Scurvy

He said some people are smart and some people are dumb.

I asked him, knowing the distinction, where did that put him?

“Intelligent,” he said.

I asked how he knew.

He said there’s two kinds of dumb people – ones that blindly attach themselves to somebody else’s wisdom. And there’s the others that attach themselves to nothing.

“For the dumber ones who find something, it’s usually religion,” he said. “Sometimes politics. Sometimes both. Nevertheless, for the dumb, their understanding is superficial. It’s what I call Cosmetic Wisdom. It’s editorial page wisdom versus John Stuart Mill. Then there’s the abjectly stupid. They don’t even possess somebody else’s wisdom. They have nothing, so they usually amount to nothing.”

“Uh huh,” I said.

“But the intelligent, they use their gift to burrow deeper into things. They don’t take things like scripture or politics or philosophy at face value. That’s the blessing of their intelligence, to be able to go deeper, if they have the fortitude to do so.”

“Like you?” I asked.

“Yeah,” he said. “A follower, as well as a scholar of the doctrines.”

“But a follower and a scholar of just one thing.”

“Mostly,” he said.

“A specialist” I said.

He agreed.

“So your wisdom is different than the Cosmetic Wisdom of the dumb?”

“Yes,” he said. “It’s much deeper. It is a wisdom that tells me not to take things at face value. It is a wisdom that urges me to explore.”

“I think it’s scurvy,” I said. “Intellectual and spiritual scurvy.”

“What do you mean?”

“Eating just one thing leads to scurvy. You can’t subsist on just one thing, like rabbit meat or peanuts. You need the full range of vitamins and minerals. Otherwise, eventually, you get scurvy, even though the proteins in rabbit meat or peanuts, in and of themselves, are very good things.”

“Scurvy?” he mused. “The disease?”

“Yeah,” I said. “Used to be a problem for pirates.”

“Pirates? I’m no pirate. No swashbuckler. I’m an intelligent man – a scholar.”

“It was a problem of nutrition, I mean. Not one of intellectualism for the pirates.”

He looked at me dumbly.

“Starts with bleeding of the gums. Then organ failure. Then death,” I said.

I waited for a response. None came, so I added, “Organ failure’s a long, slow death. It’s not the acutely glamorous death of an idiot jumping off a cliff.”

“I’m not following,” he said.

“Then maybe your deep wisdom isn’t all you think it is. Maybe it’s not much more than cosmetic either.”

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