend of mine – isn’t that weird. Possibly because I used to date a lot of Nigerians. The thing I like most about Bill Gates apart from his giving money away is that he seems to be faithful or at least stick to his wife. I LIKE that. Of course, so does Bush but then…hmmm.

  11. I enjoyed your post and all the comments that followed. Had me laughing with the odd omg! I contemplated my two cents worth coming from South Africa, the huge drop in our education system since ’94 hence our very expensive private schooling, private hospitals, private private everything. You would cry if you had the no brainers we have in government etc. But let me stop at that as I would open one serious can of. . .

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