Monday, July 4, 2016

"The War on Stupid People"

Last week, I read in the July/August 2016 issue of The Atlantic that there's a "war" on "stupid" people.  The fellow claiming this war exists is David H. Freedman, author of Wrong: Why Experts Keep Failing Us -- And How to Know When Not to Trust Them as well as a contributing editor to The Atlantic. As I read Mr. Freedman's article, I wondered why he was writing it, and if he was aware of the incredible anti-smart-people feeling that exists in American society.  Then I wondered if Mr. Freedman was a smart person, i.e. like the scientists portrayed on the TV show he cites, The Big Bang Theory, or like a member of Mensa or some other association for people in the top 1-2% in IQ measurement.

Anyone who's gifted with high IQ, i.e. 125+, can relate to the characters on The Big Bang Theory, especially when they talk about how much they were picked on as gifted children and the difficulties they have socially as adults. I've heard that if you're a member of Mensa it's not a good idea to advertise that fact, especially in the workplace, on a resume, in a job interview, etc.  There seems to be a reaction to smart people along the lines of "they think they're so smart" or "they think they're smarter than everyone else," said with varying degrees of derision and disgust.  I've witnessed such incidents as an adult, as well as the cruelty of children against children who are intellectually gifted.

So, I was quite astonished to learn that now there's a war on stupid people, i.e. people of average or below intelligence, in popular culture and, apparently, in the workplace. "Those who consider themselves bright openly mock others for being less so."  While I agree it's common to hear one person call another "stupid" during a disagreement, I'm not certain that's a true comment on the person's intelligence as much as a comment by the person who said it on his or her own regard for his or her own view.  It's far more common nowadays for each person in a disagreement to hold their opinions quite rigidly and to be close-minded. One need only to look at American politics for examples. 

Mr. Freedman goes on to examine what exactly intelligence is and that it comes in different forms. I know this from personal experience in the workplace.  I've seen coworkers who are whizzes at number-crunching but haven't a clue about how to close a sale.  There are people who have acute perception about human behavior and can extrapolate what someone is going to do from the behavior she's observed.  There is the famous (or infamous) emotional intelligence, i.e. self-awareness about one's emotional responses with an equal awareness about other people's emotions and what influences them. And there is what I call "communication intelligence."  Some people know how to communicate well and some do not.  While some of this skill can be taught, the combination of observation, perceptiveness, and empathy cannot.

The Big Bang Theory on CBS

I enjoyed Mr. Freedman's article (after my astonishment wore off) despite his being selective in his choice of details to support his argument.  If he had not included The Big Bang Theory without talking about what those smart scientists endure socially, I might have not thought more about it.  American society still belongs to those who live in the middle of the intelligence bell curve, and they are the most numerous among us. I think those who live in the top third of that bell curve would be happy to use their giftedness for the betterment of society if not humanity in general, and would welcome acceptance of their giftedness and the end of being the butt of the same kind of jokes Mr. Freedman says the "stupid" must endure.

And I'm still wondering why Mr. Freedman wrote this article.  Was it really in defense and support of those with average intelligence, or was it just another, however sly, attack on the gifted?  

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