In one of his books, the great novelist Saul Bellow coined the invaluable term "high I.Q. moron." Bellow's term is supremely important to us because people with very bad ideas or insipid thoughts often are assumed to be on to something primarily because they are otherwise intelligent people.
Bellow knew better and used his term to describe those who did not lack intelligence but lacked the ability to make any sense of how to use it. One can only truly understand the significance of the term when realizing that one of the most highly respected philosophers of the 20th century was Martin Heidegger, who was a knowing member of the Nazi Party. So much for his intelligence.
In a recent commencement speech, Barack Obama cited Thomas Jefferson as an American thinker who knew that education was essential to the quality of the nation's democracy. The president also pointed out how dangerous bad information is to the quality of our democracy because of what it does to those who can be misled into paranoid hysteria.
Rational, sustained engagement is always the best democratic answer.
This was made clearer than ever last week. It was the 25th anniversary of the police bombing of the home and headquarters of MOVE, a black liberation organization, in Philadelphia. The bombing of the group turned into a wildfire and a shootout that destroyed 61 homes, took the lives of 11 people and sent 30 people to prison.
MOVE was a putrid but classic example of the lunacy set in place by the most extreme version of black nationalism and the supposedly revolutionary intentions of thugs taught Marxist rhetoric in the Black Panther Party.
MOVE's founder and leader was a man born with another name who called himself John Africa. Judging from what his followers say of him, Africa might have wanted the moon or might have felt that he came here from there. A functional illiterate who dropped out of school in the third grade, Africa offered a black version of survivalist paranoia, rhetoric and the brandishing of weapons.
Like Ruby Ridge and Waco, the fatal level of Keystone Kop work in Philadelphia cannot be defended. Surviving members of the MOVE battle were awarded, at the high end, more than $1 million for what they suffered.
But residents of the neighborhood destroyed by the police were outraged by what had happened and did not actually mourn the members of MOVE, an organization that they hated.
At community meetings, Philadelphia's first black mayor, Wilson Goode, was told that if he did not take care of MOVE, he would be responsible for the neighborhood people taking care of it.
At Ruby Ridge, at Waco and in Philadelphia, law enforcement was wrong, and the consequences were tragic. The problem was a poorly thought-out, irresponsible strategy.
At the very same time, however, we must acknowledge this: The country and the system represented by law enforcement were as marvelous as they have always been at their best.
Admission of the truth is essential to maintaining faith in the government. But we need to remember that the truth is one of the first casualties when paranoids take charge.
Stanley Crouch can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.