He kanapapiki mahalo 'ole keia mea inu Merlot ia'u…
by Kalikiano Kalei
Actually, it isn’t a bitch of a Merlot at all (that's the rough translation of the above Hawaiian phrase), but a wonderfully pleasing and unpretentious Syrah from the far-flung vineyards in Pays D’Oc (France), and its lasciviously mellow character has inspired me to set the home-brewed Molokai Pineapple Cider aside and partake of a glass or two before wading into the following subject: intelligence.
This process involves first making room for my slippas (and the fleshy parts within them) under the desk on my lanai, by wedging them between the two furry canine bodies that can never get close enough to me to satisfy their pack instinct for intimate togetherness. Would you laugh if I told you they are named ‘Lilo’ and ‘Stitch’? Uh-huh, I was afraid of that. OK, forget I raised this question as the rare aroma of yet another piquant doggie fart permeates the still evening air (no trades at the moment) and I make a mental note to refrain from putting guava meat in with their dry food. At any rate, the wahine is off to make offerings at the local Christian god’s heiau, so all is peaceful for at least a few hours on this Sunday. Since I am not a sports fan and could care less about the Super Bowl (more appropriately, perhaps, “the Super Bowel”…) that is already underway, all should be peaceful and serene in my world as the rest of the testosterone-charged world of macho maledom rips itself to small shreds at the gridiron’s 5 yard line.
Wine is a wonderfully stimulating elixir, which probably accounts for the fact that virtually every provocative thinker and creative genius since Aristotle’s era was at least a fringe wino. Lest you think my reference to thinkers and geniuses is a subtle inference that I also include myself in that class of reflective intelligentsia, put yourself at ease, unbunch your malo, and take heart in the fact that I know my own cerebral limitations well enough to disclaim similar assets. I am just a slightly above average (last time I checked, my Stanford Binet and MMPI test results indicated an IQ of merely 120) kane who has an insatiable interest in arcane knowledge and coruscated hyperhybolics. After all, one’s reach should (ideally) exceed one’s grasp, as the old axiom puts it, if one is to have any sort of productive life (if you can’t dazzle ‘em with bullshit, broadside ‘em with cleverly distorted intelligence, or so goes my guiding principle).
Remember Rodney King, who back in 1991 got the pahootie beat out of him by several LAPD officers after trying to evade a Highway Patrol chase? King, a Sacramento California born black man, was, as far as his life accomplishments are concerned, a complete non-contender. That is to say he was not a rocket scientist, nor in fact was he even a successful alcoholic or drug user. Rodney King, a former convict and habitué of the ‘hood, would not even be remembered today, some 18 years later, had he not been the victim of excessive force on the part of the law, the visual details of which were caught on video tape by an alert bystander. Thus, Rodney passed into history as yet another bellwether catalyst of the civil-rights movement to end racial oppression when that video was splattered across the entire world’s television screens.
Since racism based upon skin color has been around since the dawn of recorded history, the only reason I mention him here at all is for his memorable complaint: “…can we all just get along?”
Of course the short answer to that query is simple enough. No, we can’t. And we never shall. It just isn’t in the cards for humanity to resolve its complex superficial antipathies well enough to coexist peacefully, and if you are asking “why?”, read on, chez amis.
In our lovely island paradise, there are plenty of opportunities to examine the evidence as to exactly why peaceful cohabitation and lawful coexistence are not possible. Every day the Honolulu Advertiser and the Honolulu Star Bulletin are filled with examples of the latest antagonisms arising among the various racial and ethnic sub-cultures that populate the islands. Hawaiians dislike Samoans, haoles look down on kanaka maoli, locals begrudge tourists, the list of ethnic disparagements is varied and endless. And if the ethnic issue weren’t enough to preoccupy everyone’s visceral need to elevate themselves (in their own minds) by disrespecting others, there’s always the subject of intelligence to fall back on.
As someone who has always had a tendency to be a hypercritical elitist, I have to continually make a supreme and recurrent effort to NOT be condescending in my appraisal of others who fail to meet my basic criteria of what constitutes worthiness in human beings and what doesn’t. After long reflection on this subject, I am forced to admit that it is a characteristic I partly inherited from my mother, who was an intellectually gifted wahine LONG before it was fashionable (or even socially permissible) to be one. My mother had a long list of critical human failings she perceived in others. Included among them was a built-in bias against fat people, a belief that migrant workers’ children were somehow mentally deficient, and the sort of racially-tinged superiority complex that only those who belong to various WASP groups like the DAR and the Mayflower Society are likely to gestate.
Today, many years after the death of my mother, I still see traces of her behavioral tendencies surfacing in my own make-up and must try very hard to be as objectively honest with myself as possible, whenever I consider the nature of humanity and my fellow beings. It doesn’t always succeed, unfortunately, and trace elements of that bias are sure to seep through every now and then, despite my best efforts. However, all that having been said and all other variables being equal, one of my favorite subjects for reflection is the nature of human intelligence.
But I digress. Returning to Rodney King’s memorable question, uttered after having been pounded into hamburger by a squad of heavily armed CHP officers, King wondered if we can all just ‘get along’? The short answer has already been given, but the long answer is rather complicated by too many variables to even begin to successfully cite them all. One thing that may be addressed, however, is the basic nature of intelligence.
In recent study on this subject, I have been reading a number of very interesting books on human intelligence. Partly due to an inherent interest in education, partly due to the human trait of hating others who are ‘different’, and partly due to the manifestation of hatreds that are (and have been) displacing the ancient Hawaiian ‘Aloha Spirit’, it’s worth taking a brief look at this subject with reference to something called the Gaussian distribution curve of human intelligence.
You are probably familiar with this under a different name, specifically ‘the bell shaped curve’ or the ‘normal distribution curve’. If you’ve ever wondered where ‘Gauss’ fits into the appellation, know that it refers to one Johann Carl Friedrich Gauss, a mathematical child prodigy and Brownschweigian citizen of Lower Saxony. Gauss pioneered the complex mathematical formulas that underlie the distribution curve display of data and although his name is rarely used in reference to our present flirtation with data distribution displays, good old Angel Third Class Carl probably glows with pride up there in heaven every time someone remembers his part in helping social scientists discuss the disparities of human intelligence.
Many years ago, social scientists (who are now termed ‘classicists’) decided that intelligence was best quantified in terms of a distribution of data points representative of any group of human subjects. Not long after Darwin and his successors formulated the theories of natural selection and evolved intelligence, it was quite popular to presume that basic intelligence was passed along in much the same manner all other physiological aspects of human beings are, by genetic transferral. This theory remained fairly consistent and unembroidered upon until the American civil rights movement gained momentum in the 1950s and began to vehemently protest the assumption, due to various efforts made in past decades to insinuate that non-whites were inherently less intelligent than Caucasians. A number of these efforts may be easily called to recollection, including the various infamous ‘eugenics’ hypotheses of the early 20th Century, assorted studies of cranial capacity related to ethnic derivation, and German (and Russian) attempts to ‘document’ inherent feeble-mindedness in Jews (and that’s just the roughest assay of what constituted literally dozens of similar inspired ‘researches’).
After the classicists came the so-called ‘behaviorists’ (also known as the environmentalists), whose chief assertion was that intelligence is no so much formed via transferral of basic genetic resources as by the immediacy of enriching resources available during early life (environment, family, peers, institutional nurturing, etc.). Due to the sharp focus put on classical theories of intelligence by the black civil rights movement, it soon became fashionable to avoid all discussion of anything smacking of so-called ‘inherited’ intelligence theories, despite the existence of a large number of researches that demonstrated some positive correlations in that regard. This attitude gathered momentum with the rise of activist fostered social mechanisms such as the Affirmative Action programs, and with educational theories that proposed that substantial improvements in basic intelligence could be gained through ‘enrichment’ programs made available to lower social classes. The massively pervasive effects of ‘political correctness’ soon also became apparent, as to even discuss the possibility of genetic influences on social development soon became anathema altogether. Thanks to weak-willed social scientists and a rather loudly outspoken civil rights movement, even intelligent and objective discussion of classical genetic intelligence transferral theories fell out of fashion altogether.
Not that social researches into intelligence ceased to take place; simply that such researches were kept carefully cloistered within the ‘ivory tower’ community and out of the superficial and emotionally charged spotlight of popular media. There are, not surprisingly, many hundreds of studies today (although not well known outside a small clique of social scientists) that demonstrate much in the classical theory of intelligence transferral processes that remains not just valid, but disturbingly revealing and supportive of what conventional schools of PC thought dismiss as ‘outright racist lies’ and prejudicially motivated distortions of ‘truth’.
More recently, in the above setting of highly emotional polar contentions, a new approach has been taken to regard intelligence not as a single unified essence of cognitive capability, but as an aggregate of 7 different qualities that may be broken down into the following seven categories: 1) Spatial ability; 2) Logical-mathematical ability; 3) Linguistic ability; 4) Interpersonal ability; 5) Intrapersonal ability; 6) Musical ability; and 7) Bodily-kinesthetic ability.
The first three of the above are, according to author Charles Murray (of ‘Real Education: Four Simple Truths for Bringing America’s Schools Back to Reality’, Crown Forum 2008, ISBN 978-0-307-40538-8), collectively regardable as basic ‘academic ability’. The fourth and fifth abilities concern themselves with the ability to relate intelligently with others on a social level (inter-personal) and the ability to reflect intelligently within one’s own mind (to make balanced assessments and formulate informed opinion), while the sixth and seventh refer to musical adeptness and (in the last instance) to hand-eye and motor coordination (as in sports and other largely physical activities).
If one accepts this premise, it can be quickly seen that ‘intelligence’, formerly viewed as the product of genetic inheritance, environmental learning, or a combination of both processes, is actually quite complex and harder to quantify than might at first be suspected. IQ itself, while it has been scientifically demonstrated to correlate well to the ability to achieve socio-economic successes, is not a guarantee of that success by any means. It also means that not all people are equally gifted, as the assumed premise underlying American democracy (“equal under the law”) so glibly has us imagine. An example might be the spectacular athlete who has superb skills in physical activity (sports), but very poor academic abilities. Another example might be the unpopular ‘nerd’, who while achieving very high levels of academic excellence, is absolutely hopeless catching a football or wearing a baseball glove. There as are many examples of this variability to achieve as there are types of individual to observe in our society.
That does not (or should not) detract from the fact that much of the basic matrix of innate intelligence is in fact transmitted genetically and that if you have a child of seemingly low intelligence and place him in a neighborhood that reinforces negative social and intellectual values, he is going to be disadvantaged beyond the proportion of effect one might be tempted to ascribe to environmental influences alone.
If you simplified things considerably by making what to some might be considered outrageously assumptive statements (i.e. that a kid is just dumb), you might be nearer to the truth in many instances than politically correct dogma (viz. the ‘No Child Left Behind’ effort and the belief that all children should have a college education) would allow for.
One of the points that emerges from all of this is that, contrary to the avowed popular wisdom that all children MUST have a college education to succeed (in view of the fact [any number of studies support this fact, conclusively] that half of any group of children are below average, with a mean IQ of 99-100 and that an IQ of 120 [my own, as a matter of fact] marks the 10th percentile of the standard distribution curve of human intelligence), a preponderant number of children not only should NOT go to college, they CANNOT complete a moderately rigorous post-secondary academic study program. Only by lowering the academic standards by an absurd margin can one hope to fulfill that aspiration.
I have written a number of times in the past that America must face reality and abandon its false ‘romantic’ dogma that insists (contrary to the findings of most scientific studies of human intelligence) that all children may excel equally, if only they are provided with additional academic support and environmental enrichment. I have repeatedly stated that we must reconsider the long-established European model wherein two life options are available: academia for the truly bright, and the trades and crafts for the marginally bright. By making an undergraduate degree the highest and most prestigious goal 'average' people must aspire to, we have created a damaging bias against the no college degree group, since under that assumed hierarchy of values, those who lack an undergraduate degree automatically become second class citizens. Furthermore, by continuing the American habit of disparaging the so-called ‘blue-collar’ professions as having low social status, we further reinforce this highly prejudicial status quo and further insure that the elusive quality known as self-esteem will never be attained by many who are simply limited by their intrinsic intelligence.
There are many disturbing trends underway in America today, not least of which is a growing social disparity between the highly educated, highly rewarded, and upper socially mobile, and the uneducated, marginally bright, and lower social class masses. As author Charles Murray points out in his book (‘Real Education’, et al), prior to the present electronic information age, both classes mixed together and had a certain positive interaction that benefitted society. With the rise of the present age that finds a stratified, highly educated and rewarded upper economic caste at the top of the socio-economic food chain and a grossly dissociated lower economic class at the bottom (with a sparse and insubstantial ‘middle class’ practically melting away like the polar ice caps), the present status quo that assumes all children are equally capable of achieving equal rewards in adult life may be seen as simplistically specious and riddled with highly assumptive fallacies.
I should point out another excellent book here, co-authored by Charles Murray and Richard J. Herrenstein back in 1994, titled ‘The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life’ (The Free Press 1994, ISBN 0-02-914673-9). Murray went on to address the practical aspects of the latest theories of intelligence assessment (examined in exhaustive detail in this 1994 landmark publication on human intelligence) in his later book, ‘Real Education’. The earlier work, some 845 pages in length and extensively researched, annotated, and supported by a vast range of carefully documented studies, is considered by many to be one of the most astute inquiries into human intelligence written in the present decades. Murray's more recent 2008 publication is a much shorter (219 pages) compilation of a series of three original articles that appeared in the Wall Street Journal. As much as I loathe that newspaper as a virtual party organ of the sort of Wall Street capitalism that has very recently successfully dismembered the entire nation’s economy, they do occasionally feature some very astute articles. This is one of them.
After considering all of the foregoing, and returning to the island context I began these comments within, it would seem that while the rich and diverse genetic make-up that obtains among Hawaiian peoples today has and will tend to favor individuals with substantial intellectual potential (within the concepts of the classicist theory), the economic (behavioral) aspects of the present Hawaiian social-economy auger against optimizing that potential to any degree. The addiction of the indigenous island peoples to imported western (mainland) culture, with all its dreadful baggage (crap musical trends, egregious pop-culture, fawning focus on commercial exploitations of adolescent immaturity, and incipient inroads made by the drug culture into traditional Hawaiian family structure, etc.) means that there will likely be no immediate improvement in the promulgation of intelligent levels of awareness and promotion of social achievement among Hawaiian society for the foreseeable future.
Only when all Hawaiians stop regarding each other with the baleful prejudice of ethnic antipathies and start embracing a return to the original collective and supportive qualities that ancient Hawaii fostered (mutual regard, collective activity, consensual social support, and loving regard for one another) can there be any real improvement in the present unhappy status quo. Given the popularity of the anti-intellectualism and socially aberrant behavior that too many Hawaiian youth embrace (and that parents are not making efforts to discourage and/or control), there’s little hope for it.
In terms of basic intelligence in both youthful Hawaiians and adults (I use that term in recognition that it includes all ethnic classes including haoles), as too many studies have shown, there are many who are intelligent and an equal number who are not. Let’s not kid ourselves with any delusions of political correctness, however, and fail to deal with these realities. Intelligence is a socially beneficial quality that no free society can endure without. A culture that supposes itself to be ‘free’ must recognise that it needs to be a ‘civic-minded’ society first. That presupposes that the greater ideal supports the process of encouraging everyone to rise to the highest level of personal achievement that their inherent abilities and resources will permit.
A final selection from ‘The Bell Curve’ is worth citing here, in this very same context:
“A free society demands a citizenry that willingly participates in the civic enterprise, in matters as grand as national elections and as commonplace as neighborliness. Lacking this quality--civility, in its core meaning—a society must replace freedom with coercion if it is to maintain order.
“Most manifestations of civility are too fleeting to be measured and studied. One realm of activity that does leave measureable traces is political involvement, which includes both participation in political activities and some knowledge and sophistication about them.
“For assessing any relationship between political involvement and IQ, the best data, surprisingly, are from studies of children and the results are consistent: brighter children of all socioeconomic classes, including the poorest, learn more rapidly about politics and how government works, and are more likely than duller children to read about, discuss, and participate in political activities. The gap between brighter and duller children in political development widens with age, unlike the static gap socio-economic classes.
“For adults, the standard theory of political involvement for many years has assumed that socio-economic class is the vital link. People at higher status levels vote more, and they know and care more about political matters than do people at lower levels of status. But the available research offers ample evidence that the key element for predicting political involvement is educational level. The people who vote least and who care least about political issues are not so much the poor as the uneducated, whatever their income or occupation. Why does education matter so much? The fragmentary studies available indicate that education predicts political involvement in America because it is primarily a proxy for cognitive ability.
“The NLSY (the author refers to a well known study here) does not have the data for pursuing this manifestation of civility, but it permits us to explore another aspect of it: To what extent is high intelligence associated with behaviors associated with ‘middle-class values’? The answer is that the brighter young people of the NLSY are also the ones whose lives most resemble a sometimes disdained stereotype: They stick with school, are plugging away in the workforce, and are loyal to their spouses. Insofar as intelligence helps lead people to behave in these ways, it is also a force for maintaining society.”