What are we going to do with the stupid? Assuming, of course, that you and me are not stupid. A contentious and explosive question in its political and moral implications. A New Scientist opinion piece:
They are the individuals who lie at the bottom of the normal range of human intelligence. I’m not talking about people with learning difficulties; these people are generally protected and helped by the state. I mean those too bright to qualify for such assistance but not clever enough to thrive easily in today’s knowledge-based society.
The unfairness these people face is shocking. It is hard, for example, for someone who is illiterate to even earn a living wage in western societies. This was not always the case. To take the UK as an example, a century ago more than a million people worked in mines and millions more in agriculture. Some of these jobs required academic skills, but most did not. Now most of those jobs have gone. This doesn’t mean the old manual jobs were done exclusively by the less bright, but there was at least a valid way for less intelligent people to contribute to society and earn a living.
How many people are we talking about? The distribution of IQ scores in a population is a bell curve, with the average roughly 100. In most western nations, 60 to 75 per cent of people score between 85 and 115 and function well in an intellectually challenging environment. Those few below about 70 – though there’s no exact cut-off – can be considered to have a cognitive disability. But a significant proportion, 5 to 15 per cent, lie between 70 and 85. These people will have problems with arithmetic and language, and will likely be illiterate or close to it. In the UK alone that’s between 2 and 6 million people who simply do not have the mental ability to thrive in a technological, knowledge-based, modern society.
Of course, many claim IQ is no more than a measure of the ability to do IQ tests. Yet while it may not measure intelligence directly, it does seem to correlate rather well with it. Those who do well on IQ tests are considered to be “bright”, and IQ scores correlate with life attainment. People with high IQs tend to earn more, live longer and have a greater choice of mates and careers. People with low IQs are more likely to end up on the streets or in prison.
So, what are we going to do with the stupid?