In defense of being smart

June 16, 2012 § Leave a comment

Not having seen the original work of Santoshi Kanazawa, I can’t tell whether my objections apply to his work or only to the report on it in The Economist (“The disadvantage of smarts”), but they are strong enough to convince me not to try reading Mr Kanazawa himself — after all, if an otherwise intelligent reporter can get things this wrong, there must be a problem with the original.  Here are my objections:

1.  The arguments do not appear to support the title claim that being smart is disadvantageous:  they do appear to establish that being smart is not conducive to reproductive success — e.g. smart mothers certainly are bad mothers (they have far too few children, for one thing; etc.); but there is no indication at all that that is bad for the un-reproducing individual personally.  If my own life is anything to go by, I have saved myself untold amounts of pain, suffering, labor, exhaustion, and grief — not to mention expense — by not reproducing.  Nor have I ever felt that I missed out on any of the supposed rewards of parenthood (“the birth of your first child changes you entirely”) — these mythical benefits seem to me a kind of ideological smoke-screen (hate is love, war is peace, lie is truth and — children are a source of happiness). Myself, I can’t see any disadvantage to not having reproduced.   (No, my DNA won’t be around once I’m dead, but — vide Epicurus — by definition I will be past caring myself).

2.  The imputed correlation between some kinds of reproductively disadvantageous behavior/ non-mainstream behavior on the one hand and general intelligence on the other isn’t clear:  I have known a great number of “night-owls”, homosexuals, and monogamous males and honestly cannot say they struck me as above-average in intelligence (or above average in anything, for that matter).  These characteristics could well be subject to their own evolutionary selection, unrelated to general intelligence.  (It’s hard to establish — without resorting to some ad hoc principles — that homosexuality is caused by intelligence — arguments of the “are you intelligent enough?” variety and such).  They need not be counter-reproductive, either — there is no evidence that staying up at night is bad for reproduction or that homosexual men reproduce less than heterosexual men.

Indeed, the list of non-mainstream behaviors the article associates with intelligence appears to be no more than a list of personality traits to which the author (no doubt an intelligent man) is positively disposed.  (Perhaps they being his own).

If there is a danger to happiness in intelligence, it lies in the fact that intelligence delights in its own exercise.  Intelligent people often allow themselves to be carried away by “ideas” — join monasteries, become revolutionaries, die for their country, or just end up wasting their time on mind-boggling puzzles (the Cretan Liar Paradox, say).  Intelligence is also very good at fooling itself:  very many intelligent people manage to convince themselves (as less intelligent people generally do not) that personal happiness is not important (but Jesus is, or social justice, or national independence, or logic).  Though in all these cases, it is not clear if the fault lies with intelligence or with something else — a kind of emotional proclivity to respond to ideas with enthusiasm — or to the feelings of happiness with distrust.  (Some people are wired backwards — and delight in misery — but that is not the same as intelligence).

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