A recent essay in The Atlantic, “The War on Stupid People,” should make us ponder the nature of what “stupid” really means. The dictionary says that stupidity is “behavior that shows a lack of good sense or judgment; the quality of being stupid or unintelligent.”
The term is worth contemplating when elite media publications, which serve as agenda-setters for mainstream media, tackle the subject of people’s intrinsic value in society. Writer David H. Freedman’s premise — that the intellectually gifted are reaping ever-greater rewards, and we are increasingly mistaking smarts for human worth — deserves thoughtful consideration.
He notes that SAT scores are used to winnow employment applications and that many of the super-smart are flocking to Silicon Valley, Calif., with the goal of automating the few jobs, such as driving and delivery, that are still accessible to people without college degrees.
Freedman also rails that “even in this age of rampant concern over microaggressions and victimization, we maintain open season on the nonsmart. People who’d swerve off a cliff rather than use a pejorative for race, religion, physical appearance or disability are all too happy to drop the ‘S-bomb’: Indeed, degrading others for being ‘stupid’ has become nearly automatic in all forms of disagreement.”
And yet … perhaps Freedman doth protest too much.
In all the data he presents about longitudinal studies of IQ as it relates to one’s ability to attain a well-paying job — or the likelihood of becoming obese, suffering from certain types of mental illness and ending up in prison — Freedman fails to make a clear distinction between low intellectual capacity, middling grades, unexceptional SAT scores and the alternative life choices that don’t revolve around the attainment of a “good job.” Not everyone wants the kind of “good jobs” that are on offer these days.