For decades we in North America have watched anything intelligent viewed with deep suspicion. From high school clichés, to ‘charisma’ politicians, the mainstream has marginalized the intelligentsia.
The years from the 60’s and 70’s till now have become even more dumbed down, the effect of an educational system and media that refused to acknowledge dissent or accommodate debate. Pierre Trudeau, a man with great intellectual resources and strong debating skills, was considered vaguely effete, unsympathetic, and just not a guy you could trust. Jimmy Carter gave way to George Bush, Pierre Trudeau to Stephen Harper. Firmness in policy was respected far more than any intellectual debate about that policy. The news media stopped even attempting to look intelligent, with covers of the most respected papers and magazines devoted to voyeuristic prying into personal, not public information. We now have more specific words, ‘Asperger’s’, ‘sociopaths’ and ‘narcissists’, and these words are thrown out at intelligent people with as little regard for applicability as the old words were.
Lately, there have been hopeful signs. Many felt that the election of Barack Obama to the US presidency was a strike for intelligence. That has not proved to be the case, but the very fact that the people voting thought they were voting for intelligent, participatory governance is a huge step in the right direction. Canada’s wistful fondness for the son of Pierre Trudeau is an even sadder manifestation. But for every hopeful sign, there seems an even more violent backlash against intelligence and a bigger outpouring of fear and hatred. What is going on?
According to Leta Hollingworth’s research, to be a leader of his contemporaries a child must be more intelligent but not too much more intelligent than them. A discrepancy of more than about 30 points of IQ does not allow for leadership, or even respect or effective communication. Hollingworth notes: A lesson which many gifted persons never learn as long as they live is that human beings in general are inherently very different from themselves in thought, in action, in general intention, and in interests. Many a reformer has died at the hands of a mob which he was trying to improve in the belief that other human beings can and should enjoy what he enjoys. This is one of the most painful and difficult lessons that each gifted child must learn, if personal development is to proceed successfully. It is more necessary that this be learned than that any school subject be mastered. Failure to learn how to tolerate in a reasonable fashion the foolishness of others leads to bitterness, disillusionment, and misanthropy [3, p. 259].
It is definitely the case that some intelligent people deserve the fear and hatred they inspire, though they may not share that view. Too many intelligent people debate like cats batting around a new shiny toy, looking, not so much for information and idea exchange, but rather for soft spots that they can swat for their own amusement. It is very natural that people with inferior knowledge or debating skills will then refuse to attempt to communicate. It is not fun to have a conversation with someone who is obviously bored with your ideas and must appear invincible at all times. Listening skills are essential for communication and both sides must not only be able to change their minds, but they must be seen to be able to change their minds.
Invincible seeming intelligence has been a means of workplace survival for many. Politicians are completely given over to a listening style that includes eye rolling, head shaking and tolerant smiling, all miming the inferior intelligence of their opponent. People who enter into a debate with someone of greater intelligence will frequently ape those mannerisms to cover for a lack of content in their argument. If the audience does not understand the argument anyway, the mannerisms may convince them that the wrong side has presented the best arguments.
While superior intelligence is not an indicator of inferior morals, neither is it a guarantee of superior morals. Intelligent people must have their actions reviewed for ethics just as everyone else must, and this may also contribute to mistrust and fear. If the public does not understand the actions taking place, they have no reason to trust that those actions are above reproach. Sometimes it is easier to just vote for the person you understand.
This is the way it has been. But this is not the way it has to remain.
There is no one more intelligent than the internet. The internet is more than capable of reviewing the facts, logic and morals of everyone in a position of power, if we can get the information we need to review. There is no one less intelligent than the internet. There is every level of discourse on absolutely any topic. Everyone can choose the company they enjoy debating with. There is no one more trusted than the internet. Despite all efforts by established ‘fact’ holders to discredit everything that goes on here, we all know, there is nothing we haven’t already ripped apart ourselves and discredited if necessary. Wikipedia may have errors, but it also has links, and anyone can click on history to view the fighting that supported the information they see.
For the first time in history, we have a working model that will enable us to use our most intelligent resources effectively in our governance. We just need to build the bridges.