Sunday, August 26, 2007

Mor(e)on IQ

Not long after my last post about intellect and "orders of being," I decided to browse the psych section of a book store while I was out, and what did I find? A highly relevant book called "IQ: A Smart History of a Failed Idea" by Stephen Murdoch.


The forerunners of IQ tests were created by a staunch social Darwinist and father of Eugenics, Francis Galton. Another eugenicist, Henry Goddard, brought the more refined intelligence tests of Binet to the US, and he helped promote mass hysteria about "feeble-minded" people (the euphemism of the day for the mentally retarded), especially the "morons" (mildly retarded), passing for normal, breeding, and filling our jails because their weak minds make them more likely to become criminals. He thought that retarded people should be institutionalized and, though treated nicely, prevented from breeding. Intelligence measurements were also used to restrict immigration so as to keep "feeble minded" people out of our country...and gene pool.

And I haven't even gotten to the chapter about the Nazis yet.

On a more positive note, as long as there have been IQ tests, there have been skeptics of IQ tests.

If you think I'm on an emotionally reactive rebellious tirade, you're right. This is a painful issue for which I've always sought some kind of resolution...usually, reassurance that I was plenty smart and had nothing to worry about. (And there has never been a way to completely reassure me, as there are always people who have done better on IQ tests, in school, and so on.) When I learned at 20 or so, via finding some of my mother's old papers lying around, what my IQ score had been at the age of almost 9, I was devastated. I was not "gifted" after all, as I'd previously assumed and hoped - my score was 120, above average but below the 130 cutoff for giftedness I'd learned about in psychology. (Granted, I actually remember getting nervous on the timed jigsaw puzzle section, and my verbal subscore was just above 130, but I don't have enough of the Normie trait of positive self-delusion to run with the higher subscore or blame my lower one entirely on performance anxiety. I've been a pessimist since childhood.) I was one of the Damned, not one of the Elect. Calvinism is my metaphor of choice because, emotionally, that's what it's always felt like. To be smart was "good" and to be dumb was "bad," in a very absolute and final sense, and either I was born "good" or I was born "bad."

Even though I was never taught about eugenics in school that I can remember - at least not in the formative years - somehow I caught onto the insidious idea that one's intelligence was somehow a measure of one's quality of being, one's overall worth. Issues of quality of being, and the fear that I may have been born without it, are a major source of self-harm for me.

A major reason why I've been so drawn to the world of disability advocacy and acceptance of difference is because it exposes me to anti-hierarchical perspectives. These provide more than just narcissistic fuel for an ego that at least wants to be good and just and fair in spirit if it can't be smart or great or special. They provide something that could help me heal some childhood wounds and build basic self-esteem regardless of how I "measure up."

My current experimental viewpoint is to view what's normally seen as "intellect" as a matter of specific skills and interests that, like any other skills and interests, are just neutral tratits and not some magical measure of human worth and worthiness. People who "aren't very bright" just don't have a lot of academic-type skills or interests. And there's no more point in envying people who have academic skills or interests that are beyond mine in a related area than there is of envying soccer fanatics. They're not "better people" than I am, they're just different.

That's probably the hardest part: letting go of the fear of being a "lesser person" than those who skipped grades or could win Jeopardy or who have studied and aced more academic subjects than I have. As a pessimist, it's easy to obliterate the notion of classes of being below my own and consider myself a human equal to the slow, but not so easy to obliterate the notion of classes of being above my own and consider myself a human equal to the swift. But if all humans are equally deserving of basic dignity, that means all humans. I don't think it's possible, at least not the way I tend to think of things, to value the smart solely for their smartness without devaluing the dumb solely for their dumbness. The people are to be recognized as people, their skills and interests are to be recognized as skills and interests, and their accomplishments are to be recognized as accomplishments. Nobody is more or less of a person than anybody else. Nobody is undeserving of basic rights, or a chance to pursue, develop, and use their own skills and interests.

Status fear is primal, but neurotic status fear leading to shame and angst is probably taking it too far, delving into self-fulfilling-prophesy territory.

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