Yes, Pamela, more true thinkers do come to Miami than flee
Written by Michael Lewis on August 27, 2014
A flock of folks have been all atwitter about an opinion piece by a former Miamian that essentially says we’re a city of birdbrains.
Pamela Druckerman carefully researched her piece that ran in the New York Times this month by recalling her childhood, talking with not only several friends but at least two academics, and looking around during a two-week vacation visit.
She noted that we’re so shallow that “when I left for college, I put Miami behind me, and tried to have a life of the mind.” She concluded that “Miami may one day be the city for normal-looking people with semi-intellectual aspirations and a mild social conscience. But it’s not there yet.”
As for social conscience, we’re pretty sure most folks here have one, though many won’t match that of Ms. Druckerman, who denigrates our “anti-Castro rants.” Perhaps she should define the kind of social conscience that she will accept as valid.
We can’t speak with any authority about what “normal-looking people” should look like. Clearly to Ms. Druckerman we don’t look normal, but then beauty – and normal looks – are in the eye of the beholder. Only her ophthalmologist and her beauticians can speak to her ability to make that judgment.
But we can speak of this: while Ms. Druckerman left us and headed for Paris in order to have “a life of the mind,” research that we summarized on our front page last week proves that far more intellectuals have been flowing into this area in recent decades than have been moving out. Ms. Druckerman might or might not be exceptional, but she is clearly an exception.
The study by researchers from Miami and Texas examined the places of birth and of death of 150,000 notable thinkers over the past 2,000 years, sorting them into categories like academics, art and architecture, and others. It found a massive preponderance of inflow of thinkers into this area over the outflow – in one group alone, 15 of the prominent thinkers were born in Florida but 236 in that category died here.
The researchers unfortunately did not pinpoint Miami-Dade County in their study, so it’s barely possible that all the great thinkers of the nation and the globe who have ended their lives in Florida went to Jacksonville or Tampa or Orlando and skipped South Florida – though all sorts of anecdotal evidence says no.
We know, for example, that the massive influxes from Cuba and Latin America in general and Europe have brought the highly educated to Miami even while we have in truth had a brain drain of some of our brightest young people, a group that might include Ms. Druckerman. Many of those bright people did, however, return later in life.
We also realize that as a new city on the map – Miami is now only 118 years old, a baby in global terms – we are both rapidly changing and extremely vulnerable to criticism, valid or not.
We are also prone to overreact to external critics like Ms. Druckerman. Paris might shrug off a magazine cover headlined “Paris: Paradise Lost?” but Miami trembled when its name was in that headline on Time’s cover in the early 1980s.
So we’re highly sensitive when the New York Times writes us off under the headline “Miami Grows Up. A Little.”, even though it’s just an opinion piece by an outsider.
Let’s pray that such opinions change.
Perhaps Ms. Druckerman will someday move back and spend the rest of her life in Miami to follow the trend of prominent thinkers flowing in – though we’d need to know a bit more about her to see if she fits into any of the researchers’ categories. She might have settled on “a life of the mind,” but not every striver succeeds.