Nobody Likes To Be Contradicted…

     …especially by RealityTM [1]

     Statistician William M. Briggs has a piece up today about Why Experts Hate Racial Differences In Intelligence. It’s a good piece, but it sounds a somewhat discordant note toward the end:

     Experts say intelligence is the highest good, and these test scores are indicators of intelligence. See the IQ post above for Experts’ limited understanding of intelligence: what they mean by it is incomplete and far less than it is. But here we use their understanding of its definition….

     Since all Experts aren’t stupid, they know that differences in intelligence have causes. It they can’t admit race, they have to say, they are forced to say, “racism” (or money, or whatever). Equality is thus a theorem and is not axiomatic. It is deduced from the premise that (their definition of) intelligence is the highest (by far, or only) good, and the premise that the implications of intelligence being the highest good are unkind.

     The only other choice is to admit intelligence is not the highest, or really only, good. Yet if Experts admit that, then they have to admit their own value is not as high as they esteem it. This is, as you might well imagine, unthinkable in an Expertocracy.

     I know a number of psychometricians, especially those in intelligence testing. Not one expert of my acquaintance believes that “intelligence is the highest good.” They believe only that intelligence – the ability to work with abstractions to reach valid conclusions – is real and somewhat measurable. So they don’t conform to Briggs’s characterization.

     Before I proceed, remember this: Intelligence is an asset – a tool. It is not an end in itself, but a tool one can apply to certain kinds of problems. It wouldn’t help me to lift and relocate my safe singlehanded. However, it would help me to work out how my safe could be lifted and relocated. In other words, if and only if a problem is one that is intellectually soluble, then high intelligence is an asset that can be usefully applied to it.

     Now, let it be admitted that many experts in various fields do pride themselves on their intelligence. Whether that pride is justifiable is a subject for another time. Whether they are as intelligent as they think themselves is something to be determined from their approach to their work:

  • Do they apply the appropriate methods to the phenomena they study?
  • Are the conclusions they propound validated by experience?
  • Do they admit that their conclusions have a limited domain of application?
  • Do they allow that they might be wrong?

     It would be highly unintelligent to believe that intelligence is the right tool with which to tackle every imaginable problem. But enveloping that fact is a deeper truth: one that is especially distasteful to certain categories of self-nominated experts:

Not every problem has a solution.

     Indeed, not every condition nor phenomenon someone calls a “problem” is a matter that the application of human ingenuity and energy could improve at an acceptable price.

     This brings us to the consideration of a common form of linguistic trickery. It’s especially prevalent in the realm of politics. Smith sees some condition he dislikes – perhaps it’s the persistence of “inequality,” meaning economic inequality – and decides to make it his personal cause. But the history of “inequality” is the history of Man. There has never been a society in which all persons are equally well-to-do. Moreover, if by some unthinkable miracle we were all “equalized” at breakfast time tomorrow, “inequality” would be back by dinner time at the latest.

     “Inequality” is therefore a natural feature that arises from human variation. But this displeases Smith. So he uses a linguistic trick: he labels “inequality” a “problem.” And “problems,” as “everyone” knows, exist to be solved – indeed (cue the pious music) they must be solved. Moreover, the tool to be applied to them is intelligence…for political purposes, probably Smith’s own.

     (Tired of the sneer quotes? So am I. They stop now.)

     It doesn’t matter whether Smith achieves any of his personal goals. If he succeeds in persuading the public to regard inequality as a problem to be solved, he will have laid the foundation for decade after decade of fruitless labor and expense. The attempts to equalize will continue until the society has exhausted itself…possibly eventuating in a revolution. This is what the Progressives, starting in the late Nineteenth Century, have done to us.

     The humble man admits that there are problems he cannot solve. The insightful man recognizes that there are huge classes of phenomena, whether we call them problems, conditions, or kumquats, that are insoluble no matter how great the intelligence of those who address them. Those classes include many of the most poignant conditions known to Man. The most we can do with such phenomena is to ease some of the suffering and discomfort that results from them…and even efforts such as those sometimes come at a price we will ultimately decide that we cannot afford.

     Concerning Experts: The late Richard Feynman, legendary educator and Nobel Laureate in Physics, once humorously defined science as confidence in the fallibility of experts. It’s well to unite that recognition with another: Intelligence is only one asset among many. Energy, humility, generosity, fellow-feeling, and others all have their place. The Expert worth listening to will know and admit this. The others may be dismissed with prejudice.

[1]: Reality is a registered trademark of God Almighty.


  1. And, to be fair, a LOT of life’s problems are not better solved by the “IQ” smart. There are many times that a people-smart person will run rings around that guy.
    For that matter, many relationships work better with ONE of the partners having other aspects of smartness, rather than raw IQ. Together, they make a good team.
    Many women fall lower on Math skills, many men fall lower in Verbal skills. Most women tend to cluster in the communications-heavy fields, many men either use what you might call Practical Math skills in their occupations.
    That’s just the tendencies, but they make a good general rule.
    However, for the Elite Woman, it’s important to go head-to-head with men in their jobs. You want to get an Elite Woman FURIOUS?
    Tell her that women aren’t as good at math.
    While true, it will ENRAGE her. She will try to come up with examples of women who do well in the STEM arena – even if HER math skills suck (which, they often do).
    The same with formal education. The Elite become apoplectic at the very idea that an “average Joe” might have some insights into public policy.
    Doncha know that ONLY the very highly educated Elite (of the Ivy variety) can properly make public policy? To suggest otherwise is to have to consider that they might not be irreplaceable.
    Oh, the inhumanity!!!!

    • Oldfart on August 24, 2021 at 6:03 PM

    Every problem DOES have a solution. Unfortunately, the proper solution might be worse than the problem.

    1. Then the “solution” is not a solution. To be valid, a solution must satisfy all the constraints on it — and one of those is always that it not make matters worse.

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