Sunday, September 03, 2017

The Gold Coin of Worth

Dr. James Dobson, the much-admired and much-despised psychologist that evangelical Christians were so taken with in the 1970's-2000 (and beyond?) once discussed the whole self-esteem movement and its lack of grounding in God's valuing of the individual. He remarked that in (1980's) present culture, Intelligence was the Gold Coin of Worth, especially for males, while Beauty was second - the Silver Coin of Worth, and perhaps those reversed for females. He noted that this might be changing, and Intelligence would become the Gold Coin for both. Either way, he didn't like it.  He claimed it didn't used to be that way.

Perhaps he gave a more detailed explanation of this somewhere, but he left it vague in the show I overheard while my wife was doing the dishes that night.  I was left to puzzle out for myself what used to be the measures of worth that humans would cling to. I thought of the Puritans - I always think of the Puritans first, then the High Middle Ages - where was I? The Puritans wrote a lot about wisdom, and steadfastness, and piety, but intelligence was not what they pointed to first. To the medievals, having a Good Name summed up a great many other virtues, and they had codified the virtues into Seven: The three theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity; the four cardinal virtues of temperance, prudence, justice, fortitude. Hard work was often praised when I was young. "That Rene, he's a hard worker. He could do it for you." In the Rust Belt that was even more pronounced.

Loyalty. Honesty. Kindness. Chastity, doubly so for females. Patience. Learning. It wasn't always better then - people admired you for your wealth, or rank, or connections, or clothes. Physical strength, or musical and artistic ability, have always worked in most societies. You will notice that intelligence doesn't show up on those lists. People didn't dislike it, but it was seen as morally neutral or a temptation. To be thought of as clever was a bit ambiguous, though ingenuity was well-regarded. The last two or three centuries have seen a steady rise in the admiration of intelligence, as we have lived in a Western society that has found such very useful. In strict point of fact, all human societies ever have rewarded intelligence, but never so thoroughly or obviously as what we have now.

 I wondered where we might be going next, and decided that adaptability is going to become increasingly important moving forward. I have been saying that for about twenty years, I think. I still believe it. But in a correspondence today Bethany of Graph Paper Diaries suggested that in a social media world, visibility, or credibility, or being seen as "with it" or "on top of things" might become such powerful elements of persuasion as to constitute power in themselves. I am much taken with idea, and am turning it around in my head.

BTW, I'm not thinking these are a good direction to go - but it may be the direction we are going, wisely or not.


Sam L. said...

Perhaps not so much on intelligence, as the paper on which the degree is printed, and which college issued it. Which looks pretty fraudulent to me these days.

Grim said...

In the Middle Ages, among the nobility, it was prowess. Among Churchmen, it was said to be moderation (sometimes given as 'temperance' or 'self-control'); but it was probably really intelligence, provided that intelligence was employed in service to the Divine order as the Church understood it.

Of course, the value that both classes most admired in the poor was humility. What the poor themselves admired we are left to infer from popular stories like Robin Hood.

Armed Texan said...

Demonstrable accomplishment has always been the worth of men. Whether that comes from intelligence, cleverness, exploiting opportunity (i.e. taking measured risks), leadership, or hard work and a good work ethic is immaterial. (In fact, the most accomplished men, not necessarily the most celebrated mind you, usually have a mixture of all of the above.)