Is Quora the un-Twitter? A website that elevates experts above users — really

Man. The smarties at Quora can class up even the lowest partisan bickering. Quora kids don’t ask, Is Mitt Romney a nutcase? That would be too much like normal people. Instead, these Jesuitical know-it-alls ask “Does Mitt Romney have psychopathy?” 

For real: do you see that? Just clinical curiosity over at Quora. No value judgments. Psychopathy. The way you might ask, in passing, no offense intended, if any random dude in the news happened to have eczema or a toe thumb.

The brainy banter on Quora—the wiki site for brand-name pedants that profoundly entertains the 73 readers who still care about what the Establishment thinks—makes for some of the best reading on the Web right now. Yes, it’s a guilty pleasure. In the big, wide, user-generated Twitterverse, you’re supposed to care only about vox-populi poetry and groundswells of trending topics. At the same time, you’re supposed to disdain as so-20th-century the well-turned pensées of bookish smarties who live in Cambridge or Menlo Park. 

Quora lets you give in to nostalgia and value expertise over amateurism. It’s retro that way. Sometimes, like on the odd July day (on Martha’s Vineyard, ideally), a visit to more elitist times feels so, so good. 

Forget following Beyoncé on Twitter.  On Quora, you can follow Larry Summers on economics. Jay Wacker on physics. Jonah Perretti on startups. Marc Andreessen on venture capital. Amy Chua on parenting, for God’s sake!

Seriously who cares when a random commenter on Talking Points Memo says Mitt Romney doesn’t believe in dinosaurs because he’s a Mormon ? Take it, instead, from Jordan Woods, a credentialed Quora expert on NCAA sports and the Spanish language. Woods is also a member of the Church of Latter Day Saints, as Romney is, and he says, “A core tenet of our faith is not dinosaur denialism.” (He wrote “tenant,” but who’s keeping track?)

Woods quotes an intriguing passage from Brigham Young , which Woods conscientiously cites as the Journal of Discourses 14:166, May 14, 1871:  "In these respects we differ from the Christian world, for our religion will not clash with or contradict the facts of science in any particular ...” 

I am sold! I will look no further for answers on this. Romney believes in dinos—or is free to, anyhow. What a relief. From Woods I also learned that, in Brigham Young’s theology, Mormons “differ from the Christian world” in some ways. My mind is opened.

Do Mitt Romney's skills from Bain Capital make him the perfect person to fix a broken economy?” came an inquiry recently on Quora. Venkatesh Rao, who wrote a canny book on strategy and decision-making called “Tempo,” answered to my immense satisfaction.  It’s worth reading his answer in full because it shows how good the (free) content at Quora can be. Rao’s angle on Romney is extremely smart, elegantly rendered, emotionally charged, with a nice side of modesty. (“Those are fairly detailed expectations based on slim, impressionistic evidence.”)

“Many senior roles in large companies might be good training,” Rao begins. “But not Bain.” He goes on in this nifty bloggy style: “It's a business model. But seen in the context of politics, Bain is perfect as a training ground for insider dealings, regulatory capture, secrecy, rent-seeking, conflicts of interest ...” And he adds:

I don't have truly strong opinions about Republicans vs. Democrats and am mostly a centrist or just left of center, but I have to say the idea of Romney as President (and this an impressionistic take based on the Bain history, the Olympics thing, the wealth/lifestyle revelations and just his persona as it comes across on TV) scares me in a way no other candidate (Red or Blue) has in the last 15 years. He is scarier than the nutjobs on both sides because he won't self-destruct through obviously dumb moves. He is scarier than the ideologues because he stands for absolutely nothing and appears to have no deeply held beliefs. He is scarier than the 'smart' ones like Clinton because he appears to have an insider 'game mind' and ability to work institutions without a comparable ability to think about actual issues and hard questions. A possible 'how' genius, but 'why' zombie. And finally he is scarier than the puppet types because he appears to be too smart to be influenced by anything other than stakes offered/traded in insider dealings. Bush Jr. by contrast appeared to be suggestible in other ways, which might have made him a better President if he'd had better advisors around him.

Romney reminds of the Rufus Scrimegeour character in the Harry Potter books. A pure fixer-operator type focused on preserving an illusion of normalcy in very abnormal times, perpetuating toxic status quo balances of power, and pursuing some narrow back room agenda negotiated with a few.

Yeah, those are fairly detailed expectations based on slim, impressionistic evidence. If he wins, I truly hope the responsibilities of office make him grow in some fundamental ways.

Not bad, right? So one big cheer for the kids who have done the reading. 

Quora’s know-it-alls might seem pushy. They might seem nerdy. But they’re not always trying to show someone else up. Most of the time, they’re trying to get it right. Surf Quora for a few hours, and you’ll find they often do.

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