After my recent column suggesting that individuals not up to the MENSA Test might take the DENSA Test, I received a number of emails asking why Americans have such low regard for high IQ's. Is it sour grapes pure and simple? I also heard from those who felt IQ doesn't count and that we're all equal in America. This is a curious statement when everybody knows that some Americans are paid millions of dollars a year to sing songs. I guess it's OK to be unequal as long as nobody is smarter than anybody else. So then I have to wonder why students would want to excel in a society that doesn't applaud intellectual excellence? Especially so when they see bumper stickers that read: My kid can beat the hell out of your Honor Student.
So what does the average citizen think of above average brainpower? I would certainly be happy to tell you all I know about American attitudes toward intelligence. Unfortunately, that's not a whole lot. This is mainly because there have been very few public opinion polls and very little by way of current research in the area. However, I can easily enough tell you that the man in the street hasn't any understanding of intelligence and, as a result, both fears and resents the concept. Many MENSA members keep their high IQ's a secret because many employers will avoid hiring someone they suspect might be a brainiac.
I suppose it would also be safe to say it's why Americans tend to confuse "everyone is entitled to an opinion" with "all opinions are equally worthy." This is similar to the media's effort at balanced reporting when it gives equal time to Evolution and Intelligent Design. As a result, the US loves technology (the How) but hasn't a clue when it comes to science (the Why). Popular heroes include athletes who chase balls and actors who crash cars for obscene amounts of money. Asked to name a genius, Albert Einstein might come to mind but would one in a million be able to tell you why he was awarded the Nobel Prize? I doubt it. Asked to name a second genius I suspect there would be a long silence. In fact, the man in the street has a well-developed sense of distrust and dislike for "eggheads." Americans are far more likely to support remedial classes for dumb kids than they are to provide gifted offerings for smart kids. Naturally, a lot of dumb adults will take offense at that last statement...and then wonder why we don't have a cure for cancer?
But you needn't take my word for this, just compare mean academic standing here in the States with student achievement in almost any other industrialized nation. Their kids are way, way smarter than our kids. Indeed, Americans seem Hell-bent on dumbing down as quickly as possible. Scholarships go to the poorest rather than the brightest; daily horoscopes appear in all the papers; radio talk show hosts confuse ideology with ideas; television is aimed at the lowest common denominator; best selling books promote new age claptrap while treating the paranormal as normal and a truly astounding percent of the population doesn't know if the sun travels around the earth or vice versa. Recently I wrote that a fellow blogger here at Psychology Today "girded her loins" before going into battle. She thought the reference was "creepy." Maybe it was the word "loins" that got her going. Is it possible she slept through Literary Masterpieces? It always seemed to me that the concept of Intellectual Baggage was overrated. Then, suddenly, it becomes shockingly apparent by its absence.
But perhaps the clearest indication of America's attitude toward intelligence is reflected in its elected leaders. After the 2004 vote, a leading UK paper's headline asked if that many Yanks could possibly be that stupid. It would appear so.