January Have you ever seen an old photo of yourself and been embarrassed at the way you looked? Did we actually dress like that? And we had no idea how silly we looked.
Support Aeon Donate now As I was growing up in England in the latter half of the 20th century, the concept of intelligence loomed large.
It was aspired to, debated and — most important of all — measured. At the age of 11, tens of thousands of us all around the country were ushered into desk-lined halls to take an IQ test known as the Plus.
The results of those few short hours would determine who would go to grammar school, to be prepared for university and the professions; who was destined for technical school and thence skilled work; and who would head to secondary modern school, to be drilled in the basics then sent out to a life of low-status manual labour.
The idea that intelligence could be quantified, like blood pressure or shoe size, was barely a century old when I took the test that would decide my place in the world.
To say that someone is or is not intelligent has never been merely a comment on their mental faculties. It is always also a judgment on what they are permitted to do. Intelligence, in other words, is political.
Sometimes, this sort of ranking is sensible: But it has a dark side. As well as determining what a person can do, their intelligence — or putative lack of it — has been used to decide what others can do to them. Throughout Western history, those deemed less intelligent have, as a consequence of that judgment, been colonised, enslaved, sterilised and murdered and indeed eaten, if we include non-human animals in our reckoning.
But the problem has taken an interesting 21st-century twist with the rise of Artificial Intelligence AI. In recent years, the progress being made in AI research has picked up significantly, and many experts believe that these breakthroughs will soon lead to more.
Pundits are by turn terrified and excited, sprinkling their Twitter feeds with Terminator references. To understand why we care and what we fear, we must understand intelligence as a political concept — and, in particular, its long history as a rationale for domination.
Nor does it have a direct translation into German or ancient Greek, two of the other great languages in the Western philosophical tradition. Indeed, they were obsessed with it, or more precisely a part of it: Although today many scholars advocate a much broader understanding of intelligence, reason remains a core part of it.
So when I talk about the role that intelligence has played historically, I mean to include this forebear. The story of intelligence begins with Plato. In all his writings, he ascribes a very high value to thinking, declaring through the mouth of Socrates that the unexamined life is not worth living.
Plato emerged from a world steeped in myth and mysticism to claim something new: And so he launched the idea that the cleverest should rule over the rest — an intellectual meritocracy. This idea was revolutionary at the time. Elsewhere, the governing classes were made up of inherited elites aristocracyor by those who believed they had received divine instruction theocracyor simply by the strongest tyranny.
Aristotle was always the more practical, taxonomic kind of thinker. He took the notion of the primacy of reason and used it to establish what he believed was a natural social hierarchy. In his book The Politics, he explains: So at the dawn of Western philosophy, we have intelligence identified with the European, educated, male human.
It becomes an argument for his right to dominate women, the lower classes, uncivilised peoples and non-human animals. While Plato argued for the supremacy of reason and placed it within a rather ungainly utopia, only one generation later, Aristotle presents the rule of the thinking man as obvious and natural.
Needless to say, more than 2, years later, the train of thought that these men set in motion has yet to be derailed.
The late Australian philosopher and conservationist Val Plumwood has argued that the giants of Greek philosophy set up a series of linked dualisms that continue to inform our thought. Together, they make relationships of domination, such as patriarchy or slavery, appear to be part of the natural order of things.
Cognition, he claimed, was the business of humanity. Descartes rendered nature literally mindless, and so devoid of intrinsic value — which thereby legitimated the guilt-free oppression of other species. The idea that intelligence defines humanity persisted into the Enlightenment.
It was enthusiastically embraced by Immanuel Kant, probably the most influential moral philosopher since the ancients. For Kant, only reasoning creatures had moral standing.
We could do with them what we liked. His arguments are more sophisticated, but essentially he arrives at the same conclusion as Aristotle: For many decades, the advent of formal intelligence testing tended to exacerbate rather than remedy the oppression of women This line of thinking was extended to become a core part of the logic of colonialism.If a single problem has vexed biologists for the past couple of hundred years, surely it concerns the relation between biology and physics.
Many have struggled to show that biology is, in one sense or another, no more than an elaboration of physics, while others have yearned to identify a “something more” that, as a matter of fundamental principle, differentiates a tiger — or an amoeba.
Do We Fear the Right Things? By David G. Myers: Appeared in the December, , American Psychological Society Observer "Freedom and fear are at war," President Bush has told us. Give people the silent treatment. hedgehog94/Shutterstock.
When you’re hurting it’s natural to want to withdraw but unhappy people make a pattern of punishing others by being cold and silent. I do an exercise called “fear-setting” at least once a quarter, often once a month.
It is the most powerful exercise I do. Fear-setting has produced my biggest business and personal successes, as well as repeatedly helped me to avoid catastrophic mistakes. First, we fear what our ancestral history has prepared us to fear.
Human emotions were road tested in the Stone Age. Yesterday's risks prepare us to fear snakes, lizards, and spiders, although all three combined now kill only a dozen Americans a year.
January Have you ever seen an old photo of yourself and been embarrassed at the way you looked? Did we actually dress like that? We did. And we had no idea how silly we looked.