Lack of intelligence and lack of its use

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More on the "Bush is unintelligent" myth from The Buck Stops Here.

It has been much remarked that President Bush often stumbles over his words in public speaking. It has nearly as often been suggested that this is a sign of low intelligence.

This second suggestion can be made only by someone who confuses intelligence with the ability to spout BS. We've all seen politicians who have the latter gift.

President Bush just isn't one of them. Stuart goes on:

Indeed, people who think that intelligence manifests itself only in the ability to BS are themselves displaying low intelligence.

He's criticizing the stupid view that lack of intelligence is the only explanation for lack of the ability to BS. Then he says that lack of intelligence is the only explanation for someone holding such a stupid view. It sounds remarkably similar, doesn't it? So I wouldn't go so far as to say that all those who hold the "Bush is unintelligent" myth on the grounds of his lack of ability to BS are stupid. They're simply acting as if they have low intelligence. They may have the intelligence and just fail to use it. Of course, that's probably worse, because people who aren't intelligent can't help it.

Now that I've said that, I'm afraid I have to take it back, unfortunately. It was such a good conclusion, too. One factor affecting this is that there really are different kinds of intelligence. See here for one taxonomy of intelligence, linked by Stuart Buck in the above-linked post, and see the second-to-last paragraph of this review for a quick summary of Keirsey's tying together of different kinds of intelligence with different personality types. Some kinds of intelligence aren't directly related to other kinds. That doesn't immediately undermine what I said, but it at least makes it more complicated to say correctly. It will affect some of what I'm about to say in the taking back of what I've said so far, though.

I don't happen to think intelligence is something entirely outside our control. It's not as if genetics will completely determine someone's intelligence. Test scores over time show this. The average IQ score never changes, but that's because 100 is defined as average. Yet over time the average number of questions right on IQ tests has gone up, which has required getting more questions right to have average IQ. If you didn't adjust scores to average it out to 100, the average score would show increases over time. Somehow something we do in Western civilization tends to increase IQ scores. This happens within a population and within the whole of a larger society, such as the United States.

Genetic factors do play a role, but social factors also do. Some of the genetic factors also play a social role, e.g. tendencies to enjoy quiet, contemplative actions. Those would tend to increase one's capacity for intelligent thought and reasoning. They don't guarantee it, though, because social factors may lead to an inability to develop that potential. I've long thought that the set of people who don't do well in math classes would line up very well with the set of those who don't like math. It's not that one causes the other in either direction. It's more complicated than that. Each affects the other and confirms it, making both stronger in the end. I might have no desire to develop a certain capacity partly because I don't seem to be very good at that activity, and I may not be very good at it partly because I haven't worked very hard at developing it. I think this is true of me when it comes to the kinds of intelligence associated with bodily-kinesthetic functions.

I've got far better than average agility and sprinting speed. I was always second-to-last in dodgeball, because no one could hit me. Unfortunately, I couldn't throw and therefore a war of the other person throwing and me dodging usually favored the person who at least could throw. I could be an MVP of a track team, but I couldn't think quickly on my feet in any other athletic endeavor, not for lack of trying. I can see how the same might happen with someone who has some strength in some of the basic mathematical skills but some weakness in others who then just simply fails to develop even the excellent skills as fully as possible. It's not that they don't do math at all and therefore fail to develop mathematical skills at all, which unfortunately does happen with some people. It's just that those who really thrive on something they do well at will put more of themselves into it, and those who put more of themselves into it will tend to do better at it.

As I've said elsewhere, I think this is one reason why black students, on average, do far worse than white students on standardized tests and in school in general. It's not that they don't care about school, and it's not out of a genetic deficiency. It's that they don't see their school activities as at all central to who they are and what they do. I, on the other hand, have seen them as central to myself and my life since at least middle school, and I've always done really well in school since that time (though not always as well before that). You could easily see one as the cause and the other as the effect, but you could easily see it in the other direction. What I'm suggesting is that both directions of causation are to some degree true. The result is a lower performance in certain kinds of intelligence. It doesn't mean purely lower potential for intelligence, though in many cases that may be part of it. In some cases, though, someone with lower potential gets that potential realized and ends with higher intelligence. Thus it's correct to say that those who don't do as well have lower intelligence, and it's correct to say that they don't. It depends on whether you're talking about potential development or actual development. (Overachievers and underachievers bring in the same ambiguity at a later level. I'm talking about the level of when people are developing or failing to develop their natural skills. Underachievers fail to use skills that are developed, and overachivevers put in so much level that they perform beyong their ability level.)

What does this have to do with Bush and his critics? I have to admit that I didn't write all this to come up with some point about that issue. It just got me thinking about how all the stuff I've been reading and writing about with race and intelligence, personality and intelligence, and Bush and intelligence might affect each other.

Well, there are some connections to make. The Bush critics on this issue claim that he's unintelligent. If the ability to BS that people like Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan, and other politicians who appear intelligent on their feet turns out to be a kind of intelligence, and Bush lacks that, then I suppose there is a kind of intelligence that he doesn't have in high amounts. In some ways this might be from a lower genetic potential, and in some ways it might be from his failure to develop it. For those parts in the first category, it's a fairly good sign of immaturity to make fun of it. For those aspects in the second, we have to look at why he might not have developed them. I suspect that the kinds of skills needed for such BS do take some natural ability, which his personality doesn't tend to go along with. However, some of this comes from level of interest and identification with activities that would be required for developing this kind of intelligence. I'm not sure what those are, but many of them aren't quite honorable.

It doesn't necessarily show anything bad about Bush that he hasn't put very much effort into developing this kind of ability, even apart from the fact that some degree of someone's level of ability here isn't under their control anyway (which was the conclusion I had to take back when I said it as an absolute). It's clear to me that he excels in some kinds of intelligence, and some of these are probably things he's put a lot of work into and sees as central to who he is and what he finds enjoyment in doing well. The kinds of intelligence necessary for organizational and administrative work are his greatest strength. He picks highly qualified people to do their job, and he delegates it to them, not caring to be a specialist in that job himself. Those who would belittle him for not being strong in other kinds of intelligence aren't necessary of low intelligence. That part of my original conclusion stands. However, it does seem to me after looking through all this that you have to be highly insensitive to the nature of intelligences, how we develop them, and what's really required of a president to think someone with the ability set of President Bush doesn't belong in the office of president. Oh, and I don't take back my conclusion that those who make fun of him for this are morally immature.

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