One of Our Best Minds

THE TWILIGHT OF THE AMERICAN MIND. By Walter B. Pitkin. (Simon & Schuster.)

IT is probable that there is no absolutely dependable recipe for literary success, but there is at least one method that seems to have worked pretty well in many notable cases. Roughly stated, it is about as follows: Has some historical character been written up a bit too long? Write the guy down. Has some “great truth” been revealed to an eagerly receptive world? Show it up for the bunk. Has anything been generally regarded as false? Show the bone-heads that it was always true. Has anything been said forwards? Say it backwards. But one must not forget to be extremely clever in a “malicious” and “ironical” fashion, this being, according to our best critics, a certain indication of the civilized mentality. Also, and by all means, be as scientific as possible, if not a great deal more so. Science gets ‘em, especially if you’ve got the statistics. Nobody reads statistics, but there they are and, as everybody knows, figures are incorruptible.

“The Twilight of the American Mind” ought to prove a big success. For some years now we have been hearing how civilization is faced with a “grave crisis,” owing to the rapid breeding of morons and the lamentable dereliction of the best people in the matter of reproduction. Mr. Lothrop, among other strictly scientific gentlemen, has shown us in cold figures how awful the situation is. But just as we are becoming convinced that there really ought to be a law or something, the high tension of horror is relieved by another equally scientific gentleman, a “realistic psychologist” in fact, with an entirely different batch of impressive statistics guaranteed to prove the exact opposite of what we have been fearing almost to the point of nervous breakdown.

What, then, is the true nature of the crisis that confronts us? Is it concerned with prohibition? No. Religious tolerance? No. Outlawing war? No. Prosperity? No. You’ll be surprised, for it is none of these “weighty issues” that weigh so heavily on our great statesmen. The grave crisis with which we shall have to cope very soon, if not much, much sooner, is concerned with nothing less than an overwhelming and steadily increasing number of Best Minds with nothing to do!

So the situation is even worse than we had been led to suppose, and our former horror is displaced with a greater one. Won’t somebody please, please pass a law or something as quickly as possible! Already it is almost too late to do anything about it, for even now we are greatly embarrassed, according to the figures, with more Best Minds than we can use in our national business. And what will it be like in 50 years, considering how rapidly our educational system is developing the hitherto somewhat neglected potentialities of the congenitally Best Minds?

Laugh, you robot, and show your danger line! Can’t you realize that this is scientific stuff vouched for by none other than a “realistic psychologist?”

Well, what then is a Best Mind? A Best Mind is simply one that, by strictly scientific tests, shows an intelligence quotient of 130 or better, 100 being the figure for the average dub.

What is a Best Mind best for? A Best Mind is best for the intelligence test. This is shown clearly enough by our author in his consideration of the painter, Whistler, who, we are assured, had hardly average intelligence by the most generous estimate. No, don’t ask if, by any chance, he may have had a Best Mind for painting. It was the same with Chopin and Schumann and Schubert — all pewees with “feeble psyches.” Bernard Shaw furnishes another horrible example. His mind would be of little value for an intelligence test. Only a moron, with an I. Q. of about 7 or 8, would suggest that the best anything might be best because it is best for something that it is best for, other than an intelligence test.

But we are forgetting this grave crisis, morons that we are — a crisis howling to be met.

Dr. Pitkin has made a thorough survey of all the principle fields of human endeavor in the United States, and he finds that at present only 176,200 Best Minds are needed in our society. How many Best Minds are there in the United States? There are almost exactly 613,800 in our country. Clearly this leaves a balance of 437,600 Best Minds with no suitable job! How will this affect the Best Minds? Psycho-analytically speaking, they will, sooner or later, blow up.

This state of affairs is due to the progressive application of the Ford principle to all our activities. Fewer and fewer Best Minds are needed to manage the routine labor of the robots, and more and more Best Minds are being developed every year.

This won’t do at all.

But is the author in despair? He is not. What solution of the problem does this savant offer? A very, very simple one, as follows:

In fifty years or so there will be so many more Best Minds than suitable jobs that we shall have a class of super-hoboes, “autonomous amateurs,” so to speak, who will roam in droves all over the country, thinking high thoughts and living on handouts!

One can imagine a group of these roving philosophers and scientists passing the battered coffee pot in some “jungle” by the railroad. Along comes the “townbull,” a gent with an I. Q. of, let us say, about 6. “Has youse guys been tested?” he demands to know. All submit their greasy test certificates showing 130 or better, save only one suspicious looking bird with a nose that begins far up in the roots of his hear. The limb of the law rings up on his portable radio and the wagon arrives. The impostor is arraigned before the village tester and can show no better than 99. He gets 90 days in the hoosegow “for vagrancy with an insufficient I. Q.

Let no one suppose that these roving mendicants, these “autonomous amateurs,” so to speak, will be useless. By that time culture will be wholly in the hands of the ladies, and it will be no uncommon thing, one imagines, to see cadaverous savants lecturing at back doors, for the modest honorarium of a dog-biscuit or two, on such subjects as “The quintessential Dynamics of Aeschylean Tragedy” or “The Fourfold Root of the Principle of Sufficiently Ridiculous Asininity.”

It is a prospect that only a Best Mind could have seen. Isn’t realistic psychology fascinating?