This article by David H. Freedman really touched a nerve with me this week. In it, Freedman argues that valuing intelligence over all other desirable human traits is affording an unearnt privilege to an already blessed stratum of society. Worse still — Freedman notes — is that contemporary society has created structural barriers that hinder the less intelligent, when they are the very people who may need encouragement the most.
Society has become increasingly academicised, and I would argue that this is a profound social ill. Jobs that are unrelated to academia e.g. day-to-day childcare, are now more and more unattainable without degrees (and the costs they incur to get them). Not only is it irrational, but it’s a sad reflection on society that employers value academic achievement over all other characteristics. I don’t know a single parent who would prefer their Nanny to be smart and qualified, but cruel, over someone who is of average intelligence but warm, considerate and kind.
I also don’t know many Graduates who would consider a career as a Nanny desirable. The only person I know who has worked as a Nanny, is someone without a degree. The over-valuation of possessing an academic degree has made the careers that traditionally didn’t need one seem second-best, no matter how vital they are. The people who would rather have a vocational career than scale the corporate ladder have been tossed onto the same scrapheap.
Such a large amount of effort has been expended to make non-academic professions fit into an academic hole one must ask: “but why?”
The drive towards academicisation has been spearheaded by social progressives in spite of the fact that making pricey degrees a prerequisite for employment inherently works against poorer people who are less able to achieve a flashy academic record. Academia is the realm of the Left. This insistence on everyone attending University/College has a lot more to do with Leftists wanting to filter and assimilate the young and impressionable through their own Left-wing institutions, regardless of whether it is in the long-term best interests of the student, than they will ever admit.
But there’s another aspect to this too. As society has become more secular, we have become more used to relying on science and we lean on objective measurements. It’s comfortable to rely on and value intellect as it is something we can measure. However flawed they may be, IQ tests tell us something objective. The trouble is that everyone I know who has ever bragged about their IQ and/or Alma Mater has turned out to be a first rate twat.
And there’s the rub.
A massive downside of society becoming more secular, is that we have lost moral leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. (though they were often not religious leaders), and other people in public life who emphasised humane qualities and values. Nowadays “professional intellectuals” like Richard Dawkins and Neil deGrasse Tyson have huge followings despite striking me as crass, insensitive, and combative — whatever the merits of their work. Their fans often glory in their abrasive take downs of those with whom they disagree.
Human characteristics like kindness, warmth, empathy, humility, self-acceptance, integrity, good character, consideration for others, and humour, are things that can’t be measured and that poses a temptation, not just to employers, to pretend they don’t exist — but try having a work place or personal relationships without them!
Amongst my most intelligence acquaintances are:
A graduate of Oxford University who is banned from the state of China for committing impersonation and fraud. When I knew him, he was a corporate lawyer who liked to brag that he earnt the annual national minimum wage every month after taxes. This individual had a nasty habit of picking on the young women around him and bullying them until their self-worth was so diminished he could get whatever he wanted from them. Sometimes he didn’t even want anything, he would just do it for fun.
There was also a former prospective parliamentary candidate who I began chatting to the first time I went to a political party conference. I was so enamoured by her that I let her manipulate me to further her own ends just because I liked her and so valued her obvious intelligence and competence. I wilfully ignored that her and her partner had cruel nicknames for just about everyone in their immediate social circle and that she was manipulative, domineering, and only kind when it suited her. She was also obese thanks to a marijuana addiction she’d had in University. She didn’t seem to have any friends that she couldn’t use in some way. As soon as I refused to be used — I was no longer a friend.
Ah, and then there is the American Academic who used to like to go on “business trips” with younger male members of staff. Unbeknownst to these unsuspecting young men, he would only book a single room and tell them the hotel was — sadly — fully booked. A quick chat at the reception would soon reveal that to be a lie and another room would be hastily paid for on the company credit card to avoid a(nother?) lawsuit.
I have slowly deleted these people off my social media and out of my life. I don’t want to be around any of them for any part of my day.
Some of the smartest people I know have been amongst the most cruel, dysfunctional, manipulative and immoral. Some of the least academically able have been amongst the kindest, healthiest, righteous, and most decent. The huge emphasis contemporary society has placed on academisation has crowded out the other ways we measure human worth. If the definition of societal good is to build a meritocracy — I hope the definition of merit is broader than merely excelling in the IQ/career/qualifications arms race.
Thankfully, Martin Luther King Jr. left a sermon that can offer some guidance on this issue:
In this speech, King warns all who would listen that a desire for importance can lead to “snobbish exclusivism” — indeed!