I signed a petition on Change.org earlier this week, requesting that someone get Jon Stewart to moderate one of the 2016 Presidential debates. I have absolutely no idea if he wants to; right now he's busy guest-hosting WWE events, of which he is a longtime fan, and stopping just short of going eeeeeeheeheeheheeee like a prepubescent fangirl whenever they let him into the ring. I wish to note, for the record, that 1) they don't let you get body-slammed by pro wrestlers unless you've practiced that first; 2) he's not doing too badly for a guy on the far side of fifty who routinely describes himself as "a hundred and fifty pounds of osteoporosis"; and 3) his dress sense, when not in costume as a news anchor, can be summed up in sexist meme terms as 'adjunct faculty in the humanities, whose wife has completely given up', and if he were one of my undergrad instructors, I would absolutely hit this man up for weed.

I know exactly why I want him to do it, which is that I am as human as anyone else, and I like seeing people like me do important things where society listens to what they say.

Jon Stewart is the genius kid that the other genius kids characterize as 'smart'. I know how that works, because that's me, too. My intelligence isn't my only personal trait, just like my hair isn't my only physical feature. It's just that my hair is three feet long and titian red, so when people describe me to strangers, they tend to mention it pretty early in the conversation.

Intelligence is not the be-all and end-all of human existence, and it does not always matter -- but when it does matter, it matters a whole fucking lot, and that goes equally well whether the situation is such that having a brain the size of a planet is a help or a detriment. It's a great help in school, where it allows you to have a college career like Stewart's, in which, by his own admission, he coasted to a degree at William & Mary mainly by memorizing other people's notes between bong hits and soccer practice.

(Note to the insanely smart kids: When people yell at you that you can't skate by on raw brainpower and cramming forever, they are lying. What they actually mean there is, "I am angry at you for not appearing to prioritize, and therefore pour all of your potential, into this thing I think you should consider important". You can absolutely skate by on raw brainpower and cramming when dealing with subjects you don't personally give a shit about, and you will be able to do so all your life. As long as you continue to meet the minimum formal standards required to progress, they cannot stop you. You can't skate by like that and expect to blow people away with the stuff you do give a shit about, but if you give a shit, expending the effort to do well is kind of by definition not going to be a problem. You do need to teach yourself how to do things properly at some point, but once you know how, you are free to choose when not to bother doing it.)

Where it is generally not a help is in interpersonal relationships. I tend not to mention whether I consider people intelligent when talking to others, because I understand that IQ is not a direct measure of your worth as a person. I'm bothered more by willful, malicious ignorance than I am by actual clinical stupidity. But it does make a very big difference to me when I'm choosing who I want in my circle of close friends, because the ability to follow my rambles without getting that deer-in-headlights look is something I absolutely require from people before I'm willing to pour my heart out to them. There is little worse than trying to explain yourself to someone and realizing that they've started to look worried because your reasoning and references are so far beyond what they can deal with that they can't see a practical difference between you and someone who has stopped taking their antipsychotics.

I am well aware that I am smart to the point where my test results are meaningless. I am far past that liminal threshold where extra neural connections don't make you think faster, they make you think differently. Brains like mine are statistically very rare, and as much as it makes me feel like a snob and a heel sometimes, it does severely restrict the number of people I feel comfortable really talking to. It gives me issues even when doing things like finding a decent doctor. I don't like having to 'manage' medical personnel, and if the doctor whose office I land in is intimidated or pissed off or worried by whatever impulse makes me show up with a hundred pages of NEJM and JAMA articles on the first day, then I don't trust that they'll understand or even listen to any of my concerns. I dragged my feet for two and a half weeks this time around, hoping (successfully, I think) to get a new resident who wanted to grow up to be House, because that was the only way I was going to have a real conversation with the person who prescribes me brain-drugs.

Jon Stewart sounds like me. When he does interviews and his guest somehow winds up light-years away from whatever they're meant to be promoting, he pulls random but totally relevant shit out of the mental equivalent of hammerspace without missing a beat. He is reported to feed books and script pages into his brain so quickly the staff isn't 100% sure he's actually reading them. It is easier and faster to assume he knows everything and let him correct you when he doesn't than the reverse. He told Natalie Portman once that the reason he liked having her on the show so much was that she was smarter than he was, and the fact that he delivered that as a sincere compliment instead of a self-deprecating joke speaks volumes. There's a whole network of people around him for me to poke through, because despite being this quick and loud and caterwampus and generally formidable, Stewart has friends. I only wish this had all been around to watch when I was twelve and the kids at school were still launching playground balls at my head for fun, and I needed some reassurance that someday I'd potentially find a group of people who didn't hate me or stare at me in terror.

The petition does point out that Stewart has more experience talking to politicians without punching them in the face than a lot of people who are legitimate journalists. He's virtually impossible to intimidate, which would be a great asset to someone trying to ride herd on people whose entire career description is "disagree vehemently with the other guy, while convincing everyone else you should be handed absolute power". Assuming he wanted to take the job, he is one of the few media people I'd trust to be equally annoying to anyone who tried to drag the debate off topic, regardless of personal or party affiliation. The main issue would be resisting the temptation to be a wiseass whenever his microphone was turned on, which seems to be both a lifelong problem for him, and the entire foundation of his comedy career.

But mainly, I'm just self-interested, and I want representation as much as anyone else. People like me don't generally want to run the world. Too much trouble, too little free time. And lately, we've been the object of scorn from people who think it's elitist that only scientists get to weigh in on science matters, because complete ignorance of the topic at hand totally shouldn't prevent you from drowning out the discussion with repetitive shouting. (Changing. Slowly. And doing so in part because of Jon Stewart and his protégés, like John Oliver and Stephen Colbert and Larry Wilmore, and their aiding and abetting their nerd friends, like Neil de Grasse Tyson, in getting onto popular TV.) But we have our uses, and one of them is being a complete hardass about keeping people from winning debates with argumentum ad ignoratium or worse ex hebetudine, because we are fast enough to spot that balloon as it inflates, and definite enough to stab it with an ice pick before it floats free.

The petition was at about 80k or so when I signed. It's surpassed 300k signatures now. It jumped from 200k to 300k in less than a day, in fact. I don't know if anyone can get Jon Stewart himself to take the job, but I'm hoping that it will at least get the idea across that these things should be moderated by someone who isn't already part of the political clique, and doesn't want to be. Sign it if you want, ignore it if you don't, share it if you think people will be interested. I kind of want to stop feeling that the world is run by people who actively think my input is worthless because I'm intelligent and educated.


  1. Have you managed to track down any clips of The Jon Stewart Show? That was out when I was 12, not as political as TDS, but it was fun, Stewart was young and spry and it was the origin of my crush on him, which led me to squee madly when he first took over TDS.

    1. There are a few on YouTube. His monologue writers were bloody awful back then, and he knew it. He's incredibly nervous, has developed a number of reflexive reactions for when a joke bombs, and a couple of times just looks straight at camera through the prompter and announces 'nope, not gonna do that one, it's terrible'. In the interview segments when he's allowed to just ramble, it goes pretty much like it always did on TDS.

      I would hazard a guess that he has almost literally always sounded like that. Stewart is aware enough of his own intelligence, and has probably caught enough shit for it over the years, that he probably decided early on that it just wasn't worth being intimidated by pretty much anything. It was zero surprise to me when someone mentioned what his undergrad degree was in, and it turned out to be psychology. Those go almost exactly like my sociology degree did: You read a bunch of stuff, you develop opinions on it, and then you explain them to other people at great length. He probably could have done it in three years, if he hadn't been so busy getting high and playing soccer.


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