February 1st, 2015


Intelligence vs admirable thinking

icon: "analytical (a close-up photo of my eye in bright sunlight, showing the green and grey and roots-looking patterns)"

webgirluk asked how I would define intelligence, and I have two answers to this.

Overall, intelligence is something I consider to be like 'attractiveness': a harmful social rating system with no useful applications. It is an arbitrary measure of worth, defined by how well a person's thinking reproduces society's values. For instance, someone who fails all standardized tests will be called "unintelligent" because they cannot predict what society would say is the correct answer. IQ tests are not a good measure of the skill or quality of a person's thinking but they are an excellent measure of how society will rate a person's intelligence, because the way the tests are formed favors those who have been exposed to certain concepts and values. Intelligence is held up as a virtue, but while it can be useful it is morally irrelevant, and I get extremely angry when people use 'unintelligent' (or slurs that are synonyms) to mean 'morally inferior' (for a whole host of reasons). I don't consider the category of 'stupid' to actually exist either, just like 'ugly' doesn't really exist. There are people who don't think like society wants them to, and those people are oppressed because of it, but they are not actually less able to think nor are their thoughts inferior. It is just a difference that is stigmatized.

Sometimes people use intelligence to mean "thinking that is valuable and worth admiration." Regarding this, I consider "admirable thinking" to be thinking that questions assumptions and looks for new ideas and perspectives. Thinking that is curious and expressive, that seeks to learn and reshape thoughts rather than to reinforce current ideas, that finds enjoyment in realizing their mistakes because it means they learned something new. This admirable thinking is present in a wide range of 'IQ levels' and expression-skill levels; however, it is not available to everyone, as it is a type of thinking that usually requires time, energy, and access to new ideas. So, a lack of it is not a moral failing UNLESS you have the privilege of those things. It is always morally negative (harm-creating) in the context of privilege. I don't consider this to be 'intelligence' but it is the closest thing I actually consider to exist.