American Culture

Insults to our intelligence and the modern presidency


TIL (barring any consideration of the validity of IQ testing):

The average IQ is between 90 and 110.

The way IQ was classified in education in 1997, the range from 80-89 was “Low Average,” and before that was called “Dull Normal.” We’ve gotten more polite since then. Well, some of us have.

The range of 70-79 was classified as “Borderline” in education, but in the DSM-IV (now a bit outdated), 71-84 was “Borderline Intellectual Functioning.” In an even earlier day, 70-80 was classified as “Borderline Deficiency.” Today it’s not cool to refer to people dull people would find lacking in wits deficient. I can see why. A brake system that can’t pass a test isn’t up to spec, perhaps. A diet lacking in calcium is calcium deficient. We’re not supposed to think of people as not up to spec or deficient, so we get new words to mean roughly the same thing.

Educationally (1997), 69 and below was “Extremely Low,” which, back in 1955, was “Mental Defective.” Definitely can’t call people defectives now, which is cool, because there’s really no good way to call a person defective, especially if they actually are, because that’s just low. In the DSM-IV, 70 and below was broken down into different ranges of mental retardation, but only as one consideration, since actual retardation also involves an impairment in adaptive functioning. Simplified, 50-70 was “mild.” 35-50 was “moderate.” 20-35 was “severe.” Below that was “profound.” In less polite times, this was “definite feeble-mindedness.” For that matter, what contemporary psychologists would consider on a range of retardation from mild to profound was rendered as “moron” for 50-69, “imbecile” for 20-49, and “idiot” for below 20. But, the public being what it was (and remains), mostly an assemblage of scurrilous riff-raff, it seems sometimes, those words were seized and flung about mercilessly.

Oh, how the times have changed, and the more they change, they more they stay the same.

I think we can safely assume that there’s nothing about being a pundit on the teleovision that requires “high average” or “superior intelligence” (~110-120). It’s even safer to assume from the general tenor that we’re probably inclined to think there’s no way the people we disagree with can be of high or superior intelligence. Hell, there’s nothing to suggest high or superior intelligence is even required for a degree. Gumption and tenacity will net a C average for the average person. So maybe it can even be a bit amusing to watch pundits of average intelligence try to make sense out of policy and analysis generated by think tanks and bureaucrats, such documents possibly being products of actual superior intelligence (but still no guarantee there).

And there’s really little reason to suppose that the people who inform our thinking on All the Things are necessarily of “superior” or “very superior” intelligence (120-140), especially when we disagree with them.

Educators might consider 130+ to be “very superior,” while the DSM-IV still put 130-140 in their own version of “very superior.” The DSM-IV goes further to classify 140+ as genius or near genius. What opinion makers can you think of that you might consider (sans testing) genius or near genius? There’s quite a few I’m aware of, people like Elon Musk, who cannot help but to shape opinions, but I mean of the boob-tube variety. What are the odds, if we look at the distribution of intelligence in the population, that the people most responsible for shaping opinions, those on the TV/computer screen, those at podiums giving speeches, those at pulpits giving sermons, those behind the desks of officialdom doling out decrees left and right, are geniuses?

Of any form of “superior” intellect?

Even of “high average” intellect?

I’m not liking the odds.

Now look at the bylines on the articles you prefer, and that people who disagree with you prefer.

Now look at the comment sections pretty much anywhere.

How often do you think you’re observing high to superior intellect at play in any of those places, much less genius? My gut says we’re mostly watching the edicts and exchanges of people of average intelligence. More, the odds are pretty good there’s more than a few beleaguered folks of the “low average” range in there, people we might have once thought of as dull-witted. I’d like to think there would be enough high average/superior-intelligence folks to keep the balance. Maybe? Would that be optimistic?

Maybe there’s even some borderline (or deficient) sorts gumming up the works. Yes, I said it out loud. You know the ones I mean, even if we mean two different groups by it. It wouldn’t take long browsing the comment sections to find a few candidates. I’d truly like to think that to balance out this cohort there’s a compensating number of people with superior/very superior intelligence, but I think I’m stretching.

It’s through this lens that I’m considering the antipathy we see leveled by some of those who see themselves as possessing superior intelligence at those they deem to be of lesser intelligence. Is it safe to assume that when we see words like moron, imbecile, and idiot tossed around today like so many molotovs, that it’s probably folks of average intelligence deriding those they believe to be of inferior intelligence, folks we can then assume (if the average tosser is correct) to be dull-witted, perhaps even bordering on having true difficulty functioning in the world?

What I’m interested in here is the degree of the expressed antipathy. If my gut instinct is right, the degree of antipathy responsible for such derision is triggered, more often than not, by a separation of but one little category. Maybe someone of greater than average intelligence might insult someone of average intelligence with such a slur, but what’s the likelihood given that someone of above average intelligence is perhaps more likely to be aware that people of average intelligence are generally neither morons,  nor imbeciles, nor idiots?

But is this kind of antipathy reserved for only those of average intellect? Maybe for the dull-witted? If not, can the person of average intelligence appreciate that to those a mere one category removed in the other direction, they themselves might trigger an equal degree of antipathy with their average but adequate wits? Here’s hoping there’s no such progression here, but if there is, let’s hope even more that it’s merely linear. If a dull-witted slackjaw can trigger that much derision from the commenter of average intelligence, how much more deserving of derision must they be when confronted with someone three or four degrees removed, so to speak? All I’m suggesting is that, as hard as it is for the average person to deal with someone of only moderately less intelligence, imagine how hard it must be for actual geniuses to be continually assaulted and held back by the sheer magnitude of utter mediocrity on the one hand, and to to see the mediocrities controlling, by popular (or, as luck has it minority) decree, the likelihood of shifting the center of that bell curve higher up the range on the other?

If one degree of removal from one’s intelligence justifies the kind of derision we see, just how much of such derision would the average person condone were it scaled up accordingly and leveled at them for being merely average? I think most of us like to think we’re above that, that such behavior is beneath our dignity.

All that said, I now invite the average reader, and the dull one, and the geniuses, and everyone in between, to consider our current President of the United States. Is he dull, or just average? And who of high average intelligence, seeing this mediocrity occupying the most powerful office in the world (well, at least until he took it) could really be blamed for leveling the sort of derision they do at him, except that it be beneath their dignity seeing as, to them, he’s comparatively dull? Imagine the sheer outrage someone of truly superior intelligence must feel, when, if we’re being generous, he’s to them what someone of borderline intelligence is to someone of average intelligence, and could conceivably be considered as far from them intellectually as a moron is from someone of average intelligence. It’s not impossible that a genius might feel as separated from our president’s intellect as an average person might from an imbecile.

In my final analysis, I can only conclude that at least Trump is no idiot, by any measure. But if ever I understood the degree of hostility intelligent people feel for what has happened to the presidency, it’s now that I’ve looked at it through this particular looking glass. The dignity befitting someone of average intelligence shouldn’t be too much to expect from the President of the United States, yet here we are with a duly elected Ready-to-Lampoon buffoon who brings neither intelligence, dignity, nor even character to the position.

Do I take a somewhat self-congratulatory view? Perhaps, but I can be forgiven for whatever category I happen to fall into. It’s that dignity thing I need to work on, and I’m not there yet.