The notion that all men are created equal and that results are determined by effort, discipline, and so on is what my former boss Willard referred to as “one of the great noble myths.” The subject came up shortly after two of my coworkers, Edgar Braughton and Charlie Belcher, were let go. While I had, up until that point, always known that raw intelligence varied from one individual to the next, and that there were people we euphemistically called mentally handicapped that biologically lacked the intelligence that most people have, I never fully appreciated the wide spectrum of intelligence out there until I met, worked with, had to checked the work of, and eventually had to team-lead Edgar and Charlie.

Edgar and Charlie were not mentally retarded in the obvious sense. There were some questions about Edgar, but a lot of those were attributable to a speech impediment on his part that gave the false sense of retardation. Willard, too, had a speech impediment, but is among the smartest of the guys that I know. Edgar could easily have been in that category if he were, well, less dim. But he was the dimmest bulb in our shop. Charlie was a little bit smarter, though not much.

Edgar’s and Charlie’s job was really what I would call straight-forward. For much of the teach, it was mundane. Tedious. Perhaps the hardest part of the job was staying interested in the job enough to do it right. It required an attention to detail, though as Freddie demonstrated you could get away with a lot of inattention if you were simply fast. So really, all you needed was some combination of careless speed or slightly more time-consuming accuracy.

Most of the OSI Team did not have a whole lot in the way of external motivation. I was one of only four longish-term OSI Programmers that was married or in a committed relationship though the only one without children. Simon had kids to support but they were his girlfriend’s kids and he was not under any legal obligation to support them. The other two married OSI Programmers were Edgar and Charlie. On top of that, Edgar had a whopping four kids with a wife that didn’t work and Charlie had a chronically ill wife whose medical bills (by his own telling of it) were considerable. Further, they had less in the way of marketable skills than did many of us and therefore needed the job at Falstaff more than the rest of us did. In other words, these were two people that had the most motivation out of any of us.

And yet, despite all of this motivation, they simply could not get the job done. They could not get it done quickly. They could not get it done right. We tried vigorously to teach them how to do it. We patiently worked with them and looked over their shoulder and tried over and over again to teach them. They had the background that suggested that it wasn’t beyond their grasp. Edgar had a couple years of coursework from DeVry and Charlie a degree from the local vocational school. So it wasn’t completely alien to them. Charlie had a bit of an attitude problem, but his problems far surpassed that.

At the end of the day, despite each of their motivations and despite the easy nature of the job, it was simply beyond their grasp to do it right. Though I had always known of variable intelligence, it just never fully occurred to me that something as simple as that job would quite plainly be beyond people that were able to otherwise live independently. We may squish and squeak and slide a bit and say that they didn’t have the right kind of intelligence. There may be some truth to that in that I could see (maybe, possibly) Charlie being successful at fixing cars or something else that melded one’s mind with one’s hands. But the job itself is so easy to achieve basic competence with that it seemed to me and others that even if your real skills lay elsewhere, it’s not something that somebody shouldn’t be able to at least do right. It’s not an easy job to excel at… but to do? There isn’t a reader of Hit Coffee that couldn’t figure it out in a week.

Of course, Hit Coffee has a self-selected audience. It primarily appeals to people of a pretty basic level of intelligence. To people that like to think about things. People with college degrees (which I think all of you that I know about have) or at least the intelligence to get one. And some of my surprise at what should have been bloody obvious is that I have for most of my life been surrounded by such people. I went to an upper-crest high school. Then I went to college and hung out with the Honors College crowd. My career is mind-based. And even those I knew from outside my circles tended to be self-selected. The people I knew that went to more working-class schools tended to be the smarter people there (I met many of them through a computer network). The warehouse workers at my first job that I talked to tended to be team leads and the odd young man or two that were simply working their way through college. In that sense, it’s no surprise that my relatively sheltered existence lead to a sanguine view of the strength of human intelligence.

And so I gradually had to accede the notion that even within functioning individuals that don’t require special care and that didn’t ride the short bus and weren’t ill-educated and that weren’t just lazy, there can be some pretty basic limits as to what they are capable of. These limits include things that I would have been capable of doing in the seventh grade. Maybe earlier.

A lot of people come to this realization. Some wash it away with notions that it was really how people like Edgar and Charlie were raised and educated that are the problem. That’s historically what I’d done. Even though there were always people that couldn’t do things that I considered pretty basic and that in some cases it might take more attention and tutoring, that they could get there. A lot of whether someone accepts it or declines to accept it depends on ideology. To the extent that it dovetails with what they already believe about people (that, say, poor people are poor because they’re less intelligent), they believe it more readily than others where it presents some uncomfortable truths that contradict the way that they see the world.

For some people, it adds a stronger element of libertarianism because it adds more a sense of justice to the segregation of the haves and have-nots. For me it does slightly the opposite. If people that are at the bottom of the economic latter are so because they made less of an effort or made poorer life choices, I have far less sympathy than someone that is stuck manning a convenience store with little hopes of making it into management simply because they were born with fewer neurons firing quite as vigorously as the next guy. In fact, it almost starts to make a socialist out of me in that I believe that people that lack brain-power (assuming that they work somewhere doing something!) are deserving of, if not everything that their sharper peers that contribute more to society, as respectable a standard of living as we can afford. In short, it makes the notion of wealth redistribution bother me less. It makes the wheat-and-chaff of capitalism overall less appealing.

On the other hand, my experiences at Belle Rieve, that occurred at the same time, which come to think of it included a number of people that probably wouldn’t have been able to do OSI programming work, counteracted this somewhat by demonstrating pretty clearly the dangers of subsidizing lifestyles that aren’t going anywhere. It may be too much to expect them to get jobs that pay well, but it’s pretty important that they work. If idle minds are the Devil’s Workshop, idle lives partake in a never-ending buffet of counterproductive habits. Further, on the subject of crime-prevention, if people that live among the poor are not just limited to those that made poor lifestyle choices, trying to keep those zones as free as possible from crime becomes all the more important.

But mostly, it gives me a little more sympathy for those that haven’t made it. Not enough sympathy that I want to move back to Belle Rieve or that I would raise children where we lived in Estacado or where we live now, but enough to feel a sense of sympathy rather than simply frustration when I bump into them on a daily basis.

-{Note: The setting of most of this post is Deseret, where 90% of the population is white (96% including white-Hispanic). The racial aspects of IQ are discussed at length elsewhere and I would prefer them not be discussed here. This post is about IQ. Not about IQ and race. Not IQ and immigration. Or welfare mommas. Or about how people that are not like you or don’t think like you are ruining our country.}-


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22 Responses to Intelligence Quotient

  1. Linus says:

    I struggle a bit with things like this. I want to think that everyone has remarkable capabilities and will shine if encouraged and given the proper chance, but then I come across people like Edgar and Charlie. The temptation is to blame it on laziness or lack of education, but you’re right, basic IQ sometimes plays a role.

    Looked at politically, I think the hard part is giving folks like Edgar and Charlie a fighting chance at a good life while still encouraging those that are more capable (but perhaps less motivated) to strive for more. On most issues (minimum wage, welfare, taxation, etc.), it seems to be a choice between hurting those who don’t deserve it or motivating those who are capable of more. As a liberal, I think everyone has a right to basic health care and a living wage. But I’m also not blind to the way some people game the system and wish they could be encouraged to contribute more. But how? The policy choices are difficult.

  2. Willard Lake says:

    Great post.

    You skipped the part about when Charlie and Edgar were laid off, that productivity in the group increased substantially. We were literally paying them to slow the whole down… it was wonderful.

    Because we live in a society that glories in materialism, and one’s ability to procure schtuff, it’s no wonder we lie to ourselves and say that the people that have so little choose to be so because of laziness. “Get a job, you bum!” is something that is heard regularly shouted at homeless panhandlers.

    There is a difficult balance that needs to be struck here on whether to help those who did not win the socioeconomic and neurological lottery to still have a sense of purpose and pride, while not encouraging those that did so sink into a sense of complacency and sloth. Basically, do we err on the side of too many poor people that feel that the government owes them something, or on the side of WAY, WAY too many poor people. Tough call… especially in a society that places so much value on skills used solely for schtuff-accrual activities.

  3. Peter says:

    Low IQ is certainly a major drawback, but let’s not forget that at very high IQ levels the Nerd Cliff can be almost as disabling as mental retardation.

  4. web says:

    I find it to be something of a nuisance that, due to the way we structure certain things, people like Edgar and Charlie eventually wind up in government work (places like the DMV or something) slowing down everyone else anyways.

    Then, too, the difference between someone being in lower-level work because they (neurologically speaking) can’t do more, and being in it because they are chronically unmotivated, is interesting but in the larger scale of things, not entirely relevant. Removed more than one or two steps, the effect of either is the same: either work of a certain caliber gets done, or does not.

    I also am of the notion that “intelligence”, and the associated malaise that many people show where they simply are uninterested in learning anything new, is partially mental capacity but moreover the mental capacity to form new pathways and mental models. My supposition is that Edgar and Charlie are part of the larger portion of humanity that, around the age of 18-19, simply lost the ability to form new mental models and understand new concepts. I see a lot of this in the workers we get at SoTech, actually – some lose it at 18-19, some in their late 20s, some in their late 30s, and a few are still in their 60s and have never lost this capacity.

    If we accept that as a valid alternate theory of “intelligence”, then the importance of getting young people into job-relevant training early (say, at high school age if not sooner) rises considerably.

  5. trumwill says:

    Linus,

    Yeah. Sometimes the difference in ideology is simply the difference in balancing those objectives. Some people are completely indifferent to encouraging productivity nor in helping those who truly can’t help themselves, but there are different perspectives as to which is more important and what percentage of the less fortunate fall into each category.

  6. trumwill says:

    Willard,

    There used to be a great post about Charlie Belcher and how I was stuck at Falstaff until 9pm correcting his crap. The consensus in the comments was “Why the heck hasn’t he already been fired?!” Then, of course, he was. Unfortunately, the post got copied over at some point and lost in the ethar.

    I don’t entirely agree with your calculations. I think that the choice is between allowing more people to live poor (in the relative since, as wealth is generally relative outside of the margins) and basically forcing some people to work their way out of being poor but allowing those that can’t to be REALLY, REALLY poor (in the more absolute sense).

  7. trumwill says:

    Peter,

    The people with high enough an IQ to fall off the IQ cliff may have it tougher than people riding the curve, but I would say that they have it considerably better than people equidistant (or not even equidistant) from the center on the left side of the curve. At the very least, they’re more likely to have a better support network in their family.

  8. trumwill says:

    Web,

    I think the difference between someone living at the bottom due to lack of motivation and someone living there because they are incapable of more is extremely important. If I were hiring OSI programmers for Falstaff, I’d definitely pick the smart guy with an attitude problem than the dumb guy without one (though obviously neither would be desirable). It’s like the old assessment about talent and technique. If you have to choose between a guy with talent but poor technique and a guy with no talent but great technique, you pick the former because it’s more possible to teach technique than talent. It’s more possible (or less impossible, anyway) to motivate a slacker than it is to make a dumb guy smart.

    People like Edgar and Charlie working at the DMV seems, based on my experience, to be a good indicator of economic opportunity. The DMV workers in rural(ish) Deseret were absolutely fantastic and incoincidentally government jobs are really hard to get. In the more economically vibrant Colosse area, on the other hand, people that would otherwise accept a soft landing in unskilled government work are given more opportunity to develop skills and make more money in the private sector. Seafort County, where I am now, is somewhere in between. I got the sense that the people there were actually capable and not entirely unintelligent, but they were unmotivated and pretty unfriendly. Same goes for where I went to the DMV in Estacado. Had I got to the DMV in vibrant Santomas, it probably would have been like Colosse. But in suburban/rural Almeida County, it was filled with competent, but bored bored and uninterested, liberal arts graduate types.

    Can’t speak for Sotech. I applied for nine jobs there and never heard back. I used to joke that apparently to get an entry-level job at Sotech, I would have had to have gone to a higher-caliber university.

    Interesting point about people reaching a point where they are simply disinclined to keep learning.

  9. web says:

    Will,

    it’s not that people reach a point where they are merely “disinclined” to keep learning – I am quickly reaching the conclusion that they actually lack (or more to the point, have lost) the mental capacity to learn! I have seen individuals struggle with basic things (how to use a spreadsheet, how to open a certain program even) and show themselves to be not merely “unwilling” to learn (far from it, they really, really are trying) but rather incapable of grasping and internalizing the basic concepts necessary to repeat the task at a later date.

    Somewhat ironically, a number of these people are either (a) tasked with training the next generation of teachers, or (b) about to graduate with a bachelors’ degree in education and/or a teaching certification indicating their “readiness” to go out and try to teach new concepts (which they themselves show no hope of actually comprehending) to the next generation.

  10. trumwill says:

    Funny. You would think in a post that is dedicated to differentiating between the two (unwillingess vs inability to learn) that I would manage not to conflate the two in the comments. Woops 🙂

  11. ecco says:

    Do you definitely think it was inability to learn with regards to Edgar and Charlie? Personally, I don’t think its hard wired in. I think it’s probably the result of people telling themselves they either can’t do it or they’re not interested in it, so when years or decades go by a minimal amount of effort can’t get them over the hump. Most of the psychological research seems to agree in this regards. However, it is probably very difficult to prove either case.

  12. web says:

    ecco,

    I think it’s hard-wired; I think that many people, at some point in their lives, simply lose the ability to learn. I don’t make this observation idly, but after watching people who really, truly did want to learn something and tried over and over again only to fail each time. The psychological “not interested” is not a factor; the psychological “I can’t do this” not the case either. In many cases they are frustrated over their inability to learn something that they believe, based on watching others pick up the skill, should not be a problem for them either.

    So no, I don’t think it is a simple “tell themselves they can’t do it” or “not interested” issue. Something deeper is going on and there are people who, for whatever reason, have lost the ability to learn. The only differing factor seems to be the age at which it happens, or the rare case wherein it seems not to happen at all.

    I also entertain a notion that changing methods of teaching have something to do with it. People who recount learning the world by trial and error seem to have a better chance of retaining their ability to learn later in life; people who learned the world primarily in a protected environment and rote memorization method seem more likely to lose the ability to form new mental models and an understanding of new concepts later in life.

  13. ecco says:

    I happen to lean on the side that intelligence isn’t hard wired, although I’m not sure it’s possible to design research to totally prove it or that there’s even existing research is far enough in one camp. Still, a lot of the existing research I’ve read suggests that talent is something that just results from a lot of time and deliberate practice. From, a personal point of view as an adult it’s very hard to learn new things when you suck at them. I think it’s easier for a kid to deal with the state of sucking whenever you start something new. Some recent hobbies have required much time and suspension of ego to get beyond a skill level of not sucking. Also, I know several relatives for example who cant use maps and get lost easily. While they claim that there’s nothing they can do about it, I wonder if they could get past the ego of sucking that they could actually become proficient at directions.

  14. rob says:

    For some people, it adds a stronger element of libertarianism because it adds more a sense of justice to the segregation of the haves and have-nots…For me it does slightly the opposite.

    Man is the rationalizing animal. We tend to fit new facts into existing bents, but it’s still important to agree on facts. I tend to put the heritability of psychological traits into biomedical engineering and sustainability frameworks, depending on whether I’m thinking about levers I might work with or thinking about social policy.

    In the long run, misleading people about their abilities and tendencies does no good for them or society in general. Kids don’t know very much, and less intelligent kids know even less.

    As a kid I wanted to be a pro athlete. I didn’t like much like playing sports, and I wasn’t very good, but I wanted it anyway. No adult in my life had any reservations telling me not to pursue it. Yet, adults have no trouble feeding unstudious children’s fantasies about becoming physicians.

    Giving up unrealistic goals early is less devastating than having hopes dashed later after wasted time and missed opportunities. Effective aptitude (and attitude) testing have helped Edgar and Charlie find careers (or just jobs) where they wouldn’t get fired for incompetence. At the very least, they’d have avoided the debt of wasted education.

    Trumwill wants to avoid issues of populations and traits, but it can’t be done. Today, even nurturism is racist, sexist, and classist. I argued with a nurturist/environmentalist once and asked him why, having grown up with paper and pencils, was a much less successful mathemetician than Ramanujan. His response was that I’m not a brilliant mathemetican either. But I know why I’m not: just didn’t get the genes for it. Environment can’t even explain away Ramanujan.

    Some things are tradeoffs. If we agree on facts, you(not you-you) may prefer one point or another on the curve, but you recognize that they’re are tradeoffs.

    The larger the fraction of the population that needs subsidies the less can be done for each of them for the same per capita to cost to the productive. Dependency ratios matter. A place where 70% can’t support themselves will be very different from a place where 1% can’t.

    Peter, I don’t think the nerd cliff is real. Nerd cliffers sound like schizotypal, schizoid, autists, and various other biological mental illnesses. People like that with average or below average IQ are not in public. They’re in jails, institutions and halfway houses, graveyards, live on the streets…Sometimes they’re unemployed or marginally employed, live with family as adults and don’t go out much. We either don’t see them or ignore them as best we can.

    People with lower IQs either tend to decline further on spectrum, or be diagnosed as further on the spectrum than intelligent people. Smart, I’m schizotypal and schizoid. Dumb, I’d be schizophrenic or schizoaffective.

    Ecco, I’m not super convinced of the potential practice over ability. First, intelligent people are better able to learn on their own, to identify what they need to bone up on, notice their mistakes and work on correcting them. Most people practice what they’re at least a bit good at. It isn’t fun to bang one’s head against hard limits. Dilligent, ie. concientious, people are more likely to practice and practice ‘mindfully.’ Concientiousness matters quite a bit to success.

    Lastly, the pracice stuff seems to focus on repetitive narrow activities, more skill than intelligence. Things with fixed, unchanging rules, like chess, which computers play bettter than people. Or things like sports, and honestly, Michael Jordan was not a genius. He bounced and threw a ball very well.

    Practice certainly matters, and everyone starts out bad at almost everything. Jordan was a barely Bush League baseball player. But I’d bet he’d play baseball better than any 100 random guys.

    People of low to average intelligence can be trained. But expecting them to just pick stuff up, handle situations that weren’t explicity taught, apply knowledge and techniques from one area to another, may be an exercise is frustration.

    Mastering the basics in very important in any field. But it is not sufficient for genius or high performance in any activity that involves much more than doing basics really really well.

  15. stone says:

    Most of the people discussed in this post are at least law-abiding, self-supporting members of the working world. That’s actually a high standard to meet.

    One can’t work in any job dealing with the poor without eventually realizing 1)they’re very different and 2)pondering why they’re different.

    Two of my fellow attorneys (older females) have the belief that our client population suffers from a lack of training, lectures, and inspiration. They think bad choices are what separates them from us. One of the women says often about her female clients: “Her picker’s broken.” This means, they “pick” bad men. As if they had all these classy guys in their pool but were turning down Prince Charming for some ogre. The other one often tells clients they’re too smart to be in whatever position they’re in. She tells them there’s some nice accountant or nurse out there with no criminal record who’d love to have them.

    They really seem to think these folks could lead stable, middle-class lives if they just tried harder. I disagree. I think most of the parents in this system were screwed in the genetic lottery. Their lousy childhood environments made it worse in a permanent way. Sure, most can make some temporary behavior modifications to stay out of jail and keep their kids from getting adopted out. But to compare them to us is unfair bordering on cruel.

    I think the only answer is to curb their reproduction. They’re never going to be net contributors to society. We just need to keep their numbers down. I’m even willing to pay them to do it.

  16. trumwill says:

    In the long run, misleading people about their abilities and tendencies does no good for them or society in general. Kids don’t know very much, and less intelligent kids know even less.

    I quite agree with that. I remember when Willard and I interviewed this guy for a programmer position. He got a two year degree from the local vocational college, and by the time the interview was done, Willard and I looked at one another in bafflement that some school had given this guy a two year degree and sent him off into the working world to try to get a job. His interview was so bad that Willard and I developed a code for, in the future, to stop an interview on the spot and stop wasting everybody’s time. It’s really hard to imagine that guy having a happy ending and his education having been worthwhile. In his case, I’m not sure it was actually an issue of limited intelligence, but by the end Willard and I felt that with a lot of time, effort, and training, he could maybe be another Edgar.

    So yeah, I agree. Unrealistic expectations are the enemy. Of course, a logistical problem is that we don’t always know what unrealistic expectations are. If we worry too much about unrealistic expectations, we end up short-changing people that are capable of more. I say this as someone whose elementary school counselor tried to label him “slow” and put him on the short bus.

    While there currently may be enough resistance to the notion of innate intelligence that it has a harmful effect, it could easily swing too far in the other direction. I remember more than a couple conversations on HS where people pretty blithely assume that if somebody is lower-class than the chances of them having enough intelligence to be strong contributors to society in an intellectually demanding and well-compensated field are so negligible so as not to be worthy of being part of the conversation. If that had been the attitude when my father was growing up, he’d probably be a barber like his father. I know a lot of working class people of substantial intelligence that would be completely left behind if the predominant attitude had been “Looking at where you come from, college is not where you need to be going.”

    To some extent, I think we already do this too much. I think that a key factor in the importance of college is that it represents “middle class” intelligence, knowhow, and work ethic. Not having a degree represents lacking the same. So people end up going to college to get the degree and go in debt to pretend to be in a higher economic and social station than they are. A lot of people don’t realize that’s what’s going on, but the more I look around me the more key a component I see that being.

    Once we can really isolate someone’s potential, I would swing much more in favor of guiding people on more appropriate paths and being more straight about the limits of their potential. But even to the extent that we can measure IQ (and, though I believe that IQ tests measure something important in the aggregate, I do not believe they are flawless on an individual basis), there are numerous other factors that we cannot currently gauge. And, of course, how the measurements are made and who decides what they mean are subject to human bias and error.

    But a lot of people are sent on trajectories where they lack the engine power to reach their destination. And this is not unimportant. And the other factor regarding the college bubble is that people are working to fake their way to “middle classdom” that not only aren’t suited for it, but wouldn’t even enjoy it except for the comparative stability and money. Charlie, for instance, was not only bad at what he did. He was very socially isolated and unhappy. He would have been happier as a grunt in an auto repair shop.

    Except for the money, which of course brings me back to why it could be helpful to pad the lives of those that aren’t suited for white collar work.

    This is not all in disagreement with you. I talk more of the perils of IQ-based discrimination as a counterpoint. Not because I view myth of human spirit and determination as an unqualified good.

    Trumwill wants to avoid issues of populations and traits, but it can’t be done.

    The main reason I want to avoid race is simply because it opens up a can of worms that hijacks the conversation. I’ve been reading Half Sigma for years now and I have yet to see a fruitful discussion. I don’t think this issue can be discussed without discussing class, but since there are parts of the country where minority populations are negligible and where IQ is still an issue, I figure we can at least sidestep that one. The comments about Obamacare are primarily because there is widespread disagreement about the facts, but because there aren’t a lot of opinions worth discussing and that IQ isn’t a factor in health care.

    I don’t think the nerd cliff is real. Nerd cliffers sound like schizotypal, schizoid, autists, and various other biological mental illnesses. People like that with average or below average IQ are not in public.

    You don’t buy in the genius/madness correlation? I agree that it may be exaggerated, but I do think that there is something to the notion that extraordinary intelligence without social skill can lead to isolation that can lead to warped social development that can lead to failure. I think it’s one of those cases that outliers in both directions can develop some pretty serious problems. I just think that outliers on the right are more likely to get by (and, correspondingly, that you’re right about outliers on the left ending up being removed from society).

    The larger the fraction of the population that needs subsidies the less can be done for each of them for the same per capita to cost to the productive. Dependency ratios matter. A place where 70% can’t support themselves will be very different from a place where 1% can’t.

    In my way of thinking, the point is to get people to contribute as much as they can. So even if they’re net dependents, they’re still contributing more than they otherwise were. So if someone has an IQ sufficiently low to prevent them from getting more than a minimum-wage job, I think that there’s a good argument for raising the minimum wage to something that can be lived off of or otherwise EITCing them to the point that they can live a respectable life. So even if 70% of people are net dependents, if 85% of those people are close to breaking even and the 30% are really productive (and their motivation and productivity aren’t sapped by wealth transfer), it could be manageable. Or not. I don’t pretend to know except to say that all dependency is not created equal.

  17. trumwill says:

    Most of the people discussed in this post are at least law-abiding, self-supporting members of the working world. That’s actually a high standard to meet.

    Depends on what you mean by self-supporting. The majority of people I knew out there with kids were receiving public assistance and even when they were working I’m not sure they were net contributors. But yeah, they were law-abiding, were not self-destructive, and weren’t a threat to their children or society.

    That women who date worthless men often do so for lack of other options is, I think, one of the most important contributions you’ve made to my intellectual thought. That being said, it’s not unheard of for people that do have better options not to take them. I suspect that in the dregs of society where you and Clancy work, though, that’s less often the case than it was in Mocum where I spent time with a lot of economically struggling individuals living in a place with lower rates of dysfunction than in commonly unwealthy places.

  18. web says:

    I agree that it may be exaggerated, but I do think that there is something to the notion that extraordinary intelligence without social skill can lead to isolation that can lead to warped social development that can lead to failure.

    I’m willing to go out on a limb and say that our fundamentally broken society, whereby intelligence is less valued than other traits (most notably, the “genetic lottery” of physical looks or ability to play athletic sports during the formative years of school), deliberately tries to cause this to happen.

    So if someone has an IQ sufficiently low to prevent them from getting more than a minimum-wage job, I think that there’s a good argument for raising the minimum wage to something that can be lived off of or otherwise EITCing them to the point that they can live a respectable life.

    The problem here is that “minimum wage” casts an incredibly wide blanket; it doesn’t affect just a few people, but everyone whose wage is “pegged to” the minimum wage (being “x steps” above it by seniority, for example). Further, the more it is raised at once, the more a shock to the system it is. The number of lower-income jobs lost in the past couple years correlate surprisingly well to the last three minimum-wage hikes in the US. Thus, the calculation isn’t just about keeping the “minimum wage” at a “living wage” minimum, but keeping a decent number of people from being completely unemployed and indigent.

  19. trumwill says:

    Web, what you refer to is a reason to go the EITC route rather than the minimum wage route.

    That being said, low-wage jobs are hardly scarce despite the minimum wage having gone up and they remain vacant for long periods of time (in part because they pay so little). I think the counterargument to that is that it wasn’t raised enough to make a difference but that you would see a lot more of that if you raised it to $11/hr or something like that. I think there’s something to that. You’d see more service jobs being replaced by kiosks, self-checkout, and so on.

  20. thebastidge says:

    @Webguy comment #12: Yes, I agree- I would liken it to the muscle analogy. Let it atrophy, and it doesn’t merely become weaker, you lose the ability to use it all. There is definitely a window of opportunity for certain mental abilities- particularly language. If this ability is not exercised during this window, the capability vanishes. However, with proper stimulus during this window, the window can be extended, and in some cases the ability can be extended indefinitely, with consistent practice.

    Now, some people do have a lower overall and objective capacity. Their windows are smaller, and fill up faster. But most people have much grater caopacity than we are teaching them to use at this poiint- public schools really are dumbing people down. I’ve beenr eading Joh Taylor Gatto, and while I don’t agree 100% with his assessment of whay we are doing it, it is clear that we really are creating automatons with basic technical literacy in our school systems.

    It is astronomically more difficult to re-awaken intellectual ability than it is to develop and maintain it. I find that people tend to be able to grasp anything they are genuinely curious about, and interested in. Most people can also grasp things they aren’t particularly interested in as well, but that interest level seems to be a pretty steep slope to overcome if it doesn’t exist.

    @ecco #13:

    We’ve proven pretty conscluively that people are NOT blank slates. You may not be aware of it, but there is indeed lots of reasearch on the subject of “G” or general intelligence. Read some of Steven Pinker’s books on lnaguage and intelligence, for a place to start. Generally, trhere is very little one can do to raise native intelligence. Almost all of the effect we see in this area, is people falling off from an original native potential. So many things can do it, with poor nutrition (especially subtle in the case of micro-nutrients such as iodine) being at the very top of the list.

    @ Trumwill #16: This reminds me of the “signaling in education” discussions over at Econlog . Also on the genius/madness scale- I think you’re missing the point that genetic mental illness is more common at each end of the scale- imbecile and genius both- than in the middle.

  21. rob says:

    You don’t buy in the genius/madness correlation? I agree that it may be exaggerated, but I do think that there is something to the notion that extraordinary intelligence without social skill can lead to isolation that can lead to warped social development that can lead to failure.

    Genius and madness coming together is mostly (if true) in creative activities: poetry, fiction, art, music.

    To quote schizophrenia.com “There are relatively few famous people with schizophrenia because schizophrenia is a brain disorder that typically strikes people when they are quite young – age 17 to 28. People this age typically are too young to be famous, they are just starting out their professional lives after completing high school or college… Many “historical diagnoses” are frequently not entirely certain…”

    This list of famous people includes children of famous people. With the exception of Nash, everyone is art and sports. Most of the artists are performers, not songwrites or composers.

    That isn’t the nerd cliff. Nerd cliff is more like “I’m so smart that I have to watch anime and play warcraft all the time.” What are nerd cliffers really good at? Or claim to be good at? Not art and music.

    With better treatments, more people with mental illnesses will be functional, some will be successful. A few will get famous. That doesn’t mean the illness contributes to the

    A quick perusal of famous people with X lists: they grasp at straws, include people with relatives with the illness. The aspergers lists include people who developed slowly. They fail to note that growing fast often tradesoff with developing well and to a high peak. My dog grew up way faster than me. I’m smarter though. Same thing with me and Einsten. I started speaking younger, he’s smarter.

    The nerd cliffers? “By their fruit shall you know them,” and they don’t bear much fruit. But it could be because they were effectively neglected, bullied, and abused as kids. I feel that happened to me. People who were bullied (in adolescence?) are more likely to develop psychotic illnesses. But the chain of causation is not clear. I’m a smart failure, so I shouldn’t dismiss nerd cliff. But that’s pretty self-serving.

    I suppose it is possible to be too smart to relate with many people, and so not develop social skills, never get much drive. If it is true, nerd cliff is all the more reason to recognize IQ and neurodiversity.

    You and the short bus: people often mistake slow development for mental retardation. Perhaps because long, slow developers are hard to distinguish from the retarded or the stupid. More likely, very few few teachers and school system people know much of anything. They might know that people have long childhoods so we can be smart, but probably not. The few who know it would not want to believe that the individual (or group) variation in development velocity means anything.

    That’s probably why you nearly ended up on the short bus. You weren’t very obidient? Teachers tend to confuse docility and intelligence. A third possibility: you got it the first time, and then got bored with repetition, so you didn’t pay attention. Final possiblity, you were near-sighted. Teachers often mistake that for dumb. Again, knowing more about how (and perhpas why) people is good.

    I had a friend in college(the first try at Reed) who was left handed. Her teacher in kindergarten thought she was retarded because she wouldn’t use her right hand: we aren’t blank slates. Thinking that we are has, in that case mild, negative consequences.

  22. fb says:

    ‘Perhaps the hardest part of the job was staying interested in the job enough to do it right. It required an attention to detail, though as Freddie demonstrated you could get away with a lot of inattention if you were simply fast. So really, all you needed was some combination of careless speed or slightly more time-consuming accuracy.’

    So what was this job? Probably not phone tech support. Probably not anything mechanical. Sorting mail? Clicking icons on a computer?

    I often have an un-American lack of motivation to work, so I often was unpopular at American jobs, and quite a few bosses accused me of being stupid and evil, but then again I was doing fairly technical jobs, and they expected me to act like an MBA candidate sucking up to Donald Trump.

    Seriously, you’ve made me curious – what was the job about? What duties were entailed? Why was speed an acceptable substitute for skill?

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