There is a bizarre connotation in our culture, almost as strange as “child, therefore perfect” which is “Smart therefore morally good.”
Unlike the first one, which I think comes from the idea of the holy fool in the middle ages and, more recently from Jean Jacques Rosseau and his insanity about noble savages, I have no clue where smart=good comes from.
What I can tell you for absolute sure is that I’m sick of getting into some moral argument, say “eating people is bad” and I get told something like “There is this ethicist who says we should do it, and he’s smarter than you.”
Blink, blink, blink.
What in the actual double dipped purple moron behind does one thing have to do with the other?
Since when did we stop believing in evil geniuses? Granted most evil isn’t a genius. Most evil isn’t even particularly imaginative.
However, let me assure you, having known several people who are very smart that they are more prone to hating all humans and often themselves than others, not less.
Why? Well, because most very smart people stick out like a sore thumb, which means that they are usually picked on starting at babyhood. Which does not predispose you to loving the rest of humanity. Which means you’re more likely to hatch plans to kill them in batch lots because they annoy you and — humans being tribal — you view them as “not human.”
Look, yes, most of evil is not really smart, as I said above. Evil geniuses are rare. But “They called me mad, mad, but I’ll show them” is a cliche is because almost all of us have known someone who wanted to “show them” though usually, you know, not by holding the Earth hostage for a million dollars.
But we all know — I think, or at least I did, starting with college professors — people who are really brilliant and just the most evil creatures you ever met.
Just as we know people who are brilliant and near saints. And people who are brilliant and perfectly well-adjusted human beings who have never done anything remarkably bad or good in their lives.
The truth is that “smart” particularly in the sense it’s applied here, which is mostly “Has lots of credentials and big degrees that allow for interesting letters after his/her name” is actually of very limited application. Sure, we like it, particularly in our own field. I like to have commenters who are “Smarter” than I about history or language (though I don’t actually ask you what your credentials are, and I don’t particularly care.)
I appreciate that husband can calculate very strange stuff in about ten seconds. So that, for instance, if I need to know if we can carry 300 bricks in the back of my car without popping every tire and/or handling so weirdly I go off the side of a mountain road (well, I transported the library makings — oh, yeah, I need to get a picture of that for y’all — from Connifer and it was a close thing) he can get this cross-eyed look, weighs a brick, and goes, “oh, sure, 300 would weigh x, and since your car can handle x and the axis of handling is y… you’re fine.” Or “Dear Lord, NO.”
But this doesn’t mean either of us can tell you how to sow your wheat. Or how to build a wall, or even how to sand a cabinet, or sew a pair of pants.
Intelligence is one thing. Training is another thing. Morality is another thing. And specialized knowledge is yet another thing.
You with me so far?
You can be a brilliant physicist but suck at spelling, so your shopping list is completely incomprehensible. Or more likely, you can’t cook a meal for yourself to save your life. Or — you guys heard about Einstein and all matching pants and shirts, so he didn’t need to match them in the morning? This is my life with my family sometimes.
Or you can be a wonderful cook, amazing housekeeper, etc. but you can’t balance your checkbook.
Look, there might be, somewhere, someone who is good at everything and isn’t a neurotic mess, but I haven’t actually met him or her.
“Smart” in one field doesn’t mean smart in the others. And certainly you can be an amazing artist or writer or whatever, and have clue zero about… oh, climate science. Or, randomly, how to cross the street unassisted.
And neither artistic talent, nor knowledge of science, not even being very good at politics (which is kind of like an art crossed with used car salesmanship) means that you’re a moral human being, and therefore can make pronouncements on who should live, who should die, and whether we should kill and eat humans. (This example, btw, isn’t random. Some idiot “ethicist” really said we should do that to save the Earth. Which means I don’t care how many letters he has after his name, he’s a moral idiot. Yes, I can actually explain why but briefly, because if you don’t respect the human in others civilization unravels from the root outward. Yes, I can give details, but that’s not what this is about.)
In the same way — and trust me, I got exposed to this fairly regularly when I was going through writers’ groups coming up — if you have a writer who only reads and writes romances, and she tries to write, say a mystery, I don’t care how good she is at romance,t he mystery is likely going to suck, because she doesn’t know the conventions of mystery.
And I’m sure for most of us it’s like that even in our fields. I mean, I’ve been known to ask younger son a question and get back “I don’t do x engineering. I mean, I can make a guess, but it’s not expert knowledge.”
So “intelligence” — meaning some mix of aptitude and training — isn’t even portable within a specialty, much less to something completely and randomly different.
And now we get to why this myth drives me bonkers. Because people who believe, “But he’s so smart, so he’s qualified to make moral decisions/direct the future” are the type of people who deep down to the bottom of their curly pink toes think that centralized planning should work. Or not even should work or think: THEY FEEL centralized planning WORKS if only you get the smartest, bestest people with the shiniest prettiest credentials and the most sonorous letters after their names.
And unless we make sure that illusion is killed time and time (and time and time and time) again, we end up with orders to sow wheat in winter in Siberia and a hundred million dead.
There is no one smart enough or “good” enough or cunning enough or empathetic enough, or whatever enough that they can decide what you my friend, yes, you, sitting there on your chair, reading this blog, should have for breakfast. (Even if human is not on the menu.)
NO ONE ELSE is qualified to tell an adult in full possession of his faculties how to live his private life and go about his private pursuits.
Not only does no one else have the right to tell you what to eat, what to wear, what to do for a living, or whom to marry, but no one can do it better than you personally. We have had millions of experiments, if you count everyone ever under the rule of “experts” and none of those experiments ended well.
Unless you’re being commanded for a very specific purpose (say you’re part of an army) and a limited time, or it’s a collective endeavor (and no, not like being a nation. More like “let’s all cook breakfast or build a house together”) no one controlling a group’s decisions will have better results than each individual choosing for him/herself.
Because YOU — yes, you with the hair on, sitting in front of the computer or staring at the phone — know what’s better for you. (And if you think what’s better for you is human ala mode, you’re a danger to others, and ultimately to yourself, because someone will shoot you. Unless, of course, you’re some famous ethicist trying to convince people this should be legal, in which case you should be laughed off the public square.)
Sure, humans are often wrong about what they should do. Yes, humans often cause unwitting (and witting, but that’s different) damage to themselves and others. But to cause damage on a truly grand scale, you need to have one individual making decisions for a vast crowd, and amplifying his error to truly amazing mass-grave proportions.
Because that illusion, “he’s so smart, so good, so amazing, therefore he should rule everyone in this country/this continent/the world” always ends the same way.
The result is always death. Death in epic proportions.
Appreciate the intelligent person for what he/she can do. (If indeed he/she can do something and not just spout purposeless trivia at awkward moments.) But don’t assume that this “intelligence” makes it possible to run other people’s lives.
Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are individual rights. And the best antidote to this kind of illusion.