And all that nonsense. Yes, I say nonsense for many reasons. I’ll outline the premise of why here before going into some depth, so keep reading while I get the introduction out of the way.
Asking what intelligence is, how it can be cultivated and how we can measure it is very much an epistemological concern, but one that is also rooted in a perceived financial necessity. We live in a society that is geared to rewarding intelligence because of its ability to enhance financial productivity, and we can see this in the salary differences between various professions. Graduate jobs tend to pay more than jobs that don’t require a degree, and it’s an easy trend to observe when looking for work. However, the problem as I perceive it is that society is too geared towards cultivating a specific type of intelligence, one that fills economic necessity. As such, society is about intelligence for economic gain, rather than intelligence for the sake of it.
It’s fair to say we’ve all gone through the meat-grinder that is state education, and to everyone potentially reading this I ask you to consider how much of what you learnt as part of either state curriculum or at university you firstly can actually recall, and secondly, how often you use it in your everyday life or profession. Then, compare that to what you’ve learnt yourself through your own learning independent of an academic institution. Again, the question is of these two categories, which one do you remember the most? That, and which one benefits the career path you are on?
Of course, let’s not pretend we’re living in some idealistic world where we all go off and learn about things in our spare time. That’s not a realistic assumption. But the question to engage with here is one whether state education and society in general encourages a sort of ‘legitimate’ intelligence (intelligence for the sake of it) or an economically productive intelligence.
Going through all levels of education, the focus has never been upon learning the content of a subject for long term reference, but to demonstrate the ability to use certain skills – such as analysis or communication. The interest in having a qualification is not that you learnt information about the world from that course, but that the mark you gained showed the degree you can use that skill. The best example I can personally think of is not that for one course in history I had to learn over 100 years of Russian history in detail, but that I could demonstrate the ability to exercise judgement, analyse information, present an argument and then communicate effectively. The latter abilities would be the economically productive intelligences, while the former, being all facts, is just information for the sake of it. With skills of analysis, the subject matter is interchangeable and frankly irrelevant. While a drive in state education towards economic intelligence is understandable and even logical, there’s something said from the lack of interest in education once a job is secured. You might undergo varying degrees of training, but once those are over, it is time to use your economically productive intelligence to benefit the firm you are working for. In some ways, it doesn’t matter what you know any more, but merely the functions you can preform.
That’s the thing that I find lamentable, and perhaps worrying even. We spend our childhood learning information and skills only to fulfil and adult society’s demand not for intelligence, but productivity. Now, this isn’t a simple issue either. It isn’t just logical, but essential to have an education system that encourages productive intelligence. However, if the outcome of education is economic productivity alone, then that very aim is endangering itself.
Yes, it comes down to that predictable outcome that creativity is valuable because it is a way of coming up with new solutions to things. And yes, we must do more to value creativity. But, what we should also look at is how we perceive intelligence. Intelligence should not be perceived to be confirmed by economic success, neither should “intelligent” individuals have the expectation of doing certain jobs only, and anything else is a waste of their ability. As we’ve outlined, only a specific type of intelligence is financially rewarded, and we risk creating very narrow perceptions of intelligence if we do so. It ironically comes down to the principle of genetics – a healthy population has multiple versions of many genes and has a large population. Low genetic diversity is bad for the species, and in the same way, a low diversity of intelligence created by a perceived validation by economic success risks not only making society a poorer one culturally, but also risks harming that very model of economic success because of a lack of diversity.
From this, let’s finish upon society. If a certain type of intelligence is valued only by society, then we must ask what questions this poses about ourselves. Is it correct to brand someone as “stupid” if they do not conform to a narrow set of exceptions? Is so, does this mean we understand “stupidity” as merely an individual who is not economically productive? One of the common arguments you hear batted around in general conversation is that “I know someone who knows lots of facts but isn’t smart”. How can knowing lots of facts not be smart? If these facts are not useful, who decides so or how is it decided that they’re useless? Again, we come down to that issue of productivity. But in terms of society, we must have a shake up of the perceived intelligence roles for individuals. Does stacking shelves make someone “stupid”? Does that mode of productivity define our expectations of that person? I think the answer is yes, and it shouldn’t be such that we make a judgement upon that person based upon that fact.
In the end, the issue is that society is enslaved by an idea that economically productive intelligence is the only form of intelligence. From this a number of problems are spawned – what do we view intelligence as, but more importantly, it spawns a very dangerous idea of intelligence, where individuals are defined by this specific form of intelligence.