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By Bill Mead
Columnist Emeritus 

'Articulate incompetents' should be ignored

The Overall Picture


Today, We Honor The Overall Man Classic Bill Mead

Reprinted with permission

Every so often I read something of such devastating truth that I wonder how I have lived so long without having thought of it myself. I am thinking about an article I read not long ago that said, "Intuition is our only defense against the articulate incompetent".

I think most of us suspect that far too many problems are created by people who can spout idiotic twaddle in the most convincing ways. Unless we have confidence in our own horse sense we are apt to be swept along toward disaster when we hear such glittering oratory.

If this has happened to you, don't be embarrassed. Entire nations have made the same mistake-for example, Germany's enthusiastic response to Adolph Hitler's lies and half-baked theories.

In my experience, the real hotbed of articulate incompetents lies on the nation's college campuses. Professors seldom have to demonstrate that their heads are on straight because they don't have to put up or shut up as most of us are compelled to do sooner or later. No matter how preposterous their notions, it's almost impossible to get rid of them because of tenure and the blind conviction, fostered by professors themselves, that academic freedom requires that stupid teachers be considered as worthy as smart ones.

The upshot is that employers value college diplomas a lot less than advocates of higher learning will admit. Employers have found that it takes awhile for many eager young graduates to go through the intellectual decompression necessary to re-enter the real world. Business managers, who have to make things work, are finding it increasingly irksome to bother with self-important holders of degrees whose education has rendered them marginal, if not totally unsuitable, for any practical endeavor.

You're absolutely right when you point out that higher education is essential for many professions and occupations. I would not want to be operated on by a brain surgeon who has learned his craft through trial and error. My gripe is really aimed at the prevailing system of hiring and retaining college instructors. Instead of valuing people with practical experience, faculties and administrators are openly hostile to any colleague who has been contaminated by too much fraternization with real people doing real jobs.

If you think this is sour grapes on my part, let me confess that I hold a university degree. I learned a lot of worthwhile stuff while enrolled in the university-most of it from off-campus jobs I did between classes to support a wife and two kids.

If you don't know Bill: Bill Mead was the longtime publisher of the Tehachapi News, along with Betty Mead, his wife and partner of more than 50 years. Known for his keen wit, which could be gentle or scathing or somewhere in between but was often self-deprecatory, Bill's writing won him a wide following among News readers. His column "The Overall Picture" ran in the News for more than 25 years, and in 1999 he published a collection of his columns in a volume entitled The Napa Valley Outhouse War. His book is currently available for sale at the Tehachapi Museum for $10.

Bill had a remarkable mind and because of his intelligence, humor and appearance he was regarded by many as Tehachapi's Mark Twain. As Betty used to remind him, he was "older than the oldest Model A Ford" and his wealth of life experiences and rural upbringing allowed him to bring a thoroughly American, 20th century perspective to his reflections and musings on the everyday. Bill passed away in 2008 but his writing lives on.

[Publisher's note: I read Bill's articles during the 80s and 90s and 20s and I am grateful to share them now with our current readers. I hope you enjoy this touch of nostalgia.}


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