Stress RS Rating: Yellow
tw: ableism and the concept of intelligence
I have seen a lot of people claiming that the concept of intelligence is an inherently ableist one.
While I do agree that yes, judging someone’s worth based on his perceived…
Okay, so I’m adding to Trafalgar’s reply, linked. (Over a thousand words; sorry for dashboard spam!)
Trafalgar is absolutely right when they point out that “intelligence”, in the socially perceived form of the word, is a bell curve. The privilege lies, probably, at slightly above the mean; not at either end.
Perceived intelligence is a really arbitrary thing. So someone who’s really good at chess is really smart, but someone who’s really good at Starcraft isn’t; someone who’s good at understanding IQ or multiple-choice tests or writing in florid language is really smart, but someone who has the skills to survive out on the streets alone as a teenager isn’t. But even though intelligence is a fundamentally flawed concept, and not only are different skills devalued or people who enthusiastically apply themselves to learning ‘ranked’ lower than those who are apathetic but already know a lot, it still, of course, exists. And as a social concept, it is highly damaging to everyone but those around the mean.
Sure, people who are ‘highly intelligent’ can “step-down”. Pretend to be average, I guess. But that’s just as frustrating and emotionally wearying as any other form of trying to live as a person you’re not. Sure, many highly intelligent people also come across as highly arrogant and make people feel terrible. (Part of this, often, is autism. For me personally, it’s gotten to the point where I’m absolutely incapable of taking a compliment or being assertive in any way because for years I have tried to fight this impression.)
But…there are often, although of course not always (inb4 people go “but there was this smart kid at my school who never suffered like you said!”, which in itself - how do you know?), real disadvantages to being perceived as being of high intelligence, whatever that means.
We live in a society which is still not tolerant enough of the differently abled. But we try, and at least where I live there are loud voices currently opposing our government’s plans to slash one-on-one tuition for kids who require it and otherwise make primary education even more of a nightmare for these kids. People on the other end of the spectrum are sometimes treated as the opposite though: the ones who will get by regardless what is done to them. And this is the problem.
I have always been regarded, by the conventional definition, as highly intelligent. Unlike Trafalgar, I was the kind of kid who always aced tests because of an innate ability to recognize patterns in test structure and language. I was the stuck-up, aloof, aspie kid who naturally got along with teachers way too well. Streamed into some Gifted Education Program thing. Able to talk my way into doing whatever the fuck I liked at high school because my grades, or at least my knowledge, was above reproach.
But this meant people, especially in the highly academic-oriented Asian country I grew up in, resented me. It meant I repeatedly had my lunch money stolen off me, that my parents had immense pressure placed on them to “parent me right” because everyone was watching me, that I was (not once, nor twice, but repeatedly) attacked, physically and sexually and emotionally, by people closer to the mean and by teachers who thought me a know-it-all and by my relatives who resented that my non-conformist little person got all the accolades in school.
It meant that when I later developed C-PTSD, I was diagnosed then simply told “but you’re bright, you’ll develop coping mechanisms”. It meant that because I was very verbal about everything but unable to speak at all about the periods of abuse, they must not have happened. That because I was an avid writer and reader of fiction, I kept being told - even to this day - to stop making things up, stop being fanciful. It means that when I ask for extensions on schoolwork because “I’m having a hard time”, I’m met with disbelief.
It has meant to this day that people resent me because I seem to effortlessly do well, and somehow my non-conformity - my being openly queer, or gender-non-conforming, or just socially awkward aspie for that matter (let’s not even go into how people react to my multiplicity, which my partner speculates is an expression of a highly complex mind) - adds insult to injury. That I’m somehow unwittingly going “nyaa, I’m a minority, and you all are privileged and it’s so hard for me but I do better than you all at school anyway, sucks to be you lol”.
Not everyone has had this same experience, but I wager many people regarded as intelligent can identify with the issues around friendship. At various stages in my life, I’ve tried really hard to fit in. And I’ve found that that inevitably entails downplaying my academic intelligence, because that creates, if not resentment, awkwardness. No matter how hard I’ve worked at trying to react in socially appropriate ways or just parse how “normal people” interact, my fundamentally different thinking processes and interests have gotten in the way - and, at school, of course whenever grades were handed back out people either didn’t speak to me for a week or did nothing but wax lyrical about how they wished they were me.
I’m lucky that I’ve grown up with internet access, and I can spend hours discussing the implications of Wikipedia as a cultural phenomenon or god knows what with other people who think like me. I’m lucky to have my intelligence take the form of verbal expressiveness, and to, via one of my alters, have passable social intuition. But that doesn’t mean that I’m playing on, to borrow terminology for privilege, the lowest difficulty level. The lowest difficulty level is that which is assumed to be the default.
Not all people at either end of the curve get severely abused. But it’s obviously true that many face ostracism or hate which they do not fully understand, simply because of who they are. That they definitely are treated differently even if it’s not necessarily obviously “bad-different”. People who are regarded as of low-intelligence have it very, very difficult in a world that only values certain skills, and I don’t deny that. But people who are regarded as highly intelligent often find that they simultaneously have doors shut to them while being expected to pass through them easily. More importantly, academic intelligence absolutely does not imply better coping abilities or social skills or whatever. Doing well at the class part of school doesn’t mean, as often assumed, a child can be assumed to do well at the rest of school - as many a movie has depicted, the geeks get bullied. Somehow their smarts are viewed as compensation for, though often portrayed as comedy, what can’t be anything but hugely emotionally scarring in many cases.
I don’t mean to be standing on a pedestal going “it’s so hard being up here”. We were all plonked into life with different backstories and abilities, and it sucks differently for each of us. I’m just trying to illustrate that the smart kids don’t always have it easy.
That said, being “smart” means I can compensate enough to appear to be doing all right despite the scars, and I guess at least for that I am grateful.
20 Notes/ Hide
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