Okay, I'll admit it: I'm terribly intimidated by construction workers. I don't know exactly why it is, but whenever I walk past a construction site, I try to make every effort to look "cool" in front of these guys. It could be because I did construction one summer and I was terrible at it. Or it could be because I see these guys as "real men," and in comparison, I'm just a brain on a stick. Whatever the reason is, I only hope to God that my future father-in-law (whoever he is) doesn't have a job where he wears a hard hat on a regular basis; it's going to be scary enough knowing that he knows that I'm sleeping with his daughter (giving her my hard hat?) without also having to admit that the closest I could ever come to building something other than a consensus would have to involve instructions from IKEA, a whole bunch of dowels, an allen wrench (included), and a lot of cursing.
And there's a decent chance that I could probably relate to any of these guys on many levels - women, cars, music, television. Hell, I spent a good hour-and-a-half last week discussing "The Simpsons" with two friends of mine, using only sports terms for the first hour. And I'm talking in-depth; we came up with so many "I have obviously seen this show way too often" questions that we scared ourselves. Things like "Who's the best 6th man?" (Tie between Burns and Frink.) "Who's the most underrated player?" (Moe, Chief Wiggum.) And eventually "What's the funniest thing Ralph Wiggum ever said?" ("Me fail English? That's unpossible!") So I'm thinking that given conversations like that one, I might definitely be able to bond with one of those construction guys, no matter how certain I am in the knowledge that if he wanted to, he could put his fist literally through my face.
Despite this, I know a lot of people - and I've been guilty of this, too - who assume an intellectual superiority to 'blue collar' tradesmen like construction workers, bus drivers, policemen, sanitation engineers, and pretty much anyone who doesn't work at a computer on a regular basis. At the same time, though, I do have to admit that I've never actually had many opportunities to develop an informed judgment regarding the intelligence of your average bus driver, plumber, or sanitation engineer. I do know that many of them have made the conscious decision not to sit behind a desk all day, which, now that I think about it, might indicate that they are, in fact, smarter than I am.
My point is that aside from the stereotypes and generalized assumptions, one's career often does not indicate his intelligence level. I know some pretty dumb people who have become lawyers, accountants, computer programmers, teachers, and the like. On top of that, I know some people in what would be considered 'intellectual' jobs who routinely do very stupid things. Hell, I might top that list. I hate to use an expression as cliché as "you can't judge a book by its cover," but the truth is that there is often very little connection between intellect, occupation, and common sense. The more people I meet, the more I find this to be true; my goal is never again to be surprised when someone I assumed was 'less than' turns out to be brilliant, or when someone I figured would be 'more than' winds up being only about 10 I.Q. points above having to be watered on a daily basis.
And probably everyone looks down on someone else. I once had it pointed out to me that, by definition, half the people in the world are below average (well, technically half minus one). That's fairly scary. The question is, does everyone assume they're above the midpoint? It's obviously a bell curve - there are probably many more people right around average than there are 'Einsteins' or 'vegetables.' But it still doesn't change the fact that I once heard a classmate of mine complain during a blackout that there were no skylights on the first floor of our two-story high school.
Of course, there's a big difference between actually being stupid and simply saying or doing stupid things. I am proceeding, by the way, based on the assumption that I'm a pretty smart guy. However, I was walking by a store the other day and I couldn't help noticing the female mannequin torso in the window, as 'she' had erect nipples, designed, I assume, to catch the eye of passersby just like myself. However, my immediate thought was not of sex or of clothing; my immediate thought was, "Huh. Must be cold in there." If that's not enough, I also recently grabbed an envelope off my desk to take to the mailbox, walked about ten feet, and only then realized that I was instead holding a bag of Cheez-Its. Maybe I am in the bottom 50%.
The late comedian Dennis Wolfberg once did a bit on the medically accepted levels of intellect. He mentioned that by definition, according to Steadman's Medical Dictionary, for example, an 'imbecile' is genetically weak-minded, but not incapable of learning, up to the mental age of 7 years old, while a 'moron' is someone whose mental age can be up to 12 years old. So, Wolfberg suggested, it would be a very proud parent whose imbecilic child studied really hard and eventually became a moron.
I imagine that all good parents want their kids to be smart. That may be why they're willing to accept some of the lamest excuses that we, as their children, come up with. It's either "s/he's telling the truth," or "wow, my kid's dumb as a box of hammers." Example: my friend Dan was at a party in high school at his friend's house, while parents of said friend (we'll call him Josh) were out of town. For reasons having to do with melting ice and drainage, it was decided that the keg should be placed in the laundry room sink. Accidentally, 'placed' became 'dropped,' and the sink cracked severely. When Josh's parents discovered, upon their return, the cracked sink, they confronted their son, the apple of their eye, the light of their life. "Well, the thing is ..." Josh started, "What must have happened ... was that ... Dan ... was ... cleaning his bowling ball in the sink, and must have dropped it." Cleaning his bowling ball. To the best of my knowledge, Dan neither owns a bowling ball nor does enough bowling to necessitate the purchase of said bowling ball. And yet Josh's parents bought it. Hook, line, and sinker. Because, as I said earlier, no one would ever want to admit that their child thought that the bowling ball story was the best possible lie to tell in that situation. As my father once joked to my brother, "Remember, when you see the Wizard, you're asking for a brain."
There are occasions, though, where people just surprise you. I recently overheard two subway sanitation workers talking while they swept out my train. Listening to them, my own prejudices were thrown in my face: These two people, who are paid to scrape gum off the floor of the N train were having an excellent conversation about the Mideast situation, terrorism, the Muslim religion, and US foreign policy. I'm ashamed to say I was astonished. But, I thought, why shouldn't two people be able to intelligently discuss the Israel/Palestine situation no matter what their day jobs are? I admit that I was taught a pretty good lesson that day. Hell, I don't know that George W. currently has as good a grasp on the situation as these guys did.
The other thing about intellect and even common sense is that it can totally fly out the window when peer pressure, mob mentality, or alcohol are involved. For instance, on the night of his 21st birthday, my little brother turned to me during a conversation and said, "Of course, I'm better than English at you." Now, the truth is, standardized test-wise, he is better than me at English, but thanks to alcohol, he wasn't that night. College parties, in general, are proof positive that if you get enough people in the same room with a keg, stupid stuff just happens, like spontaneous combustion. I'd bet that fewer than one percent of sober people, in a room by themselves, have ever thought, "I think I'm going to funnel a beer now."
But no one wants to feel stupid (except maybe those guys who wear leather masks and lick women's shoes). Very few actions have ever been prompted by the thought, "Wow, I'm gonna look like an idiot if I do this. Here goes." I'm convinced that's at least part of the reason Al Gore lost the 2000 election: He made the average voter feel stupid. Given, in my mind, the average voter was stupid, for deciding that rather than elect the smarter man, they'd elect the man who made them feel less inferior. The same people probably would have voted against Thomas Jefferson for using too many big words in the Declaration of Independence - "Why couldn't he have just called it 'Operation England Go Away'? It's so much easier to understand. And all his Ss look like Fs."
I guess my point is that people can surprise you. Before you jump to conclusions about anyone, give them a chance to prove just how smart or stupid they are. A taxi driver I once had stumped me on a whole bunch of trivia questions about Pennsylvania and a Harvard Professor I once had kept forgetting not to lapse into German at the ends of his sentences. You just never know. On the other hand, if the person you're dealing with does prove to not be quite as sharp as a bag of wet mice, feel free to mock him mercilessly. You have my permission.
ABOUT ADAM KRAEMER
A native of Elkins Park, PA, Adam Kraemer spends way too much of his time repeating "K-R-A-E..." He moved to New York City in 1998 and earned Master's in Journalism at NYU; don't let his writing fool you. He feels he is best known for saying the things no one is thinking, but afterwards wish they had been. He spends his free time wondering where all his free time goes and why he can never come up with a decent kicker for the ends of his articles.
Give it up, Adam. We all know the real reason you try to look cool in front of construction workers: you're hoping for a wolf-whistle.
Oh...and you have your own train? I guess that beats riding someone else's...
7.8.02 @ 9:40a
There is a lot to be said for multiple intelligences. According to psychologist Howard Gardner, there are eight kinds of intelligence, and no one has just one kind, but happens to be stronger in one over the others. According to his theory, brain surgeons and mechanics share the same type of intelligence - it's society that makes some sort of distinction that one is "smarter" than the other.
7.8.02 @ 10:00a
No - Ralph's funniest line was "Oh boy, Sleep! That's where I'm a viking!"
7.8.02 @ 10:05a
I'm a fan of, "I fell and bent my wookie."
7.8.02 @ 10:36a
Also, "My cat's breath smells like cat food," "Hello, Supernintendo Chalmers," and "So ... do you like ... stuff?"
7.8.02 @ 10:37a
Supernintendo Chalmers is a fantastic one!
I also like the one where Homer gets fat for disability, and Ralph tries a joke on Lisa: "I heard your dad went to a restaurant and he ate all the food in the restaurant and then they had to close the restaurant!"
7.8.02 @ 10:44a
There was a recent episode where the Simpson family was (for some reason) driving out of Springfield, and as they pass the "You Are Now Leaving Springfield" sign, Ralph is by the side of the road waving good-bye (for some reason). And as he disappears in the distance, you can see a stain slowly spread on his pants, as he keeps waving. Great moment.
Also, "Look, Big Daddy, it's regular Daddy."
7.8.02 @ 11:05a
Getting back on topic - Tracey - what do you mean 8 kinds of intelligence?
7.8.02 @ 11:13a
Probably something like artistic intelligence, mechanical intelligence, crap like that. Subdivisions to make everyone feel adequate.
7.8.02 @ 11:29a
Spatial, Bodily-Kinesthetic, Musical, Linguistic, Logical-Mathematical, Interpersonal, Intrapersonal, and Naturalistic.
It's pretty fascinating stuff. Here's a link to more links.
Interpersonal intelligence? What's the scale from, Dale Carnegie to Boo Radley?
7.8.02 @ 11:38a
Yes. 100% interpersonal intelligence is when you can read people, but not street signs.
7.8.02 @ 11:41a
Each category highlights the strengths of that type of intelligence. So for example, someone with spatial intelligence has the intrinsic ability to spatially perceive the visual world accurately and create things with this skill, like an architect (I used this example specifically for you, Adam) hunters, inventors and such. They design and build things using this ability.
Most of us on this site would like to believe our top intelligence is Linguistic.
Interpersonal intelligence is someone who has the ability to connect with people on a personal level and to read into other's feelings, like a nurse, social worker, and people who take an active role in the community or helping others.
We all have traces of each intelligence, but the trick is to maximize the three strongest to full potential.
7.8.02 @ 11:43a
And then you can summon wind, lightning and earthquakes, right?
If I used emoticons, I'd stick my tongue out.
7.8.02 @ 11:48a
If you used emoticons, I'd cut out your tongue.
7.8.02 @ 11:52a
And so intrepid pulls itself back from the brink yet again!
Isn't interpersonal intelligence just empathy?
7.8.02 @ 11:56a
Gussying up common sense ideas, and then making up some "system" by which to quantify and analyze them, is just a quick way to write a dissertation and sell a few academic tomes.
7.8.02 @ 12:02p
I disagree. If you've ever tried to tutor a student who "thought" more with his hands than reading out of some textbook, you'd see it in action. I was a reading tutor for two years to a young man who everyone thought was a slow learner - he couldn't read and therefore, didn't learn well. But when given hands-on projects, he excelled and could not only learn what was expected of him, but theorize and follow through on new ideas - that he drew out on paper.
There is a distinct difference in how people process information.
7.8.02 @ 12:03p
Yes, interpersonal intelligence includes the ability to act on empathy, but it's not the only characteristic.
7.8.02 @ 12:06p
I definitely agree with you there, Tracey, everybody has different strengths and all, but this is little more than common sense to me. It's like admitting that there's a difference between book smarts and street smarts. Duh. On one hand I'll agree it's valid, but on the other hand, it's over-analysis.
7.8.02 @ 12:10p
It's being a people person.
It makes sense, if you think about it. I don't know why 8 would be the correct number, but I'm sure we all know people who are really clever, but not book smart, or others who excelled in class, but never figured out how to play chess. Interestingly, as verbally strong as I am, I'm terrible at learning languages in the classroom.
7.8.02 @ 12:16p
You're verbally strong? Quit kissing yer own ass.
7.8.02 @ 12:18p
No, I think the ability to kiss my own ass would come under "Bodily-Kinesthetic."
No need for a pigfight here. I edit copy for a living; I consider that a decent enough background to call myself verbally-strong, yes.
7.8.02 @ 12:28p
I was just hacking on ya, Kraemer. Cool up!
7.8.02 @ 12:32p
I think the analysis is necessary to understand how to better teach children, especially in the wake of the Ritalin tidal wave. This poor child was so doped up half the time, it's amazing he was even awake for class, much less learning anything. Once his parents and I started working with him more on his level, in ways that made strong sense to him, his behavioral problems decreased dramatically because he had more confidence in his abilities.
My nephew is the same way. He's been fascinated by electronics since he was a toddler. Literally amazed by how things work. Stick a book in his face, and he hates it. But give him an instructional manual for the vaccuum cleaner, and he's ready to go.
I believe the theory does nothing more than point to areas of natural ability and help individuals to focus on them. There's no sense being an accountant if numbers blur on the page for you. That doesn't mean you can't balance your checkbook, but if we were to understand at an earlier age what strengths we have, it could make learning about all things much easier.
7.8.02 @ 12:32p
I don't think I've ever heard either of those expressions. Are you just making up slang in hopes that something will stick? My brother and his friends used to do that. He'd come back from college using words like "schwoops" and "splanked."
7.8.02 @ 12:37p
And as Adam's column pointed out, there's a strong discrimination toward professions. Hell, in Des Moines, I could have made more as a Burger King manager than I did as a marketing strategist. Now, my first impression is "A Burger King Manager? How complicated is that?"
My friend who reads gas and electric meters makes more than I did in my "white collar" profession, and gets overtime. Less stress and no deadline pressure, too. And I always did better in school than she did, but she's got a kick-ass retirement account, and I don't.
People find themselves in miserable situations because of what's 'expected' by society -when some might just might be more happy toying with a carburetor. Funny how mechanics are "greasemonkeys" until Dr. So-n-So needs something repaired on his Beemer - then the mechanic is a genius. Society should actually value intelligence in all categories much more than the profession.
Adam, you're half right. "Cool up" is fabricated, but, admit it, catchy. And I have a few friends with whom I make new slang all the time. Mostly just for our circle, but some really stick.
I do the same with sports nicknames, then I yell them at games and see what happens. My most prominent, but still largely unsuccessful experiments, are "Stanhorse" for Mike Stanley, "Johnny Vivo" for John Valentin, and "Shilly" for Shea Hillenbrand. Michelle, I'm looking for some support from your direction.
"Hacking on ya" is from Young Guns.
Tracey, did the kid kick the Ritalin?
7.8.02 @ 12:45p
Yes. I stopped tutoring him because his mother had decided to stay home a day a week and work with him, and within 2 months, he was off the meds.
Don't even get me started on the whole Ritalin/lazy parenting fiasco.
The last I knew, he was participating in one of those Odyssey of the Mind competitions with something he engineered with his teammates.
I think some of that was covered in the discussion for Allegra's column. Which is what I was gingerly alluding to. That kid sounds like a real champ!
7.8.02 @ 1:41p
A friend of mine from Boston was actually sleeping with Valentin for about 6 months a few years ago.
My younger brother's recently started calling me "Cheesebeard" based on a conversation we had in a diner on Easter sunday.
7.9.02 @ 12:33p
So does physical ability count as intelligence? Or are we just talking about mental gymnastics?
7.10.02 @ 12:15a
Here's the problem with teaching children merely based on the best way they learn - no one will try to teach them in other ways. What good is teaching a child only in the way most agreeable to them? Life's challenges do not only present themselves in a way best suited for us to cope with. Teaching in this method may reach a few more kids, but result in more kids who can't cope with different sorts of problems.
7.10.02 @ 10:32a
Yeah, so rather than try to encourage their strengths, let's douse them with Ritalin and put them in front of the tv and wonder what's wrong with them.
I don't believe children should be spoiled in anyway except with learning. Parents have a moral responsibility to teach their children as much as teachers do - consequently, if parents are paying attention to how the child is learning, the parent will more than likely teach the child coping skills.
If your child is a slow reader, but is very animated, the natural solution would be to have that child act out what he/she reads. Obviously it makes it come to life for them and makes sense in a different way. This is not to say the child won't ever have to read two chapters in a biology textbook to study for a test, but it might develop -imagine- a coping mechanism that child draws upon to absorb the material, which is the ultimate goal.
Adam, yes. According to Gardner's theory, Bodily-Kinesthetic is a "physical" intelligence, highlighting the use of one's hands or body to express or create. So atheletes, dancers, surgeons and mechanics all have this ability.
That's excellent - "Look how smart I am - I can kick a ball!" No, I'm teasing. It makes sense.
7.10.02 @ 1:03p
If I had my way, parents wouldn't be allowed to procreate without first testing to see if they even have the capacity to raise a child. That would fix all the problems you seem to be worried about. However, the law sees procreation as some "divine right." So, I just blame slacker children on the Christian ethic and its influence on our laws.
7.10.02 @ 1:14p
Then how do you explain "slacker children" in the rest of the world, seeing as a large portion of the planet isn't Christian?
Although I agree with you that a parenting license would be a great idea.
7.10.02 @ 1:38p
I can only try to change where I live first... then I'll move world-wide. Besides, I can only speak of slacker children I've seen firsthand. I actually have yet to meet dumb foreign children. Most of the ones I met were multi-language speakers before 10. I don't know many college students who can do that in the U.S.
And Al Gore is as dumb as a box of rocks. He was tepid, and SNL turned that into some kind of OCD variant of intelligence. He lost because he came off as a passive-aggressive chump from the first debate all the way to his concession speech.
7.10.02 @ 3:24p
Yes, Harvard has a habit of graduating the stupidest people in the world. I'm sure Al Gore is a total moron. Good call, Joe.
7.10.02 @ 3:36p
Well, Harvard actually does have a habit of inflating everyone's grades so they can make honors (something like 85% made honors last year) and look real smart. Noone at Harvard gets Cs and Ds, that's too shameful. What a crock of shit.
7.10.02 @ 3:59p
I stand by my comment. Gore earned his fair share of Cs and Ds at Harvard and then a number of Fs in Vanderbilt Divinity before failing to graduate from there and Vanderbilt Law.
In the meantime, Bush went on to get his MBA from Harvard. So say what you will about Bush's smarts, gentlemen's C's, and the like, but don't tell me Gore is brilliant because he went to Harvard.
7.10.02 @ 4:29p
Hey I am about to take some personal offense to all this Harvard bashing. Although I can personally attest to some C's, D's and F's,(which at Harvard are not F's but E's).
7.10.02 @ 4:43p
Not bashing Harvard. Bashing Gore. I like Harvard. In fact, Go Harvard!
7.10.02 @ 4:45p
I haven't read the Multiple Intelligence Theory (although I'm going there next) but I was just the other day realizing that I am such a visual person - I can only memorize things by looking at them. You could tell me "thursday" 20 times and I would forget which day it was. Show me "thursday" on the calendar and it's burned in my brain.
7.10.02 @ 8:23p
Ooh, I have lots to say about this column and all the discussion! First: I understand about the different "varieties" of intelligence. I am mechanically apt and adept mathematically, but I hate both traditional mechanics and math. So it makes sense that I would choose to go into the arts. On the other hand, when my art is reviewed, I tend to score high points on technical execution and low points on expression. I apparently have a math brain, despite my desires.
On learning style, I have a weird mental glitch -- I am visually eidetic if I am paying attention to what I am seeing. Thus, I can remember virtually anything I read or see, but I almost instantly forget anything I am told. Thus I can read and write in Spanish, but can't understand spoken Spanish. Go figure.
Last -- I worked as a waitress and bartender for YEARS. I dealt with a great many assumptions about my intelligence or lack thereof. To this day my brother-in-law the multi-degreed architect is astonished that I do not drool. And he got really annoyed when he used the word "parallax" when he meant "refraction" and I was the one who pointed out his error.
dr. jay gross
7.14.02 @ 12:11p
As a futurist I want to understand human engrams and apply them to artificial intelligence. After we understand what 'intelligence' is in ourselves, (which is rather amorphous)our concept of our place in the Universe and our obvious insignificance thereof, might just include construction workers, poets and rocket scientists.
I.Q. is unknowable because of the random weight of someone's idea of scale and focus. I rate my score on a bell-curve between 10 and 200. Most of which is artificial!
7.15.02 @ 10:52a
I recently took an I.Q. test which I was told was weighted for my age and gender. Turns out that without changing any of my answers on the test, had I been a 20-year-old male, I would have done 7 points higher, and had I been a 16-year-old girl, I would have done 13 points higher. I didn't know it was based on a percentile.
That said, does it make sense that in order for someone to be happy in his/her job, he/she should be doing something that matches whatever particular learning/intellectual style that person has?
7.15.02 @ 6:17p
Sounds sorta Brave New Worldish to me.
Adam, did you know going in that the test was weighted for age and gender, or did they not tell you until the end? It sounds as though your I.Q. is scaled higher given your particular age/gender. So any given score by an older individual would be that much higher (within a given percentile) if the same results were produced by a younger person. It's like they expect the young to be less intelligent. Think that's a life skills issue coming into play?
7.16.02 @ 12:05p
I don't know. The link is here. I'm just not sure why percentile has anything to do with objective answers. My IQ shouldn't be any lower just because I've lived longer or because I have a penis, I don't think.
7.16.02 @ 1:34p
Ok, I bit and took the test. By changing only gender (from male to female), my IQ went up 7 points. This seems suspect to me.