Sunday, May 02, 2010


All good qualities have value in all places. Yet some situations and indeed entire cultures promote particular values for their own continuance. This is not always conscious - virtues are called forth because they work.

There are subcultures where beauty is the main virtue. Through most of human history being hard-working was a necessary virtue. In trading societies, calculation and negotiation were prized; isolated societies depend upon trustworthiness. Righteousness or piety overarches the virtues and keeps them in their proper order. This is one of the meanings of "Seek ye first the Kingdom of God..." Courage of various flavors are usually in need.

We have been in an era in which cleverness of many sorts is the quality most desired by individuals. We have some formal definitions of intelligenc, and we have learned to measure and quantify that, enough to argue about it all day. Mechanical intelligence, verbal intelligence, mathematical intelligence, social intelligence - we have needed them all in the last 200 years or so, far more than we had before. There has always been need for intelligence, of course, but frankly, we could get by with the few. With communication as lacking as it was until historically recent times, people weren't going to be able to implement knowledge from afar all that much anyway.

I think we have seen the peak of that, or are at least near it. If enhanced intelligence is in our not-to-distant future anyway, the traditional type of intelligence as knowledge-accumulation, while still valuable, will not have the primacy it does now. I think adaptability - the ability to change jobs and locations, the ability to rebound in the face of change rather that freezing up and insisting on an outmoded schema, the ability to change narratives - will grow in importance.

Adaptability is a sort of intelligence itself, certainly. Or at least, it depends on a certain minimum of traditional intellegence.

Interesting how this has played out in national politics. We have had presidential candidates and major figures who have a reputation for the old type of intelligence and those who were accused of lacking it. Ignore for a moment the purely political gamesmanship of all this, and whether those persons do or don't have that type of intelligence. The point is it's old - in terms of leadership it may never have been hugely important anyway - and tells us little about adaptability. The argument that people who have a lot of A will have a lot of B, or that B requires lots of A are both unpersuasive. If what we need is B, why not seek that directly and let the indirect effect of A be whatever it is? Additionally, we know from our own experience how inexactly A and B correlate. Not only do we see this in those others, who bring themselves to our attention by failing or succeeding unexpectedly - we see it in ourselves. We know internally from our own conflicts and behavior how loose the association is between Intelligence A and Adaptability B.

It is further interesting because of the culture war set off by who values A and who B.

Tom Maguire over at Neo's in a related context.
Imagine a race that is tall, athletic, handsome (the ladies are beautiful), brave, loyal, honest, energetic, hard-working, great at helping little old ladies across the street and saving kittens from trees, but ever so slightly below average in IQ tests. Who would consider that race to be inferior?

1 comment:

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