INTELLIGENCE AND WISDOM
Joel Engel has a superb piece on why intellectuals have contempt for the likes of President Bush. His thesis is that they live in a world that values IQ over all else. Engel explains in detail why this perception exists and why it is foolish:
IF IT WERE TRUE that a high I.Q. in and of itself guaranteed peace and prosperity, then we should appoint Stephen Hawking president right now and be done with it. But I don’t want Professor Hawking as president, nor any of the other truly brilliant people I know. Yes, it’s thrilling to sit at a dinner table and behold gifted minds interacting with other gifted minds, and to read and watch and listen to their works of genius. But that’s not the same as admiring their character, which is often less developed than their ability to slash a Z on someone’s chest with their wit. Anyway, for all their verbal eloquence and artistic finger-pointing, which big issues, exactly, have the reigning intelligentsia been correct about in the last 40 years? One would be hard-pressed to compose a short list.
The truth, which Orwell pointed out, is that truly brilliant people and truly talented people often believe truly stupid things: G.B. Shaw believed in Hitler and Stalin. Norman Mailer believed that convicted murderer Jack Henry Abbot deserved to be paroled because he could write well (and that we went to war in Iraq to bolster the white-male ego). Stanford professor Paul Ehrlich believed that the few hundred of us still alive after the ecological holocaust of the ’80s and ’90s would be living in caves. Steven Spielberg believed that his meeting with Castro were the “eight most important hours” of his life. The academic establishment believed in the efficacy of bilingual education and largely continues to believe that communism spreads prosperity and social justice. Princeton professor of bioethics Peter Singer believes that parents ought to be able to murder their disabled children. And Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta believes that a 70-year-old lady from Vero Beach and a young Arab man chanting Koranic verses are equally likely to hijack a plane.
The best and the brightest, as we learned from JFK’s advisers, offer little protection against absolute foolishness–and may, perhaps, be more susceptible to it, given the anecdotal evidence suggesting that brilliance and common sense are inversely correlated. It’s no wonder Castro hoped Bush wouldn’t be “as stupid as he seems.” For 40 years the dictator has been surrounded and visited by brilliant people who swear that he’s brilliant and benevolent–and if Bush were indeed a dimwit, he might see right through Castro and conclude that all those people willing to brave sharks, drowning, dehydration, and firing squads to escape from Cuba actually recognize something that the dictator’s brilliant admirers do not.
While Engel goes too far with his argument–while there is not a positive correlation between IQ and wisdom, nor is there a negative one–the piece is well worth reading.