It’s interesting to read the comments of the reactionary blogs I frequent when IQ-related topics come up. I’ve noticed that, whenever anecdotes are shared, commenters always have high IQs (they can often give an official number), and they find the mental limitations of their day-to-day companions excruciatingly obvious. Of course, this is an impression rather than a carefully established correlation, and it may well be that people have a tendency to overestimate their intellectual superiority somewhat, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a large subset of reactionaries who are smart compared to their social environment. After all, something must give them the confidence to go against the consensus of the intellectual elite. I suspect I am one of the few people active on the reactionary blogosphere with low relative intelligence (meaning I suspect I am less intelligent than many of my work colleagues of similar or higher rank, and my mind is often inadequate to the problems I take up). This gives me a different perspective, and I’d like to share it with you. “Why should I care what stupid people think?” I imagine you’re asking. After all, aren’t stupid people’s opinions worthless almost by definition? The reason you should care is that cognitive limitation makes one aware of certain issues that the more cerebrally endowed don’t consider.
Above all, having low relative intelligence makes one conscious of intellect itself as a limited resource. People who are used to being able to out-think their companions forget this. How many articles have we read in Christian or conservative publications telling us that, instead of wasting time on politics, we should go out and win over the culture? Just make brilliant movies, novels, and paintings that express our world-view. Become eminent scientists and take over academia. That’ll fix things. No doubt the people who write these things are intelligent and think themselves awfully clever (or at least cleverer than the “religious right” they despise), but this is like thinking oneself a brilliant strategist for giving advice like “First, raise an army ten times the size of your enemy’s…” You’ve got to fight a culture war with the army you’ve got. Sure, we should certainly express ourselves with the best art and scholarship of which we are capable, but given that the Left has successfully indoctrinated the cognitive elite, we’re not likely to win any kind of brains or talent competition against them.
Intellect limitation raises all sorts of interesting practical questions that no one but me seems to be interested in. For example, when is it rational to just accept the consensus of experts rather than making up one’s own mind on an issue? Is it ever rational to accept what appears to be flawed reasoning from the expert consensus because “there must be something here that I’m missing”? Officially, we are encouraged to study the arguments and make up our own minds on everything, but in practice each of us has limited brainpower (some of us more limited than others), and we must choose carefully how to spend it. There are two solutions. One is trust, which means you must still do the work of finding a trustworthy authority. The other is bracketing, meaning mentally separating issues and seeing if you can solve the ones that really interest you while remaining agnostic on the others. I’m something of a specialist, and I bracket a lot in both my day work and my blogging. Lots of unflattering things are said about specialization, many of them just, but some of us probably couldn’t do intellectual work at all without it.
The cognitive elite berate the rest of us both for failing to think scientifically and failing to docilely accept the pronouncements of our betters. Not only are the accusations contradictory, one of them is unjust. As I’ve just said, those with low intelligence tend to give more weight to expert opinion due to our lack of confidence in our own. What is true is that we tend to be less convinced by the types of arguments the cognitive elite make. These often come down to arguments of the form “Here is an observation. Our theory explains it. All the other theories we could think of are less plausible (either conflict with other observations or involve “unnatural” assumptions). Therefore our theory is true.” Cosmological inflation and the documentary hypothesis for the origin of the Pentateuch are a couple of examples where I don’t find this type of argument convincing. Yes, the alternative explanations I can come up with for these theories’ post-dictions might not be as compelling, but that just means I’m not as smart as Alan Guth or Julius Wellhausen. Just because I don’t have better explanations doesn’t mean I know they don’t exist. And yet, ultimately, all of science comes down to arguments of this type. Even my “theory” that I’m sitting at home as I write this I ultimately accept because it’s so much more plausible than alternatives involving hallucinations or elaborate ruses. So even the most intellectually humble of us will ultimately concede the truth of a theory when the known alternatives are reduced to silliness. But our threshold is much higher than that of very intelligent people, who so easily convince themselves that their list of possible explanations is exhaustive and the intuitions they use to exclude some must be respected by Nature herself.
P. S. Before anybody says I just don’t believe the above listed theories because I’m an ignorant redneck fundamentalist, let me make a few points. First of all, I don’t disbelieve in an inflationary epoch or in the J, E, D, and P segments of the Bible being meaningfully distinct and written by different authors. I just regard these as unproved speculations. I am convinced that the Big Bang happened, and I even teach a course in cosmology. And no, the recent BICEP results, even if they hold up, don’t “prove inflation”. They prove that if inflation is true, it happened at a particular energy scale. My challenge to anyone who claims to know how the Bible was written is to show me how your disentanglement algorithm has been tested. Have we ever had four authors write different versions of the same story, then have a separate author splice them together, then had Bible scholars separate and reconstruct the originals, and finally tested their accuracy? What’s more, it seems unlikely that segments of the Bible are stylistically so different as to make this separation possible thousands of years later without it being obvious to the redactor’s original audience.
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