Monday, October 25, 2004

Yes, I Am Smart But I Am Not Rich. I Like to Think of It as Leveling the Playing Field

This story has been around for a while: George Bush has an IQ as good as, and possibly better than, John Kerry's.

This does not impress me. Willful ignorance is always more dangerous than mere stupidity. Having been raised by bright people who were also fundamentalist Christians, I learned very slowly that a fundamentalist can be Talmudic, not to say Jesuitical, in defense of any number of premises that are clearly nonsense -- if you start with the idea those ideas must be true if your world is not to self-destruct.

But I did learn that lesson. My friends say it makes me cranky and no fun at all.

That's not why I am writing this little essay. One of the stories about the Bush-Kerry IQ hunt linked to a website that allows you to figure out your IQ from SAT and GRE scores. Since I have never taken an IQ test, I was curious. The idea of IQ is so simple and so appealing: a score that measures the ability to do well on the test that measures it, but which we assume is more than that, like the amount of marbling in a steak, both measureable and just delicious.

It's more complicated than that. I understand IQ correlates with the ability to learn certain things and do certain things that produce tangible results in the real world. I also understand that at best it measures only one ability, and that other concepts, such as emotional IQ, make sense of who does well and who doesn't in the big world of making yourself clear and making yourself persuasive and making yourself so damn irritating every one else just shuts up.

Of course, I understand some people think IQ tests are a kind of tautological intellectual incest, measuring what we have learned through being imbedded in a particular culture, and tell nothing important about our innate ability to learn.

In other words, some people think IQ tests are pernicious, racist crap.

All that conceded, I tell you now that my fingers stumbled one over the other hastening to get to the page that allows you to derive IQ from SAT and GRE scores because Big Daddy knew he put up some big numbers on those particular tests back in the day. Big Daddy is not so evolved that he will decline to bend over and pick up a whomping stick when he stumbles over it.

Big Daddy can imagine a moment when he is being disrespected and that particular whomping stick might... actually make Big Daddy look pretty damn insecure.

If Big Daddy -- if I -- keep writing this little essay this little essay makes me look pretty damn insecure.

As are we all at last.

That I remember my SAT and GRE scores is, I think, typical, not obsessive. (I invite my readers to respond.) What interests me 40 years later is that my scores were perhaps not a useful validation. Knowing I was a certified smart kid, I was not that hard a worker. My actual grades, though very good, were not on the level of what I was able to do on a standardized test. I knew how to beat that game without studying or preparing. Those tests reward the ability to figure out the answer to a multiple choice question based on the way the questions are written. Now that is an odd skill, which does not translate into deciphering the mysteries of my fellow beings. But I have always been very good at outwitting those who write multiple choice questions.

I didn't use my SATs wisely. I went to Whooping Jesus Bible College, which was located in -- and excuse my fall from elegance and indirection -- the very Arsehole of the Universe. (Finally a title for my bildungsroman: The Arsehole at the End of the Universe.) To get into WJBC, you just had to have money and a fine Christian testimony ....

Money was enough, that and a sincere desire to repent your sinful ways or a sincere hope on the part of your parents that you would. I had a roommate who was turned down by long-defunct Parsons College, which -- at the time -- was considered the worst college in the country because it said up front if you had the money they had the space.

My wife did more or less the same thing. She could have gone to the University of Michigan but went to WJBC, instead. And we hated it. And we stayed, which shows how much we feared the larger world our test scores said we should so easily master.

We got together, our shared hatreds our bond. Forty years later we are still together and I wouldn't trade her for Christina Rossetti or Christina Onassis or Christina Aguilar. It's very awkward, the way it turned out after all to be a good thing.

Second time around, when it came to grad school, we were smarter with our test scores. I went to Duke to get my Ph.D. and my wife went to Georgia Tech to get her architecture degree. How useless that Ph.D was for 20 years after I got it is a story in itself, though it would probably cheer up those of you who didn't spend six years of your life getting one.

Not the point today.

The point today: When I was a teenager, I wanted an abstract number to boast about, and today I still do. But now I will be a real son of a bitch. I went to the website and got the number. Strong correlation between the SAT scores and the GRE scores in terms of suggesting about the same IQ.

It's a good number, not a WMD but it would make some noise.

Let's just leave it at that, particularly since yours may be higher, and -- even though the facts are a powerful weapon and factoids more powerful still -- at the end of the day there is nothing like a good old-fashioned lie when we are all trying to be friends while still maintaining, or at least sharing on alternate days, the upper hand.

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