At some point in time I can't remember, the parental units got the idea that I was some sort of brainiac. I can't nail down the precise moment, much of that era now being largely a blur to me after five and half decades or so, but it had to be some time before I started school, since by then they'd already bought into the premise, and a couple months into the first grade, the school was ready to bump me up into the second.

Before you start thinking "prodigy," you need to know this: Texas law said I was too young to start school in 1959, the year I turned six. Nothing personal, of course; the dates were set in stone, I fell a few days outside the acceptable range, and so I actually started school in 1960, about eleven weeks before I turned seven. Whatever advantages I enjoyed over my fellow first-graders, it seemed to me, were due not to being super-smart or anything, but to being older and, to whatever extent it existed at that level, wiser. Still, the P word was being bandied about, tests were conducted, and the promotion was implemented. Not that I had any time to take advantage of this new opportunity:

I know that I took a spill into a rural cesspool which was, alas, far from empty; I contracted scarlet fever from exposure to the contents, and I contracted chills, which developed into pneumonia, from being hosed down to get those contents off of me. To this day I wonder if this one-two punch, accompanied by truly heinous fever (for some reason, the figure 105.6 sticks in my mind, and I know it's not a radio-station frequency), caused me some form of brain damage.

So of the five months I spent in second grade, I managed to attend class for only three. There were no more Deathly Illnesses, but I was able to finish my obligatory twelve years of schooling in a fraction over eight and a half. According to the template, I was supposed to go on for several years more, earn a bucketful of degrees, and step into a safe and secure future. But there always seemed to be something wrong with that scheme, and you could never have convinced me that I might have succeeded at it; whatever the test scores said, whatever the faculty evaluations claimed, I could not believe that any of it necessarily applied to me, or that I could rely on it when the chips were down.

Came the twenty-first century. The future is here, and it is neither safe nor secure; the chips are down far enough to be out of visual range. I've come to grips with that. And supporting the maintenance of that seeming complacency is the utter vacuity of people who are impressed with their putative intelligence. One of them wrote to Advice Goddess Amy Alkon the other day:

I'm having a whirlwind romance with a man I met online on Thanksgiving. I moved across the country to live with him on December 20, and we're now building a life together. The problem is I have a high IQ (137), and he's very unintelligent and illogical. It's hard to have a good conversation unless we talk about sex. It's too late to leave now, so ... any advice on how to keep our IQ difference from ripping us apart when things are less new and exciting? I really love him, as he's pure of heart. And boy, is he sexy and great in bed! So far, I've held back from telling him when he's gullible or irrational, but I worry that I'll eventually call him something nasty — like "idiot." I don't want to hurt him. I crave his company and love him for who he is, not what he knows.

Jesus Christ on a crutch! What is intelligent and/or logical about moving in with someone you met, not in a bar like normal people but online, in less than a month?

Alkon, to her credit, was merciless:

Is there a chance you cheated on your IQ test? You seem to pride yourself on your intelligence, yet you spent a few weeks chitchatting on the Internet with some dull blade, dropped everything and moved across the country to live with him.

Now I'm not one to sneer at whirlwind romances, given the prolonged emptiness of my own dance card. But it occurs to me that there might be some definable point at which a self-described bright person concludes that said brightness will compensate for the complete insanity of her actions. We could call it "Smartness Minus Responsibility Threshold," or S-M-R-T for short.

Someone with a sufficiently high S-M-R-T, I suggest, can rationalize damned near anything, however brainless. This explains the prodigious idiocy of the federal government: all these people think they're brilliant, and that they can bring in people like them to do Great Things, regardless of whether any of those Things needed to be done, or whether they're in conflict with the basic design of the government. (See, for instance, Nancy Pelosi, who, when asked if the Constitution allowed the government to take over health care, asked flatly "Are you serious?" It would never, ever have occurred to her to question such things, because after all, the right people — the S-M-R-T People — wanted it.)

Amy Alkon notes:

In The Folly of Fools (and on my radio show) anthropologist Dr. Robert Trivers explains self-deceptions ... noting the difference between intelligence and consciousness: "You can be very bright but unconscious."

Now I did well on those tests, and I have no reason to think I have any greater inherent resistance to acts of sheerest stupidity than the nearest Mensa member. Perhaps simply being able to grasp that concept constitutes a form of consciousness, maybe even enough to forestall some excursions into folly; if nothing else, I will not be impressed with the brilliance of a plan simply because it is mine. (If anything, I'll try to pick it apart before it goes any further. This is called "overanalysis" by some; I prefer to think of it as saving my unworthy bacon.) It also prevents me from seeing myself as morally superior, which means that C. S. Lewis probably wasn't actually talking about me here:

Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.

My own conscience, for what it's worth, would never put up with that sort of thing, and by "never" I mean "Well, I should hope not, but you never know with those darn humans, do you?"

The Vent

#765
  18 March 2012

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