I recently set aside a brief amount of time to read one of my favorite books of the Bible, the Book of Proverbs. Within its pages, I am convinced, is the key to living a happy, successful, moral life, no matter what tribulations should befall oneself.
The verses of the Book of Proverbs generally fall into four main categories:
- Avoidance of adultery and other sexual transgression.
- Exhortation of the acquisition of wisdom and knowledge.
- To avoid fools and joining in the actions of sinful people.
- That fools despise useful teaching.
In this blog post, I am most interested in the latter three.
A few years ago, I read Murray and Herrnstein’s blockbuster text, “The Bell Curve,” which discussed the legitimacy of the concept of intelligence, the measurability of intelligence via an intelligence quotient (IQ), the significant heritability of intelligence, and the social stratification taking place with regards to intelligence.
The book also discussed the significant moral and criminal problems associated with those of low intelligence. While most low-IQ people are not criminals, most criminals are low-IQ people (or rather, they possess a lower mean IQ than the general population). It is a recurring pattern I (anecdotally) see in people that live in sin – they tend to be very stupid people.
This got me to thinking when reading the Book of Proverbs. Are the stupid truly less moral than the intelligent?
Extreme Intellect Without a Conscience
I suppose that depends on what you use your intelligence for. Throughout history, the worst crimes of mass murder (I do not like to use the term “crimes against humanity”, as this phrase has become too politicized) have been perpetrated by men of vast intellect, but devoid of conscience or moral teaching. The regimes of the great dictators of the 20th century are replete with examples.
The modern science of rocketry wasn’t born from a desire to put communication satellites into orbit for the benefit of mankind – it was to streamline V-2 missiles so Adolf Hitler could bomb London and Antwerp from afar. Think about the sort of brains that went into designing something like the V-2 rocket. This technology is over 70 years old. Seventy years ago, there was no computers, and there was no internet. And yet these men were able to design and reduce to practice a programmable, guided missile that would arc up to the edge of the upper atmosphere, automatically correct its course deviations, and land accurately enough to bomb cities from hundreds of miles away. But what was the end result of it all? A terror weapon. A weapon used to murder civilians without warning.
Likewise, Adolf Eichmann was a fairly intelligent fellow, in that he worked out all of the logistics of transporting Holocaust victims from occupied territories to the death camps in Germany and Poland. While thankfully unsuccessful in their bloody ambitions, the Weathermen terrorist organization are another example of brilliant people without consciences. And what of the communists in Russia, who masterminded the butchery of their own people for 70 years? Such crimes seem simply beyond the pale of what the Bible speaks of. The book is pre-industrial, and people back then could hardly conceive of organized technology being able to systematically erase entire cultures, or jail entire nations as Stalin did.
Only people of high IQ are capable of orchestrating the most monstrous of crimes, that require the coordination of large numbers of other skilled people, and utilizing industrial-age technologies for transportation, killing, and disposal. In the days of the Bible (and well into the days until locomotives and machine guns), massacres required a force commensurate with the number of people to be killed, e.g. you may need more than 10,000 soldiers to massacre a city of 10,000.
But with the advent of modern industrial technology, guns, and air power, the scale-up for a massacre can require merely a fraction of the manpower to perpetrate. What brought about this change? Unfortunately, the man of science – guys like me. The V-2 rocket. The laser guidance systems. Aircraft that can lift 80 tons of bombs. The Maxim gun. The Gatling gun. Interchangeable parts. Gunpowder. The Colt Peacemaker. Nuclear and biological weapons are the nadir of the use our scientific know-how applied to the extermination of mankind.
Low IQs and Lack of Morals
I am hardly the first to complain about the use of science and vast industrial resources to develop and construct weapons of war. President Eisenhower spoke about it indirectly in his farewell address. George Orwell wrote about it as well. But what of the other end of the bell curve? What is the effect when someone of low intelligence lacks a conscience?
Presumably, they commit crime. Take some time now to familiarize yourself with such people; go to your local sheriff’s website, and punch up some mugshots of recent arrests. I am hard-pressed to call these people as evil; they’re just stupid. As the Book of Proverbs says, the wicked are blind to their errors; they do not see what makes them stumble. Their haughty and proud spirit blinds them to the errors of their ways, making it easy for disaster to befall them… again and again and again. Proverbs 26:11 explains much. Proverbs 23:9 is a verse I have been unwittingly applying it since immemorial. When I see someone doing something utterly foolish, I just shake my head and move on. You can’t fix stupid; their parents were supposed to do that, but failed to do so. See Proverbs 25:28 also.
But the magnitude of the effect on society is generally smaller when one person commits a crime, even for something as egregious as murder. So we have a small cadre of immoral geniuses on one hand, and vast legions of immoral idiots on another.
Which is worse for the human condition? I am actually leaning towards the small cadre.