SUV Smart.

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 3.618% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

Regular cars don’t do well on Alaskan roads in winter. Fifteen, sometimes twenty inches of snowdrifts are not uncommon. If you’re driving a regular car, sometimes you get stuck by the side of the road and have to wait for a tow truck.
If you have a beefy SUV with the right tires, though, you can go anywhere. You can plow your own path down any damn road you please. So the folks with SUVs charge out into the teeth of howling snow-storms…
And get themselves stuck in even deeper snowdrifts in the middle of nowhere, where even the tow trucks can’t get to them. Back in the days before cell phones, I’m told, people died regularly from driving deep.
A very smart person is like an SUV, in that they can get themselves into big trouble without even recognizing it.
See, a normal person comes up with a dumb idea, and they can’t justify it properly. They make a few spluttering arguments, people haul out the obvious counterarguments, and they’re done. Maybe they’re not entirely convinced, but there’s that nagging “Well, yeah” lurking at the back of their thoughts that they either have to surgically remove, or they walk around with a shadow of well-earned doubt.
Intellectually speaking, they get stuck by the side of the road in a nice residential neighborhood, where they can trudge through the snow to their neighbor who’ll offer them a hot cocoa while they wait for the tow truck to arrive.
Ah, but a smart person can justify any damned fool idea they please! When a friend brings out the obvious counterargument for their silly concept, the smart person takes it as a challenge – “How can I prove this other guy wrong?”
And if they’re really clever, they find some superficial flaw in the counterargument and sink their hooks into that. They’ll absolutely wreck that flaw, convincing themselves that someone’s bad grammar or slightly misstated fact disproves the Death Star-sized mass of common sense behind it, and then move on to increasingly elaborate justifications to prove…
Well, anything you want.
See, when you’re really smart, you can treat the world like science fiction: there’s literally no fact you can’t devise a reasonable-sounding rationale for. Get smart enough, and you can argue the smartest, most correct people to a standstill.
That’s why you see very smart people flinging out thousands of words on how it was Martians that killed JFK, or how the Illuminati cover up the truth of the Hollow Earth. They’re so SUV Smart that nobody can contradict them.
Conspiracy nuts are obvious. Unfortunately, most SUV Smart people start small and stay small – they convince themselves that they’re compassionate people when they’re screwing over all their friends, or they’ve convinced themselves that their lucky breaks are proof that everyone who works hard gets rewarded with success.
And when they are presented with new facts, they don’t even realize it, but they treat the new fact like a game: How can I best defend my thesis? Which turns into a rousing round of “How can I spin this contradictory evidence to support my world view?” when what they should be doing is questioning their central premises.
But they don’t. Because being right is a heroin-like reward for SUV Smart people. They like being smart, and convincing other people is the needle in the vein.
And here’s the thing that SUV Smart people often don’t realize until it’s too late: You can win an argument that the airplane’s methodology for sensing solid terrain is deeply flawed at this height in this weather, but that does not move the mountain in front of you.
That snow is gonna getcha eventually.
And you see SUV Smart people infesting comments threads everywhere. They’re the folks with dazzling arguments bolstering amazingly stupid concepts, hauling out Wikipedia links or logical flourishes to justify their comments.
SUV Smart people often lead pretty wretched lives. Some are staggeringly wealthy, yet have five divorces and no close friends. Yet they hold up their wealth as proof that they’re good at everything they do. Others are staggeringly poor, living in their friends’ basement, yet their crappy circumstances are dismissed because that’s not relevant to this argument.
If you’re catching on by now the SUV Smart person can take anything in their life and spin it, well, you’re seeing the problem. They’re deep in a snowdrift somewhere, about to get mired, and they don’t see it because the mighty engine of their intellect has gotten them far into the woods and it’ll always get them farther.
All they have to do is step on the gas harder.
If you’re not an SUV person, the best defense I can give you is to remember that “Smartness” is not a universal talent – you’re smart in certain areas. I’m a programmer, but you wouldn’t want me doing brain surgery.
Yet SUV Smart people have a habit of claiming their smartness makes them good at everything they want to be good at. You gotta look at their record, then. If a smart writer claims to be good at predicting politics, go back and read their old essays – were they actually good at predicting politics, or did they predict badly and then justify their bad decisions?
And if you’re an SUV Smart person – I used to be, and on my worst days I still am – then you have to realize that convincing other people does not make you right. You can out-argue, outlast, and outwit all comers, but at the end of the day you’re not changing anything but minds.
It doesn’t matter how good you feel about driving into the woods on a snowstormed night, or how many people you have convinced that you can do this.
All that matters is how deep the snow is.

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