Overrating Intelligence

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Overrating Intelligence

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Intelligence is the intellectual ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills systematically, coherently and logically.

Once upon a time, intelligence was the primary quality I judged myself and others by. Even though I lacked it, and perhaps because of that, I prized it above other qualities. In an attempt to cultivate it, I kept an open mind, read difficult books (I still don’t understand them), entertained a diversity of thoughts, listened to intelligent people, and tried to come up with thoughts and ideas that bore some stains of intelligence.

Of course, there are other good qualities: kindness, empathy, patience, generosity, resilience, etc. But they seemed weaker and less powerful in comparison to intelligence. They remained secondary, ancillary, consequential, subordinate or subsidiary. They were the supporting cast to the main star of the show. They were tethered to intelligence like the empty tin cans tied to the back of a newly married couple’s car bumper.

Intelligence crowned the pyramid of human qualities like a halo. And like sunlight, the halo’s bright, calm glow revealed our other laudatory qualities. Or leavened the less celebratory aspects of ourselves. Or encouraged the growth of commendable qualities.

If intelligence didn’t reveal a direct route, its brilliance would illuminate an oblique one. If it made a mistake, its agility would avoid it the next time. If a problem were knotted and heavy, its strength would disentangle and lighten it. And intelligence is sexy, arousing and compelling. A sapiosexual is someone who finds intelligence sexually appealing.

Intelligence is not a, but the catalyst. It’s the secret sauce. The bit that makes everything faster, shinier and newer. It improves our other qualities. Like a rising tide, it lifts all boats and accompanying garbage. If we had intelligence, the rest took care of itself.

That’s what I used to think about intelligence.

Now, I don’t.

These days, I am wary and suspicious of intelligence, especially when it expresses itself without the company of other virtuous qualities.

Granted, intelligence is amongst the obvious, outstanding, and admirable of our qualities, but it does not stand alone above the rest. It is but one in a group of virtuous qualities. I think its place is alongside qualities like honesty, empathy, kindness, generosity, and patience.

My experience and the history of others repeatedly prove to me that intelligence is not a proxy or indication of a person’s virtue. Intelligence does not guarantee honesty, diligence, earnestness, ethics, kindness, generosity, patience, honour, empathy, courage, or thoughtfulness. Intelligence is unrelated to them. Possessing intelligence alone does not make us a good person.

Intelligence is no indicator of anything else except intelligence.

Intelligence does not indicate the presence of virtuous qualities and may even result in their suppression.

When mixed with ignoble qualities, intelligence becomes a portal to dishonesty, conceit, cruelty, ignorance, knowing-it-all and taking others for granted. Intelligence tends to fool us into believing we are superior to others. Intelligence helps us talk spin, create anxiety and doubt, create confusion, make-believe, hide with jargon, and engage in all kinds of clever deceit. Intelligence makes us likelier to think we have the truest conception of reality and be dismissive of others.

The many harmful things and events that were created or discovered by mankind were invented or created by its cleverest and most intelligent members. The nuclear bomb, financial crisis, genetically modified food, plastic, for example. Because:

Intelligence without empathy is cruelty. When we lack a sense of how the other feels, our intelligence does not account for them. It ignores them and, by doing so, dehumanizes them.

Intelligence without integrity is corruption. Without the restraint of ethics and morality, our intelligence seeks the most expeditious manner to achieve our goals or desires and would not exclude immoral or illegal activities. Everything and everyone is a means to an end.

Intelligence without courage is cowardice. It is not uncommon for the intelligent to be of cowardly disposition. They use their intelligence to excuse themselves, to hide and avoid, and to tend to their narrow interests.

Intelligence, not actively harnassed for the greater good, can easily find itself serving the commonest or greatest evils. We pick a side or allow it to pick us. There is no middle ground in such matters.

Intelligence also habitually turns upon itself, like a snake that swallows itself. Intelligent people are likelier to be miserable, depressed, and pessimistic. Intelligent people take themselves and everything about them too seriously.

So, intelligence, taken by itself, has been and continues to be severely overrated.

Having said that, I am not an anti-intellectual. I believe intelligence is an important quality to possess. But I hold intelligence lightly. I do not grip it too hard. I do not hold it alone. I gather it in my arms together with other qualities. I do not single it out anymore for praise. I disdain and denigrate it when it manifests in ignoble company.

Intelligence alloyed with qualities such as honesty, empathy, humility, kindness, and courage allows for a deeper, fuller, more nuanced appreciation of a matter. Combined with other good qualities, intelligence becomes like water – nourishing, fluid, dynamic and adaptable – instead of a metal sword – single purpose, hard and cutting.

I feel alloyed intelligence brings our fullest faculties to bear in our work. We appreciate matters not simply from a rational point of view but from emotional and psychological perspectives.

When intelligence is thoroughly mixed with other virtuous and noble celebratory qualities, it becomes something special.

That something special is wisdom. Wisdom is a profound understanding of ourselves, others, the world, and how we relate to each other harmoniously. That is unachievable with intelligence alone.

If stupidity is a dime a dozen, intelligence is a half-dollar for half a dozen. But wisdom, wisdom is one in a million.

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