Fear of Intelligence and Inertial Resistance to Change (c.1986)
Would-be social reformers have the toughest job in the world. If one actually possesses the vision and intelligence to put forth some dramatic new conception of society and interpersonal relations, one is likely to be persecuted or even martyred, not listened to or even taken seriously enough to be the object of criticism or opposition. Two factors seem to often appear as obstacles: fear of intelligence, and an inertial resistance to change. When I tell people I am a member of Mensa, and that there are some 5 million people in the United States who are also eligible to join, I rarely get a positive response, like: “Oh, isn’t that exciting? Tell me more about it!”
Reactions are more likely to be indifference or embarrassment, like I was admitting some dirty little secret. The fact that seems to require explanation is that there are only 53,000 actual members out of that 5 million.
Feminists have long made the complaint that intelligence in women has not been a social value; that women more often hide their intelligence rather than displaying it and thus (they believe) opening themselves to ridicule and contempt. However valid this may be for women, it seems to be equally valid for men. And those who are proud of their intelligence and freely display it often pay a fearful price in social alienation, ridicule, and outright rejection by lesser minds.
I suppose the reason for this might be a well-learned and carefully-remembered fear of intelligence. Intelligence, here confused with shrewdness or the ability to successfully manipulate others for one’s own purposes, is seen as power in the hands of a real or potential enemy. If one is not intelligent, one tends to fear those who are, just as the physically-underdeveloped person might feel an inferiority, inadequacy, or envy relative to his or her physically more-impressive rivals. Many intelligent people have exactly this attitude towards the athlete or “jock” — an attitude which forgets the principle of balance among physical, intellectual, and artistic capacities. Thus, they should understand why people sometimes resent their intelligence.
This principle of balance, inherited from the Classical Greek world-view, is also found in the Buddhist and Taoist belief-systems of the Far East. If one adopts an experimentalist attitude about one’s own life, one quickly learns this principle. We can only go so far in one direction without neglecting others. We can only develop specific capacities in a limited way by themselves. As we develop the “whole person,” we find that there is little or nothing that we cannot do, and that a carefully thought-out equilibrium can be attained at any level of achievement.
As a classic “under-achiever,” I often marvel at the middle-class professional person’s pursuit of balance, which may include 10-20 scheduled events in a single day, from breakfast, luncheon, and dinner appointments to a round of professional duties, a game of tennis, psychotherapy, a cocktail meeting, and a theater or concert attendance. Typically, I participate in one or two scheduled, organized events in a day, and often find even that much burdensome. But I also read 20 periodicals, write 20 or 30 pages a week, and always have time for the most trivial or purely social conversations.
I am active in the peace movement, a member of a Unitarian fellowship, and a regular contributor to Mensa events and publications — more than enough for one person, I can assure you! By abandoning other kinds of pursuits and values which are not consistent with my intellectual interests, I have freed myself to pursue whatever is interesting to me. Although my yearly income is probably less than the average teen-ager’s, people still envy or resent my freedom to pursue my own interests, as though their own lives of “quiet desperation” were some sort of universal punishment which everyone should have to suffer!
The problem with living in a society where intelligence is not respected or rewarded is that ignorance prevails. One need only look at government policy, business decision-making, education, or any other area of public concern to realize that this resentment of intelligence is the cause of most social problems. Not only do people get themselves into deep trouble through their ignorance: it seems as though they do so on purpose, thinking perhaps that this will give them (or their professional interests) that much more scope for action; that much more power to control the lives of others. Personal freedom, initiative, and community responsibility are usurped in the process.
Recently, I was attempting to explain my preference for a diversified, decentralized education system to one whom I thought would be receptive to this idea. Instead of school boards and state education bureaucracies, public schools would be organized and maintained by local community school associations of parents and teachers, who would be totally responsible for their particular neighborhood school and its administration including selection of texts, curricula, and educational philosophies. Independent and religious schools would also be encouraged, and students wishing to attend them would receive a comparable subsidy to cover the (reasonable) costs of teachers’ salaries and building maintenance in the form of a voucher which could be used at any school, public or private.
The person I was trying to convince (herself a retired teacher, and the product of a one-room country school), was worried that many parents might choose “inferior” schools or teachers, thus depriving their children of a quality education! A supporter of the present system (here in Montana it works as well as it did anywhere, 30 years ago) she was trained in the “progressive” theories of John Dewey, which she hopes might still be implemented by the state bureaucracies. Although devoutly religious, she maintains that religious schools should get no subsidies, and that only one educational philosophy and social theory should dominate all of public education.
My reply was simply that now, everyone is deprived of the education they want and need, unless a family is rich enough to be able to afford the private school of its choice, in addition to the taxes paid to support the wretchedly inadequate public schools. In a diversified system competing for students and public money, parents depriving their children of a quality education would be virtually impossible. More importantly, the rest of us would have the opportunity to choose the best schools available — the ones which best fit our personal needs and values. Our children would no longer be taken away from us, and educated in ways we disapprove of. Certainly that consideration alone should outweigh all others.
But in the enshrinement of ignorance, such considerations are thought to be anything but relevant. Here again, a false conception of “equality” (the equality of universal mediocrity) is far more compelling than the pursuit of excellence, individual conscience, moral values, religious beliefs, and equality of opportunity. How can this be? I can hardly believe that in the presence of both kinds of systems, any group of voters and taxpayers would fail to choose my system!
The problem may be simple resistance to change. Once the two systems are implemented and compared, the benefits of diversity, community, and decentralization will be obvious to all. Except that most people are afraid of intelligence and change, and anything which seems to result from intelligent thinking; any change which makes comparisons which put bureaucracies, teachers’ unions, and other established interests to shame simply shouldn’t be permitted to happen! And that is why I am not very optimistic about reform in public policy, and why I retain a libertarian desire to minimize government involvement in useful, beneficial human services.
Paul Stephens Great Falls, Montana