Bootstraps and Intellectuals

Highly intelligent people have their own version of “I pulled myself up by the bootstraps and so can anybody.” It’s their refusal to believe that intelligence is as genetically heritable as height. They want to think that they can take full credit for their brain power and feel robbed of a stellar achievement when it turns it that it’s not an achievement at all.

Even more annoying is their incapacity to fathom that not all brains work like theirs do. And trying to force people to perform intellectual tasks they are incapable of performing is as ridiculous as trying to get adults to change their height (or any other inherited trait) by the force of their willpower.

A lot of suffering, shame and misery stems from this utterly unscientific and vastly idiotic belief that intelligence is a) something that is completely within your control and b) something that doesn’t exist.

11 thoughts on “Bootstraps and Intellectuals”

  1. Personally I’m happy to admit and point out that intelligence is random in the population: lets me off the hook with that not wanting to pop out a baby thing!

    (Though I also hear that from lots of folks that I am merely crazy, not necessarily intelligent!)

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  2. Your view used to be… Not so much that intelligence as a heritable trait doesn’t exist, but that treating it as a heritable trait, as a practical matter, is going to give you a lower sense of control over your life and less drive to improve it.

    That view and your current one aren’t exactly opposed, but neither do they gel together particularly well. Why the change?

    Oh! You seem to have moved on a bit from fluidity as a core organizing principle for your thought (at least, you mention it less), but, in your current view, how much of its effect of sorting the world into winners and losers is cultural / psychological, and how much is just proxy for intelligence?

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    1. You can’t improve intelligence. My IQ stayed identical for 20 years in spite of me getting 5 degrees, learning new languages, and publishing a boatload of books and articles. Intelligence is heritable and immutable, like eye color or height. My IQ is in the top 15% population-wide but only somewhat above average for my ethnic group.

      Great question about sorting. Intelligence doesn’t necessarily translate into outcomes for groups. It does for individuals. But not necessarily for groups. Look at Jews, for example. Ashkenazi Jews have the average IQ of 115, which is higher than the general population IQ of 100. And there are many Jewish individuals who have achieved a lot. But as a group, they’ve experienced every calamity imaginable. Until quite recently, they were clear losers everywhere.

      China has the same average IQ as South Korea but look at the differences in the standard of living.

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      1. “You can’t improve intelligence. My IQ stayed identical for 20 years in spite of me getting 5 degrees, learning new languages, and publishing a boatload of books and articles. Intelligence is heritable and immutable, like eye color or height. My IQ is in the top 15% population-wide but only somewhat above average for my ethnic group.”

        We know that intelligence is heritable (the most recent research suggests it is 50-55% genetically correlated) but concurrent forays into improving it are hampered by obscurant categorization and interminable disagreement on what composes intelligence. At bare minimum we know it is a heterogeneous, emergent property and that specific aspects could be enhanced in methodological fashion: memory techniques have existed since ancient Greek and Roman times. But attempts to devise programs to boost spatial recognition, pattern recognition, creativity, etc. have been inconclusive – largely because psychologists struggle to determine whether said routines are addressing the thing in question.

        “Great question about sorting. Intelligence doesn’t necessarily translate into outcomes for groups. It does for individuals. But not necessarily for groups. Look at Jews, for example. Ashkenazi Jews have the average IQ of 115, which is higher than the general population IQ of 100. And there are many Jewish individuals who have achieved a lot. But as a group, they’ve experienced every calamity imaginable. Until quite recently, they were clear losers everywhere.”

        The most up-to-date literature on the subject posits the mean Ashkenazi IQ at 106-107. Earlier claims proclaiming Ashkenazi prodigiousness cited sources out of context such as the 1957 study by Boris Levinson, which focused on a narrow subset of high youthful achievers within an already limited subset self-selected for intelligence (applicants to day schools for gifted children). This is one of those unfortunate myths that have been both self-perpetuated and further supported by unwitting Gentiles eager to exoticize Jews.

        In terms in historical achievements, Jewish communities post-diaspora tended to do quite well for themselves prior to the routine cycles of ostracization and expulsion. By nature of being intrinsic outsiders to Christian society – and this is where old stereotypes hold some water – they tended to disregard what would be consider “blue collar” trades in modern vernacular in favor of finance, administration, and science/philosophy.

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        1. “they tended to disregard what would be consider “blue collar” trades in modern vernacular in favor of finance, administration, and science/philosophy.”

          That’s putting it mildly. In the vast majority of European countries, Jews were confined to ghettos, not allowed to own real estate and restricted to very few occupations: basically, they could either be pedlars or moneylenders. [In my case they came from a minuscule German state to settle as minor moneylenders in the small duchy of Mantua.] In the latter case, please remember that the interest rate was decided by the Christian authorities. Very few of those moneylenders ever turned into the likes of Rothschild, and very few of the pedlars ever turned into wealthy or successful entrepreneurs. And yet, even in the poorest ghetto or the poorest shtetl the literacy rate among boys and men was near 100%, when in most European societies it was never higher than 30% until the end of the Nineteenth century. What riches they had were held between their ears. And this explains the intellectual super-achievers among Ashkenazi Jews that many Americans are familiar with.

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  3. Wait. You mean standards of living, material well being for individuals is determined by intelligence, particularly those aspects of it that are inherited and not trained?

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    1. Of course. You won’t play for the NBA if your inherited trait of height is 5’3. And you won’t be a neurosurgeon if you don’t have the IQ for it.

      Again, though, it often works differently for entire societies. Look at North and South Korea. The same high IQ but a very, very different standard of living. Or look at the Russians and the Finns. The same ethnic group, the same high intelligence. Russians are even smarter because they have Mongolian ancestry. But look at the results.

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  4. Very insightful post Clarissa.

    This gets at the problem of these type of people pushing miners and truck drivers into coding jobs thinking they have the mental capacity to do so. Same with all this push towards STEM oriented jobs for everybody, like just anyone can succeed or would even enjoy that type of work.

    It also gets at the heart of many issues, which is the fact that successful workaholic intelligent people are the people in charge and at the top. These are the same people who think everybody should be just like them, not realizing that there may be a reason beyond just hard work to why they were able to be so successful in the first place.

    The sooner we realize there is high variance in intelligence and mental capacity, the sooner we can move on to a different paradigm entirely.

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    1. Exactly! This is the reason why I’m interested in the subject. A well organized society is the one that offers a decent life to people with all kinds of inherited traits. Not everybody needs STEM and not everybody can do STEM. It shouldn’t be seen as a slur buy as a statement of fact. And this fact should inform policy.

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      1. “A well organized society is the one that offers a decent life to people with all kinds of inherited traits”

        True, but what forces exist in the modern world that are about creating a well organized society?

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    2. “It also gets at the heart of many issues, which is the fact that successful workaholic intelligent people are the people in charge and at the top. These are the same people who think everybody should be just like them, not realizing that there may be a reason beyond just hard work to why they were able to be so successful in the first place.”

      I’m skeptical that this is the case, or rather that those occupying the heights of power are also our best and brightest. A large body of research suggests that most fields contain abstract constraints that filter through contenders with IQs 1-2 SD above the norm, while those with 2+ SD tend to be socially excluded from positions of power. An especially damning set of studies concluded that among elite intellectual professions, the probability of advancement increases up to ~133 only to subsequent decrease until it hits an intractable wall around ~150.

      So the issue of elites proscribing inscrutable decrees to the plebs may be less of a problem than those individuals being less intelligent than they believe.

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