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Posts Tagged ‘intelligence’

Rick Santorum gave a speech recently in which he observed that conservatives would “never have… smart people on our side”.

It didn’t get a spontaneous round of applause, which I guess is something. But he’s someone a frightening number of people still take seriously, even now. He’s a prominent Republican politician. And he’s proudly defiant of the fact that people with intelligence actively distance themselves from him and his ideas.

A while ago, I’d have just sighed and expressed exasperation at the world, and probably declared that I give up on America as a country. The temptation to see it all as tragically futile is still strong.

I’m trying to move away from that these days. If there’s a way to actually engage with the kind of people who think this way, and bring some of them around to the idea that “smart people” – those guys who’ve studied things, learnt stuff, and have some idea what they’re talking about – might possibly be worth listening to, then I really think it’s worthwhile making the effort.

But I don’t know how to do it. At times like this, I don’t even know where to begin relating to other people’s opinions and feelings. If I had to try and guess what’s going on in their heads, I could waffle something about a resentment of intelligence and a skewed idea of what it means to be academic or intellectual being imbued from an early age somehow… and maybe something about being so committed to an idea and their familiar in-group that any cognitive dissonance about its value is resolved by rejecting outright any criticism…

…but none of this leaves me with any understanding of what the hell someone like Rick Santorum thinks he’s doing.

Here’s the rationale he gives for washing his hands of smart people:

They believe they should have the power to tell you what to do.

Except they don’t. No more than anyone else. Asserting authority over others is entirely orthogonal to intelligence.

You know what is a strong indicator of wanting the power to tell other people what to do and control their lives, Rick Santorum? Running for President.

Now that’s some megalomania right there.

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So I’ve finally seen this movie that you probably lost interest in months ago, and I has some thoughts. (And some spoilers, though not much more than is given away by the title.)

I’m not a proper film critic type, so I don’t really know how to integrate the various levels on which the film acts, or how much weight to give them. On a scientific level, for instance, it was seriously problematic. The “gene therapy” that gives the apes super-intelligence is well beyond even plausible science fiction, and acts as a mixture of miracle and MacGuffin in its ability to do what the story needs it to. A single treatment, and every chimpanzee it’s exposed to suddenly acquires human-level thinking. In humans, the same stuff cures Alzheimer’s overnight. (And it’s aerosolised, for no good reasons that aren’t contrived by the plot.)

The notion of just what intelligence is bothered me as well. The apes don’t just get smarter, they essentially become different-looking humans. Every facial expression, every tic, every gesture, is clearly recognisable and understood when you watch them. You can follow the thought processes behind every decision they make, and even their manual dexterity suddenly seems to mirror that of humans in a way I don’t think is natural to chimps. I get that this kind of relatability is generally something you want in your protagonists, but it jarred here. Andy Serkis does a brilliant job in the whole motion capture thing, but that may be part of the problem. It felt like there should be a less lazy way to humanise these characters – or, perhaps, to make us care about them even when humanising them isn’t appropriate.

(At the same time, the extent of the apes’ physical superiority to humans was off-puttingly exaggerated. They regularly leapt through plate glass as if it literally wasn’t there, and fell forty feet onto concrete ground as if hopping off a bus. I know they could all kick my ass without breaking a sweat, but this was a bit much.)

The counterpoint to all this, on the other hand, is that I’m not sure how much it matters.

Well, no, I’m sure that a lot of it does matter, partly for aesthetic reasons and partly for the sake of internal consistency. But on another level (if I can talk about there being, philosophically, “another level” to a film without sounding like either a pretentious twat or someone trying to retro-actively buzz-market Dane Bowers’s music career) it’s not really about any of these things. It’s about an uprising; it’s about oppression; it’s about a race realising what their rights are, and that they’re being trampled on, and that they can fight for them.

On some level, it is about different-looking humans.

It’s not that the apes are simply a metaphorical stand-in for black people, or Native Americans, or the proles, or anything that straight-forward. They’re apes. But maybe some of the technical details need not be as important as the story that the film’s trying to tell, and what it says about the world. The apes treated with the gene therapy unquestionably have intelligence, personalities, “personhood”, and just about everything you’d expect to see in an agent deserving of human respect and dignity. But they’re seen as less than human, as pets, as experimental subjects. They’re hated and feared, in a way that shows up our prejudices, rather than reflecting their own nature. We act like we can treat them essentially however we like, and when they rebel they display unexpected levels of intelligence, self-control, and humanity.

Never mind for a moment that it’s not technically realistic in apes. Do we see something like this anywhere else in the world?

As a simple tale of rising up against bondage, it’s entertainingly told, but even this could have been handled better. The antagonists are too… antagonisty. (Thought I should remind you I’m really not a proper film reviewer.) We’re not given anything at all to like about David Hewlett’s character; he first appears only to exemplify the prejudice with which the apes are seen, when he violently threatens a chimp who leaps playfully onto his property without meaning any harm. (In fact, given what we know about chimpanzee behaviour in the real world, he would have had every reason to be seriously frightened for the safety of his children – a significant problem with the set-up of the apes as unfairly maligned underdogs.) Draco doesn’t get any more of a rounded character when he turns up; he’s just a total bastard all the time, and when your bad guys are all just total bastards all the time, I think it weakens the power of your allegory.

I haven’t seen the film The Help, but I read one criticism of it which seemed insightful (though might not be fair, for all I know). The attitudes toward race and racial roles in the film (as I read) are basically divided between two types of characters. Some are as magnificently progressive as you’d hope anyone could be (even by today’s standards), believe that any discrimination between whites and blacks is an injustice, and sympathise deeply with the plight of all the African-Americans in question. The others are entirely callous to the notion that black people might have any feelings worth worrying about, openly scorn and despise them, and ridicule the very idea that anything needs to change.

All of which ignores a substantial and vital aspect of the history of race relations: decent people who genuinely meant well, and weren’t evil or heartless by any means, but were so unable to see past their standard view of the world that they contributed little to any progressive movement either.

I think Rise of the Planet of the Apes has a similar problem. The baddies are very obviously baddies, because of how they’re mean to animals and stuff. But I think it could have been a more profound allegory if it had done more to take into account the role of complacency and rationalisation in tyranny and subjugation.

Thomas Jefferson owned slaves. It’s not always about inhumanity and malice. Sometimes people are just wrong.

Three stars.

(Abrupt ending due to losing my train of thought a bit and deciding I’ve probably made my point quite well enough, whatever it is.)

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Katie Price started out her career as a topless model. Now, at the age of 33, she’s a successful author and businesswoman, with a near-ubiquitous presence in the British media, as well as a lingerie range, a number of reality shows, and multiple novels and autobiographies to her name.

She’s done alright for herself, you could say. But she’s also established herself in the eyes of much of the public as a certain kind of person. The kind who… well, this sums up the attitude pretty well. She’s not very bright, is the popular view, and her sex life is of continual fascination to people who don’t seem to like her very much.

Anyway, her Twitter account took a turn for the interesting yesterday:

Great news about China’s latest GDP figures!!

Chinese leaders now likely to loosen monetary policy to stimulate growth. Yay!!

OMG!! Eurozone debt problems can only be properly solved by true fiscal union!!! #comeonguys

Large scale quantitative easing in 2012 could distort liquidity of govt. bond market. #justsayin

A number of people noticed this, and considered it so out of character that they concluded her account must have been hacked. Others took an opposing view, and declared it offensive and patronising to assume that someone such as Katie Price couldn’t possibly have opinions on things like global economics simply because she has famously large breasts.

To me, the above tweets looked more like the Pricey was lightly making fun of her own image, and was deliberately playing up the contrast between global economic policy and her usual style of discourse, possibly just because it amused her. Even her detractors might credit her with enough self-awareness as to crack such a joke.

But the claim that this was just a savvy businesswoman sharing her views, and that if people can’t believe it then they’re just unfairly judging her intelligence based on her physical appearance, seems naïve.

For a start, we don’t just have her physical appearance on which to base an assessment of her mental acuity; we also have everything else she’s ever said or done, over the course of numerous books, reality TV shows, interviews, and far more down-to-earth tweets than those quoted above. It’s not degrading to Katie – as a woman or in any other sense – to have noticed that expounding on the Eurozone debt crisis is a long way from her usual style.

But it’s also a mistake to assume that someone’s capacity or inclination for using complex-sounding terminology like “fiscal union” is a useful signifier for intelligence. I consider myself a fairly intelligent person, but I have trouble operating a fucking can-opener, let alone formulating any useful opinions about the GDP of China. (I’m not even kidding. The bastards just don’t want to grip the metal in the right place and so nothing happens when I turn the twisty bit.)

(I was talking about can-openers in those last parentheses, not the Chinese.)

And finally, even if you are (I would say over-generously) willing to credit Katie Price with both intelligence and sincere, passionate opinions on this complex subject, the tweets above are a poor example of how she would demonstrate such qualities.

I mean, who’s so excited about China’s GDP that they’d use two exclamation marks and mean it? Who suffixes a comment about growth stimulation with “Yay!!” when it’s not an innuendo? Why would anyone choose to sandwich such an erudite-sounding soundbite between “OMG” and a flippant hashtag?

That’s a deliberately humourous incongruity, not someone intelligent talking straight-forwardly about the European economy. It’s much closer to how someone who’s known for their physicality but has half a brain might take the piss out of the assumption that anyone with big tits couldn’t possibly have insightful opinions.

As it turns out, it’s not even quite that. Her following tweet revealed the whole business to be an advertising stunt for a chocolate bar.

In a sense, it was tremendously successful, and rather cleverly concocted. It’s even possible that Ms Price herself was involved in crafting this scheme, which got thousands of people looking at and talking about her Twitter feed who wouldn’t usually be the slightest bit interested. She’s not an idiot, that girl.

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