06 March 2005

I had a conversation last night with a friend that I've been ruminating over ever since. From this conversation has sprung a moment of clarity in which I was able to name something I have long known to be true of myself: I am an educational elitist. Some people pride themselves in their rare taste in music, others in fashion or athletic ability, I put my stock in education and learning.
The crux of the debate was over the idea of a the existence of a subset of the population that is more capable (smarter) than the average. What I am basically saying is that there is a small (small numbering in the hundred of thousands) group of people who are simply mentally more capable than the others. My friend believes my thinking to be dangerous and that it may prove to be my downfall (because in the arguement I indicated we are both in said subset).
While I fully agree that people's strengths lie in differing areas (people skills, language, music, athletics, art, math, etc) I also believe there are people whos ability is more fungible and applicable to the business of life and those people are then inherently more capable. I also know this sounds terribly un-PC and awfully arrogant. However, let me mention a parallel which I don't think people have such a problem with to illustrate my point.
When I was a freshman in high school my locker was immediately adjacent to the special education classroom. The adolescents in those classes ranged from "difficulty learning" to diagnosed mentallly defficient. As a society we readily accept and support those who are developmentally disabled. We do not expect them to be as capable and proficient at tasks and problems as the rest of the population and we are not cruel because of this. Yet, when I posture about the existence of people on the other end of the spectrum, the developmentally "superabled" I am now marginalising the average person; that hardly seems fair.
It is also important to note that no where have I indicated that people's worth is determined by their intelligence. I do not believe that smart people are entitled to more or worth more to society - I simply mean to point out that they exist as an identifiable group of people. After all, 80% of the population believes they are above average - some of them must be right.
I wonder then if the problem is not with pointing out the existance of those who are mentally gifted, but with my including myself in it? Is it arrogant or self-aware to place yourself in the intellgentsia? I am reminded of a scene in Good Will Hunting in which Will wants to remain a construction worker in place of becomming a mathematician. His friend considers this an insult and a waste.
It is wrong to expect too much of those who cannot perform as the rest of us, but is it not also insulting to pretend you are less than you are? We don't ask our Olympians and Oscar winners to say they are of average ability - we celebrate their talents and enjoy the fruits of their labour. Why then, is it such a taboo to admit that you're smart and want to use that talent in whatever way possible? Am I honestly a worse person for believe that I'm smart?

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