Review: The Curse of the High IQ

The Book
Clarey, Aaron. The Curse of the High Iq. , 2016.

This was an interesting book. I read it after a recommendation by Ed Latimore, who said that the author really helped him.

It was good, but I was frustrated by it for two reasons:

  1. It described a lot of my life experiences and so reminded me of them. This frustration was good.
  2. Sometimes it felt too nihilistic.

The Good

Ultimately, this book must be read by parents who suspect they have a gifted child.  All teachers ought to read it. Why? It so effectively describes the struggles had by those who are above average, that it could help mentors avoid wasting the time of their charges.

Gifted youngsters could benefit from the last two chapters on limiting greatness and solutions, they’re quite good.

Throughout the book, the author makes interesting observations about the broader economy (if more people were allowed to do computer jobs from home then the world would be a more efficient place in terms of fossil fuel use, employee happiness, and family stability).

The major negative to the book is the author’s anger at people he perceives to be stupider than himself, but he admits that he’s not religious. So if IQ, personal greatness, or economic impact are your heuristics for judging people, it makes sense to be frustrated at people you feel can’t keep up with you. Incidentally, the Bible teaches that one of the dangers of wisdom is being frustrated (Ecclesiastes 1:18 and Ecclesiastes 7:16)!

The book could encourage some cynicism. But many young people of high intelligence already feel trapped but they don’t think it’s because they’re being held back. They think it’s because they’re stupid or too easily bored or some other nonsense. This book can help them.

The Recommendation

The book does utilize foul language, watch out for that if that sort of thing offends you.

So I recommend it.

Quotables

“The second tragic loss is the fact that school measures CONFORMANCE not INTELLIGENCE.”

“Nihilism is a dark philosophy in that it makes you realize you may not only be mortal, but you won’t be immortal in the afterlife.”

“It doesn’t matter if history remembers you fondly, or remembers you at all. Just as long as you get to exercise your intellect and achieve your own personal standard of greatness.”

“As a parent of a high IQ child you need to convey precisely what being abnormally intelligent means and mentor them so they make the most of it.”

“The biggest waste of time for abnormally intelligent people will be their educations.”

Music Monday: Anarchy Road

One of my favorite things is 80s style synth pop. About a year or so ago I discovered Carpenter Brut. I really like their music. One of their recent songs, Anarchy Road, is about an awful post-prosperity future for western civilization. The music video below is just clips from the recent Judge Dredd film, but they fit the song perfectly because of the bleak circumstances, violent battles, and exaggerated color palate. There is a significant amount of gore, so if that bothers you don’t watch the video.

Lyrics below:

 

Lyrics:

[Verse 1]
Skyless kingdom of faceless apes
Sunless city and spineless shades

[Chorus]
In twenty-seventy or so
Tenements on fire
Blazing through endless nights

[Verse 2]
Heavy downpours of charcoal rain
Spewing sewers and belching drains

[Chorus]
In twenty-seventy or so
Tenements on fire
Blazing through endless nights

[Bridge]
And behind every spy hole
Car wrecks and barbwire
Dirty streets and knife fights

[Verse 3]
Ruins and leavers everywhere
Fear of a pagan world
Behind the flames and the prayers
Soulless creatures burn

[Chorus]
In twenty-seventy or so
Tenements on fire (In the naval of God)
Blazing through endless nights

[Bridge]
And behind every spy hole
Car wrecks and barbwire (In the naval of God)
Dirty streets and knife fights

Stop Being a Machine

Read this tweet today:

I truly believe the most subversive thing you can do today is spend as much of the day as possible nurturing what is not machine-like in you

— Austin Kleon (@austinkleon) June 25, 2016

I think that the point, to seek the truly human things about yourself and to make them grow is key to being happy.

Many movies with machines portray them as “becoming human” when they start having feelings, emotions, or impulses.

But really, response to stimulus is precisely what we share with machines. Our impulses to eat, to feel anger, and to be hurt or offended are all good but these are no different from what we could program a machine to do or at least to emulate.

The difference is that we are not only consious of these stimuli (a feat no machine could ever match)*, we can also intend.

Underneath our actions is intention. Even the person who through no brain damage has become a zombie on the treadmill of T.V., crappy jobs, and unhealthy food has at some level intended for this to be so.

What makes us different from machines is that we can intend which means that we can reason (even machines only reason when they’re told to), we can create, and we can imagine.

So to be less machine-like in your life would seem to center around what you intend. As a consequence creating and reasoning make you distinctively non-mechanistic because they can only be done through choice.

 

 

Class Rules

Today I was working on the list of classroom rules/slogans I’ll be using to help my students stay on track this coming school year. Here they are with the explanations I’ll give to them on the first day of school.

  1. Do the thing to have the power.
    This from a powerful quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson, The law of nature is, Do the thing, and you shall have the power: but they who do not the thing have not the power.” It is similar to Proverbs 14:23, “In all toil there is profit, but mere talk tends only to poverty.” The idea of course is that if there’s something you want to achieve, gain, or become you have to start heading that way.
  2. Every problem is an opportunity.
    My boss at my programming job told me that there are no bad problems. Instead, every obstacle, failure, and problem is an opportunity for a better solution. In my classroom difficult problems are opportunities. They aren’t excuses to give up. They are reasons to learn more, try harder, or find a better way. As Marcus Aurelius said, “The obstacle in the way becomes the way.”
  3. Act the way you want to feel.
    Gretchen Rubin is the origin of this pithy directive. Many people wait for motivation or energy to get going. I agree that managing your energy is wise. Get sleep, eat good food, and exercise. But waiting until you’re energized to do a task will leave you never doing it. Refer to rule one. If you want to feel like you’re awake and alert, sit with good posture. If you want to feel successful and studious, act successful and studious. If you want to feel smart, ask and answer questions.
  4. Better to give than to receive.
    This is a shortened version of Jesus’ claim that “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Consistently think of ways to bless those around you with your talents, resources, attitude, and words. If you can bless your parents, teachers, or classmates by what you do at school, do it.
  5. Struggle makes strength.
    The principle of progressive resistance in sports science is the principle that steadily increasing the demands on the body’s muscles will steadily make them stronger. This principle holds true in all matters. Doing difficult things is definitely worth it. Arm yourself with this mentality. It’s Biblical, scientific, and you will prove it in your own life if you put it into practice.
  6. Leave it better.
    At my great grandfather’s funeral, my dad observed that everywhere he went he would pick up trash, talk to somebody who looked lonely, literally sweep the sidewalk, rake leaves, or take out a mower from his trunk and mow the grass. My dad said, “He left everywhere he went better than it was when he got there.” I want you to treat my classroom, your house, your parents’ car, the school, and everywhere we go this way. But not only so, nearly everywhere you go is an opportunity to learn, grow, observe something new, and otherwise to improve. So in my classroom you will leave it better, both ways.

Virtue Building: How to Grow Any Habit

Why Pursue Virtue?

It’s hard to say exactly what makes any particular person want to become virtuous or develop a good habit.

For many it is a religious conversion.

For others it’s a realization that debt, porn, or drugs have ruined their lives, as bad habits can become a hell on earth.

Some people conclude that virtue truly is a worthy goal because they know that human beings are supposed to seek that which is good. They come to agree with Teddy Roosevelt,

Bodily vigor is good, and vigor of intellect is even better, but far above both is character.1

Ultimately, of course, the desire for virtue has to do with how to become happy and how to flourish.2

So you want virtue, but what then?

But once somebody wants virtue (good habits, moral and otherwise), they have to start taking real-world steps to get there. If they don’t they’ll regularly feel defeated or inadequate or worse, they’ll actually become morally worse. Roosevelt observed this in a paragraph about idealistic statesmen:

But the possession or preaching of these high ideals may not only be useless, but a source of positive harm, if unaccompanied by practical good sense, if they do not lead to the effort to get the best possible when the perfect best is not attainable— and in this life the perfect best rarely is attainable.3

So, what does it take to get virtue? Well there are two obvious things to say. First, we need to know what virtue is and the virtues are. Then, we need to know specific actions that will lead to good habits. From these two obvious matters there’s an important mental trick for learning any new thing:

Imagine the most virtuous person you know and act as though you were this person in your shoes.

In other words, fake it till you make it. Now, I don’t mean that you should emulate their interests, sense of humor, or other mere personality traits. But rather their honesty, discipline, kindness, mindset, spirituality, and prudence.

What I’m saying is counter-intuitive. Faking virtue seems like hypocrisy, the polar opposite of virtue.4 But this isn’t exactly true. When one does math problems or basketball drills before they fully understand them, they are “pretending” as they go through the motions until they acquire understanding and skill. The hypocrisy would be claiming basketball expertise while still faking it. With virtue, hypocrisy would be claiming to have traits one secretly does not have or worse, that one secretly despises.5

C.S. Lewis, a classics scholar and no stranger to the study of virtue academically and personally observed this:

“Very often the only way to get a quality in reality is to start behaving as if you had it already. That is why children’s games are so important. They are always pretending to be grown-ups— playing soldiers, playing shop. But all the time, they are hardening their muscles and sharpening their wits so that the pretence of being grown-up helps them to grow up in earnest.”6

Similarly, in his essay on compensation Emerson wrote:

The law of nature is, Do the thing, and you shall have the power: but they who do not the thing have not the power.7

So, how do you become a good person? A virtuous person? I’d suggest that you first admit that you’re not. But then start acting like a virtuous person.

Two Case Studies

If you want to get out of debt, find the things people who have no debt do and then do those things. If you treat your life, temporarily like a movie, think of it as a story where in the third act you suddenly realized how stupid it is to have negative money and became a financially wise person because you realized how much you wanted to help others by investing in small businesses. So, you start living like this different person until you are out of debt and have a surplus of cash for investments. At this point, the temptation is to start living like Act 1 again, but this got you into debt. So you continue living in the montage that changed your life, but the point being that your “faking it” until it becomes who you are.

Think about the amount of fake outrage people have over politics. They often pretend to be angry, offended, and deeply morally concerned on an emotional level on the internet about all of these people who don’t know them, that they will never meet, and who don’t care if they live or die. But what is so interesting is that this election has brought the emotional moral posturing of the hyperreality online into the real world. People go into hysterics over politics as though disagreeing or agreeing with this or that idea is a deeply offensive issue. In this case people have taken the vice of intemperance and pretended to be emotionally unhinged until it weakened their minds in the real world.

Similar strategies work for overcoming porn addiction, losing weight, starting to tell the truth, and controlling your emotions. Negatively “do the thing and have the power” works for bad habits as well.

References

1 Roosevelt, Theodore. The Strenuous Life, Essays and Addresses (Kindle Location 941). Vook, Inc.. Kindle Edition. Read Ecclesiastes to see how an ancient man saw that bodily, sensory, and intellectual vigor still lead to dissatisfaction without ethical vigor.

2 Virtue is not opposed to happiness. Weirdly, even when many modern authors in favor of virtue ethics write about virtue ethics, they have very little to say about individual human beings or their families experiencing happiness, contentment, prosperity, or success.

3 Roosevelt, Theodore. The Strenuous Life, Essays and Addresses (Kindle Locations 1100-1102). Vook, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

4 This is especially so in a modern world where the Socratic ideal of self-realization and personal growth in education has been subsumed under the head of an ethics of authenticity wherein being “true to yourself” as you are in the moment without consideration of the fact that you’re an instance of a larger category of humans with a shared nature is considered paramount to happiness. So people are stuck with no ideals except those which they feel are ideal regardless of whether they correspond with the very essence of being human.

5 I suspect that nearly every politician despises most of their voters as well as the values they themselves espouse. A weird example in another direction is the “nice guy” who feels that being so nice doesn’t help him and secretly resents his niceness and the people by whom he feels rejected but desires so much to be seen as nice that he can never assert himself. It’s a pretty sick way to live, but it appears very common especially among college students who ask me for advice at work or in relationships.

6 Lewis, C. S.. Mere Christianity (C.S. Lewis Signature Classics) (p. 188). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

7 Emerson, Ralph Waldo. Essays by Ralph Waldo Emerson (p. 33). . Kindle Edition.

Charm the snake before it bites you

Many people, because they aren’t Christians, miss out on the Bible’s clever stories, wise observations, and lack of -”ism” based ideas.

Many contemporary Christians miss the same simply because they don’t read the whole Bible.

An enigmatic Old Testament character named “The Preacher” made these observations:

Ecclesiastes 10:8-12 He who digs a pit will fall into it, and a serpent will bite him who breaks through a wall. (9) He who quarries stones is hurt by them, and he who splits logs is endangered by them. (10) If the iron is blunt, and one does not sharpen the edge, he must use more strength, but wisdom helps one to succeed. (11) If the serpent bites before it is charmed, there is no advantage to the charmer. (12) The words of a wise man’s mouth win him favor, but the lips of a fool consume him.

One of the fun things about saying collections observing the various connections between the sayings.

In 10:8-9, hard work seems to be fraught with danger.

In 10:10, wisdom makes work easier as a sharp ax makes splitting logs easier.

In 10:11, wisdom, used at the right time can also protect you from the serpent. The charms of the snake charmer being the metaphor for wisdom.

In 10:12, the words of the wise win them favor, like the words of the charmer win them safety.

But I want to focus on verse 11.

Wisdom can keep you from danger but there are two conditions:

  1. Have the skills in advance, snake charming won’t help those who haven’t practiced.

  2. Use them when the opportunity strikes (or when you don’t want it to strike as the case may be).

Scott Adams talked about this:

Success isn’t magic; it’s generally the product of picking a good system and following it until luck finds you.1

By system he means a collection of habits, thought patterns, and useful skills at which you improve regularly.

Snake charming (not a real skill) seems silly unless you live in a world where snakes hide behind walls. Similarly, investing seems silly for somebody with low income until they suddenly have more income and have learned the ropes.

References

1Adams, Scott. How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life (p. 95). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Wisdom Wednesday: Proverbs 22:13

The slothful man saith, There is a lion without, I shall be slain in the streets.
(Proverbs 22:13)

Passages of scripture like this pose one of the greatest challenges for risk averse people. Many of us think we are wise for avoiding risk. And indeed, Proverbs itself says that the wise hides himself when there is obvious danger (22:3)*. This piece of good advice, as with all wise practices, can become a shield from personal responsibility (see Matthew 6 for Jesus’ discussion of this fact with regards to prayer, fasting, and even alms).

Often in life, we who are risk averse take the slothful route and claim that the time isn’t right for action because things aren’t perfect. My karate instructor said that the most common excuse he received from people skipping karate after a vacation was “I need to get back into shape first.” Some people won’t go to church because “I need to get right with the Lord first.” If you’re super risk averse then you’re probably waiting for circumstances to be exactly right, but you’ll actually be in the process of waiting when good circumstance pass you by. Check this actual sloth out:

I suppose he could have died crossing the road, but there is simply no such thing as a “perfect time” for a sloth to cross a road because it’s just gonna take him an hour to do it and during that time a car is gonna get him. No, I don’t know why he’s crossing the road; maybe he’s got a lady friend. Maybe he’s rescuing other sloths from a sloth villian. But the fact remains that the circumstances for good action would have passed him by if he’d waited too long to cross the road.

*The prudent sees danger and hides himself, but the simple go on and suffer for it.
(Proverbs 22:3) This verse is important for people who’ve ever said YOLO.

On Pedagogy: Transmission and Revision

I’ve written a few posts that overlap with themes concerning education. But I think that, over all, good education has this main goal: it supports human happiness.

Of course, everything humans do is “for happiness,” just like every arrow is aimed at a target. But like arrows, decisions and processes can miss their mark. Education is no different. And just like how we do everything for happiness, we should make sure we define it happiness in terms of our specific nature as human beings. Happiness requires virtue (goods of the mind and soul), wealth (goods of the body and mind), and friends.

So, what makes education different from other activities of human happiness such as eating, sex, or meditation?

Education is Transmission

Education, perhaps more than any other domain of human activity relies upon the transmission of knowledge. This, is where people get confused. Knowledge is typically perceived as merely that which is accepted as true or mere cognitive content. But knowledge is actually more than this. The skills of civilization (virtues, customs, etc) constitute knowledge, attitudes and habits are learned, and one’s vision of the goal of humanity (hardly what many consider knowledge) is also a form of knowledge. Knowledge is certainly cognitive content, but it also includes “know-how,” bodily, emotional, social, and habitual information which can be difficult to put into precise words (because it is non-verbal in nature).

In this sense then, if the purpose of education is human happiness/flourishing and the nature of education is the transmission of knowledge and information it must be said that education is the transmission of knowledge that tends toward happiness in a way that tends toward happiness. Observe that while “getting a job” or “making money” are not the chief end of education, happiness includes have the goods of the body and therefore having money/food are part of the purpose of education. In other words, education is the transmission of tradition for happiness.

Education is Revision

But education cannot merely be the transmission of a settled body of information for several reasons: human beings find new knowledge, the world changes in ways that old knowledge cannot always anticipate, and human beings have different callings, personalities, and skills. Education must be attuned to the individuality of each person and to giving human beings the capacity for finding the limits of older knowledge in order to add to it, reapply it, and reformulate it for whatever present situation exists. In this sense, education must be personal.

But if education is in its nature personal and for the purpose of happiness, then it must be personal for the purpose of happiness. Education cannot be personal with respect to allowing tradition to die (for traditions survived a process of natural selection that makes them robust and even antifragile). On the other hand, traditions must be questioned for their veracity, effectiveness, and applicability. An example of this might be the tradition claiming that everybody in the medieval era believed that the earth was flat. I learned some version of that claim every year I took history. Then I found out that it was absolutely false using the research skills I had gained in high school English. Another tradition is going to college right out of high school. This tradition, while at one point, made tremendous sense for some people is treated as a gold standard of life advice (knowledge). It really should be questioned by students because schools won’t question it for them…the survival of many universities often depends upon this tradition remaining intact.

In this sense then, for education to be truly helpful for human happiness, educators (and students themselves) must aim to create a sense in students that while they should be grateful and try to benefit from the past, they must be willing to be independent of it in order to seek truth and virtue.

Conclusion

True education it seems has three elements:

  1. The transmission of knowledge and habits.

  2. The building up and equipping of individual persons for their unique circumstances in light of their personalities and potentials.

  3. The intended goal of human happiness.

Mental Models

There are many models we can use to understanding the world. When I took college history my professor told us that there were several paradigms for interpreting the events of history: economic, philosophical, national, geographical, and religious. He would say that some of these paradigms are more appropriate to a situation than others, but that none of them were right or wrong because every major human event involves all of these paradigms. Outside of academics there is still significant need for good mental models. Most of us just use one.

It’s important to have more than one model because if we try to simple view things as they appear to us we’ll inevitably reduce our experiences to the model most convenient to us or believe whatever our brains make up to bring sensibility to a world too big to interpret.

What I mean by a mental model is a sort of simplified way of interpreting things that, alone would be a distortion of reality, but is necessary to think of exclusively in order to see the insights it offers. An example would be seeing the world as a machine. The world is manifestly not a machine. But to see it as a machine helps physicists find efficient and material causes of things.

Other models include:

  1. Everything is sales.
  2. Everything is tribal.
  3. Everything is sex.
  4. Everything is true or false.
  5. Everything is economics.
  6. Success is having energy.
  7. Everything is moral.
  8. Everything is spiritual.

None of these are complete and life is more than each of them. But your brain cannot interpret the whole universe at once. But it can interpret more of the universe at once through an incomplete filter.

What mental models have I left out?

Beginning Christian Spirituality

The central reality of Christian spirituality is this:

John 8:31-32  So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, (32)  and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

There is a startling array of things that a new Christian can do or that people will recommend to them.

There are (and this is good) like 50 spiritual disciplines to choose from.

There are a million Bible reading plans.

There are 25 million prayer books.

But I want to simplfy things.

When you first become a Christian or want to be more serious about your faith in Christ, here is a three step plan to help you for the first few months.

  1. Say the Lord’s prayer daily. Jesus said to pray this way. God answers prayers according to his will and what prayer is more in line with God’s will than one Jesus said to pray?
  2. Read a chapter of the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). These are the books about Jesus. If you want to “abide in” Jesus’ words, you’ve got to know them.
  3. Read a chapter of Proverbs a day and read the chapter that corresponds with the date (31 chapters in the book).

I recommend writing in a journal when you read. This will help you to do three things:

  1. Write questions.
  2. Write down what you’ve learned about Jesus, his greatness, his teachings, and about daily nuts and bolts wisdom.
  3. Write down what you could do better in life.

I suspect that a plan like this would be very helpful for busy parents, people who hate reading, long time Christians who do not know Jesus very well, or Christian academics who study the Bible for work but who do not store it in their hearts.