Jeremy Stein - Journal


Intelligence is not a virtue

Society used to laud the high-born, letting them act as though they were better than everyone else because they were born into wealthy families. Society now seems to look at those born into wealth as having an unfair advantage. The “self-made” millionaire has more respect than the trust fund kid. The wealthy will always have an advantage, but at least we don’t pretend it’s because they’re more worthy.

Similarly, while good-looking people have many advantages, it’s widely acknowledged that beauty is not virtuous. We agree that outward beauty is only skin-deep. While we still want to see beautiful people on TV and in advertising, society seems to recognize it’s a physical advantage, not a virtue.

Virtues are things like humility, industry, generosity, courage, kindness, and patience. We praise people who demonstrate such virtues. That behavior is worthy of reward.

Society continues to treat intelligence as a virtue. Unlike wealth and beauty, we haven’t acknowledged that the privilege of intelligence is unearned and undeserved. We believe the smart student deserves the scholarship, the clever player deserves to win the prize, the most intelligent entrepreneur deserves business success.

A high IQ is so virtuous it can compensate for defects. How often have you heard it said of a troubled child that he or she “was a smart kid” as though that mitigates other moral failings?

Intelligence is primarily an innate attribute. You can study and learn, but like wearing makeup to enhance your beauty, you can only do so much with what you’re given.

It’s time that we start treating IQ like the unfair advantage that it is. People who are successful despite their low intelligence should be praised. We should have university scholarships for the stupid but industrious. People’s achievements should be treated as less impressive when they started with the unfair advantage of high intelligence.

This world would be better if people were celebrated for what they did rather than what they were born with.

March 2, 2023 No Comments.

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