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The rich or the wise?

One thing I’ve noticed in connection with climate debates is that in any dispute between the rich and the intelligent, most people tend to side with the rich. And now that I think about it, that seems to be true in general. It doesn’t matter if you’re a greedy, dishonest bastard, or if you hurt people below you on your mad rush to the top. If you’re rich, people not only like you better, they’re also more likely to assume that what you say is true—even when you’re promoting an agenda that’s going to hurt a lot of the people who believe you.

Health care reform is another example. You can be smart, you can be well educated, you can sit down and actually read the text of the Affordable Care Act and see that nowhere does it make any provision for setting up a “death panel” to deny Grandma her badly-needed medical care. But if you’re rich, and conservative, that doesn’t matter. You can tell people they’re going to have death panels, and people will believe you even when they can read the law for themselves and see that you are lying. You’ve got a ton of money, so obviously you must know what you’re talking about.

In a way, I can see how this would be the natural order of things. People like rich people better than they like poor people. You hang around people who are too needy, it can get annoying, right? But rich people create an atmosphere of privilege and entitlement, and that’s extremely attractive (especially if you’re one of the needy people that you yourself would not want to hang around with). People support and defend the rich because they want to identify with the rich, in case Fortune should somehow carelessly let a little of that excess wealth slosh over onto them.

Meanwhile, smart doesn’t rub off on people as easily as cash does. If someone is smarter than you, more than likely that means they’re going to be competition. They’re going to make you look stupid in front of your friends. They’re going to contradict you and make you feel stupid yourself. They’re going to try and tell you what to do, because they know better than you do. There’s just lots of opportunities for their intelligence to be a liability to you, and your best defense is to hang out with a bunch of other people and basically exclude the smart-asses from having a say in anything you all agree to do.

Obviously these are very broad generalizations with a lot of wiggle-room and outright exceptions. But the overall trend, the net effect, is that people are more likely to believe the rich than the wise, and that’s the road back to feudalism. Somehow we need to get people to wake up and remember that wisdom is for everyone, and that smart people are even readier to share their wisdom than rich people are to share their money. The Internet can help, but it seems to me that we need more than that. Any ideas?