bush

I’m with stupid

I’ve always thought the big unexplored emancipation or rights movement is helping the unintelligent. Below average intelligence is strongly correlated with poorer life outcomes across many measures. I’m not going all Bell Curve on you here; I say nothing of race or even of the validity of IQ as a single measure of intelligence.  But obviously people with lower cognitive abilities, measured however you like, are at a disadvantage in most spheres of life.

When was the last time you read a novel in which the protagonist was an unintelligent person? Not a novel specifically aiming at portraying a limited consciousness (Golding, Coetzee, Kosinsky), but simply a person who isn’t very smart?1)Writers are smart and generally imbue their characters with the insights they themselves are capable of making. In extreme cases, such as Shakespeare and Faulkner, it hasn’t gone unremarked upon that the authors endow their characters, even the supposedly unlettered, disadvantaged ones, with an eloquence not only beyond the average person, but of the supreme level of those two unusually mellifluous writers. Even unreliable narrators who betray their relative lack of insight are generally insane or immature, not unintelligent. This under-representation has always struck me as being most apparent in novels, but it exists in films and TV too, where protagonists are at the very least, sassy and wise even if they’re not book-smart.

It also still seems to be totally OK to poke fun of dumb people (more so than race/sex) in pop culture — like in all sit-coms where there is at least one character we laugh at for being dumb — yet it is not cool to talk about intelligence levels. Once it’s measured, the politically correct elite waveform collapses and it becomes particulate evil. And yet no one chooses to be brainless2)Been sitting on a draft post for years now. The Atlantic put something out last week, though, which stirred me. It’s the first piece I’ve seen on this topic, but I haven’t been searching for it so maybe there have been others..

That unintelligent people are excluded, by virtue of their plight, from debates about this, is gravely ironic. There will never be an eloquent spokesperson for those of low cognitive ability drawn from their own ranks.

There are certainly various welfare and education programs for people with significant learning difficulties. I wonder then if the people who are not classified as developmentally delayed but who struggle with highly abstract thought, concentration, advanced literacy, etc. are in some ways the most disadvantaged in our education system, most workplaces and our highly information-based culture. It is hard to impress a date, file a tax return, understand election coverage, learn new skills, finish school, source the best accommodation, interrogate social structures, make a spreadsheet, connect with sophisticated artworks, ignore pseudoscience, wade through bureaucracy, plan a renovation, synthesise disparate health advice, or advocate for others’ rights — among many other activities that intelligent people are constantly trying to improve ever more finely.

This seems really obvious, but I also accept that I may be totally misguided. It’s really weird. But my hunch is that I think we need to face up to this as a society, because there is a cognitive elite who don’t have to recognise their privilege, because those outside the elite are largely silent and even within the elite it has become gauche to even talk of different levels of intelligence3)I also don’t think race and gender discrimination are useful analogues here. Intelligence is a real variable or set of variables, regardless of the weakness of our current measurement tools. Having low intelligence really does effect one’s ability to participate in the breadth of human experience and to succeed in any society, especially an information society. Unlike race and gender, this discrimination would not be obviated by others addressing their biases and slow historical redress..

Finally, this is a blog post arguing a point, about which many will disagree (though few will read), some will agree with some of it, but not other parts, etc.  What is almost certain is that of the people this blog post concerns, none will read it, none will read opposing views and none will write articulate rejoinders to this or any other debate. That’s the problem.


[extraneous weird bit]

I’m attracted — in all senses of the word — to smart people. Because I value ideas and thinking, reading, learning, etc., I’m naturally interested in people who evince these things. One might sneer at others who value looks, conventional attractiveness, beauty standards, fashion, etc.; and yet those people live in a world where they value those things, possibly because that’s where their talents lie, so why not value them in others? It’s hypocritical for me to see intellectual traits as more substantive than physical ones.

But it isn’t. Obviously. The difference is to do with depth. We call superficial someone who just cares about looks, surface, because they do lack depth. The most old fashioned folk wisdom says that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, that it’s what’s inside that counts. So one should prioritise character, actions, values, intellect over looks. And the official line is still that these things are important for a long term partner…

And yet this seems a radical doctrine when applied to sexual partners. Tell a friend who’s smashing through Tinder that they shouldn’t care about looks and they’ll give you a nonplussed one. In a purely physical attraction based scenario, obviously looks matter, they would retort, vapidly. But what a barren no (wo)(m)(tr)an’s land of possibilities. Are we so sexually vitiated that we can’t get it hard/wet/up/moist for anything but a vanishing subset of the gender we like? God help us.

Imagine you were blind. How much superfluous edifice would fall away, how much more genuine and democratic would be your attraction to someone? Would that my eyes would be plucked from mine skull and dashed into the sea! I seemed to yell, creepily.

Footnotes

1. Writers are smart and generally imbue their characters with the insights they themselves are capable of making. In extreme cases, such as Shakespeare and Faulkner, it hasn’t gone unremarked upon that the authors endow their characters, even the supposedly unlettered, disadvantaged ones, with an eloquence not only beyond the average person, but of the supreme level of those two unusually mellifluous writers. Even unreliable narrators who betray their relative lack of insight are generally insane or immature, not unintelligent. This under-representation has always struck me as being most apparent in novels, but it exists in films and TV too, where protagonists are at the very least, sassy and wise even if they’re not book-smart.
2. Been sitting on a draft post for years now. The Atlantic put something out last week, though, which stirred me. It’s the first piece I’ve seen on this topic, but I haven’t been searching for it so maybe there have been others.
3. I also don’t think race and gender discrimination are useful analogues here. Intelligence is a real variable or set of variables, regardless of the weakness of our current measurement tools. Having low intelligence really does effect one’s ability to participate in the breadth of human experience and to succeed in any society, especially an information society. Unlike race and gender, this discrimination would not be obviated by others addressing their biases and slow historical redress.