On Being Smart and Lazy


The writer Jerry Pournelle HERE; the article is halfway down the page) said conventional wisdom among the military used to judge officers by two variables: by smart and stupid, and by active or lazy.

The active and stupid were to be eliminated. That combination is very dangerous, so obviously it doesn't really need to be explained. Lazy and stupid are the heart of the army, the kind who work their way up from the bottom. Smart and active make good staff officers, but aren't to be promoted, and they are never to be given supreme command. To my surprise, the highest command goes to the smart and lazy.

I was a bit surprised, since I'm smart and lazy. My idea of a good time is to sit in the backyard in a lawnchair after the sun goes down, smoke my pipe and watch my pug run in circles. Or to spend an hour soaking in a bath. My idea of sports is fishing. Yet I'd make it to the top in the military? Hard to believe.

I operate on the assumption that the military, having been around for thousands of years, knows what it's talking about. Since human nature doesn't change, you can take those variables and apply them to other fields. What about politics? If you do, you'll encounter something pretty scary.

George Bush is not a stupid man, but he doesn't use his brains. Even David Frum, himself close to an intellectual midget, accurately described Bush as "incurious." Since Bush doesn't use his brains, he is stupid.

He's also active, having been busy the past few years invading Afghanistan and Iraq , and is making noises about Iran and maybe Syria . In other words, he's unwittingly started World War III. That's what comes of stupid and active politicians. I find it no surprise Bush couldn't make it in the military; I suspect a lot of officers see straight through Bush.

Bush is stupid and active, as are some politicians. That's why they cause so many problems. An example of a man who is smart and lazy (lazy as a politician) is Ron Paul, who is an exemplar of what every politician should be.

I would judge the average politician as smart and active. Good staff officers, but never to be promoted. Yet we have a President who is stupid and active, and a Congress that's overwhelmingly smart and active. People who have no business being in their positions are in their positions, only because of politics.

Hitler, for example, was a consummate politician, one who was described as half-genius, half-insane. He was smart and active, yet when in the military, his commanding writers wrote of him that they could not detect in him any qualities for being an officer. Although people think he never made it beyond corporal, he really never made it beyond private first class.

I once wrote an article a few years ago about what I would do if I was the King of America. I'd gamble, chase women, drink wine, grow roses, and do several other things, none of them political. I'd get rid of most laws and let the free market take care of itself. In other words, I'd actualize my smart and lazy self. And I'd make a good king.

Bush reminds me of a cartoon, Pinky and the Brain. He's not Brain; he's the always active, indeed hyperactive, and, of course stupid, Pinky. He's an amiable dunce.

Behind Pinky stands the smart and active Brain. Who stands behind Bush? The smart and active Cheney? Rumsfeld? Rove? All these guys are like Brain -- smart and active, in many ways the guiding force behind Bush.

Every one of the neocons in the administration is smart and active -- the kind never to be given top command. Yet that's what they have. Hayek was absolutely right -- the worst do get on top. Politics is not our friend.

The problem with politics is that it always attracts the active, whether they're smart or stupid. The public is the one that pays for their activity. If we have to have politicians, we need lazy ones. The best, of course, would be lazy and smart.

Don't look at me, though. I'm not interested. I am, of course, much too smart, and too lazy, to fall for the con job known as politics.

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Bob Wallace's picture
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