17 January 2009

Cleverness and success

It is starting to be admitted that a high proportion of the cleverest do not make it, in the sense of becoming members of the immensely expanded ‘university’ population. We suppose that ‘cleverest’ has at least some correlation with ‘having the highest IQs in the old-fashioned sense’. IQ was defined originally as a predictor of academic success in the system that prevailed at the time.

It is not difficult (one might say, it has not been difficult) to devise an ‘educational’ system which favours certain personality types rather than others, and favours specific levels of IQ, which may be far below the highest occurring. But then, of course, the personality types which are discriminated against are to be described as defective in some way; it cannot be that the system has treated them with particular hostility. Bruce Charlton* refers to ‘awkward, abrasive and wildly creative’ individuals, as well as to ‘clever crazies’ and ‘idiot savants’.

I might infer from my own experience that when an obvious anomaly occurs, in that someone with obviously exceptional ability is being cast out, as I was, it is regarded as a justification for slandering them with psychological interpretations of any kind, which do not have to bear any relation to factual reality, except perhaps as an inversion of it.

Nor is it necessary for the various slanders to be consistent with one another. When I was at school I was supposed to be both a reluctant mediocrity driven by an ambitious father, as well as (in other contexts) greedy, selfish and ambitious in wishing to acquire qualifications as fast as possible and much younger than other people, so as to sneer at and score off those who were not able to do so.

On being thrown out of college, I am pretty sure (from what came back to me) that I was widely credited with being both reclusive and wildly creative. Both being reasons for assuming that I did not want to return to an academic career, and that my attempts to do so should be opposed.

In a recent blog piece, Fabian Tassano comments on the possibility that his ideas may have had some influence on what is expressed by some journalists, but always without any acknowledgement which might draw attention to his existence or make his books slightly more saleable.

A journalist may wish to adorn his work with references to Harvard economists or Booker-winning novelists, but what incentive does he have to cite someone with no significant social status? Only a moral one. In other words, none.

Actually I would put the case more strongly. In the case of a statusless person who has been unfairly deprived of their rightful position in society, all and sundry behave as if they had a moral obligation to keep him down and out.

* 'Why are scientists so dull?', Oxford Magazine, Issue 281.