At some point I found myself having to seriously consider the idea of “intelligent” or “smart.” I don’t know if it was because of my veganism, my primitivism, or my utter repulsion to the very idea of mandatory schooling, but it inevitably had a lot to do with the school I went to.
It was an alternative public school that’d been around for about thirty years running an individualistic curriculum—basically, you could just go to classes and write your evaluations and be done with it, but there was one extra piece to it: the Passages. There were six Passages in all—Career Exploration, Logical Inquiry, Creative somethingorother, Global Awareness, Practical Skills and Adventure. Social debate and peer review was built right into the grid: you had to have meetings with your “triad,” which could consist of at least three people, and your advisor (a teacher/counselor) before you could either “propose” (start) or “wrap up” a Passage.
The interesting thing about this, and the difference between this and most traditional schooling, was that there were no templates for the Passages. You couldn’t just pull it out of thin air: you had to work. If you wanted to learn, you had to reach for it.
The past few years I’ve come to realize that much of the school’s benefit to students was that it was a sort of anti-school. It was a detoxification center for students who had been taught to hate learning in traditional schools. And the emphasis was always on learning—as an active, not a passive, ability. You don’t go there to “get educated”; it wasn’t a choice someone else could make for you. You weren’t encouraged, as you are in 99% of other classrooms—including ones that “have good teachers!!!1″—to just lie back and think of England, so to speak. Learning was something you did for you, indigenous to your soul, and as such no one could give it to you or force you to endure it. You had the right to learn; therefore, it was your responsibility whatever you chose to learn. Choice. Freedom. Not compulsory. Not mandatory. No excuses, no shortcuts.
And honestly, I just kind of sat around for three years and then got incredibly fucking bored and decided to do something about. From what I hear, that’s not unusual, though it doesn’t make up the majority of the students. That was basically the point where I realized that learning is inevitable because, hell, it’s fun, isn’t it?
In my fourth year I met a German temporary student, Fabienne, with whom I’d be staying in Germany (for the most part; I had family there, too). She had… this attitude. My peers were used to people from other schools looking down on ours because it was so “easy,” I mean, they didn’t force you or threaten you into going to classes and learning. We were irritated about it, but it’s sort of like most fruitarians I know: Bob Torres will bitch at them and they’ll just roll their eyes and be like, “whatever dude, like you’d know anything,” and then they leave it.
While I was in Germany, Fabienne told me that our school was “easy.” (I’d retort and point out that no, actually, most traditional school systems are just fucking prisons—but eh.) She thought that the students there were stupid because they weren’t being challenged—that is, forced into “learning” things they didn’t want to learn and had no use for.
“Fabienne,” I said, “do you like learning?”
“No. Who likes learning?” she replied.
I’m aware she disagrees, but honestly, I won that debate right then and there.
What my “alma mater”—typically reserved for universities, but I think “soul mother” fits this situation perfectly—taught me was something slow and growing, like a seed gestating in warm, damp soil, as veganism and primitivism were for me. Learning had much more to do with joy—with the will to learn—than it did with how much you learned. And as such, learning couldn’t be measured by how many things you knew; it had to be measured by how gleefully you went after them.
And that’s where I broke from the idea of intelligence as quantitative.
Quantitative intelligence is a factor that underlies almost every fucking prejudice in the world. Using adult humans as property has been justified with, “they’re not as intelligent as us.” Same for non-human animals, and children; they’re stupid and unintelligent because adults are too self-obsessed to realize that the knowledge they have isn’t basic or even valuable for the real world. The natural one. No; they’re stupid, obviously. And you could tell that, see, because they didn’t know as many things as us! At least, they didn’t know as many things that “we” considered “important.”
A line between meaningful and non-meaningful knowledge was drawn and, in general, the more abstract the knowledge, the more valuable it was. It was harder to get—like eggs and dairy used to be—and therefore prestigious. And, as with eggs and dairy, this society is still built from the top down off of no longer pertinent concepts of prestige. Baked goods “need” eggs, despite the fact that they were included only because it was a “rich” thing to do. If you want to be smart, you “need” to read Judith Butler and Plato and some other godawful-dry, self-absorbed authors.
I am just so fucking tired of the idea that intelligence and smartness is quantitative. Let’s talk about what intelligence really is.
Intelligence is basic, and expressed in behaviors that allow an animal to navigate the world. The presence of greater intelligence in someone does not make them more valuable; having less intelligence than that person does not make you less valuable. Okay? Good. Now we’ve gotten the excuses for carnism out of the way.
I think the behaviors of intelligence are intensity, curiosity, critical deduction and observation. These all have different parts that make a whole.
Intensity refers to passion, emotional/mental; having emotion enables someone to process and remember information gathered. I disagree that emotion automatically makes you less reliable and trustworthy—after all, the most “objective” people have also historically had the privilege to agree with the present power structure; they had the least to lose from its perpetuation and as such generally didn’t much care to exert the energy to change it.
From my observation and critical deduction, I have come to the conclusion that animals have the capacity for emotion because it is an excellent way to store information about the world in which they live, although significantly less so in cases of trauma. You’re not supposed to be God, here. Your best guess is all that’s required.
Also in my observation, I’ve noticed that the smartest people I know are also extremely emotionally intense. That’s not data and I don’t intend to present it as fact, but simply because you cannot base an entire argument off anecdote doesn’t mean that anecdote is worthless and contemptuous. Something that is not A is not necessarily B if C is present.
Curiosity is the drive to learn things—that’s pretty obvious. It doesn’t necessarily apply to books, either. A hunger for information will drive you to learn, and you will learn much more than those who aren’t very curious.
Lierre Keith, for example, isn’t very curious. She spent twenty years trapped in an eating disorder and even though she had misgivings from the first few months, never seriously questioned them. She was never curious about veganism, or she would have went looking and found out that eating only brown rice and soy wasn’t healthy, and she would have found out that eating eggs and dairy about once a week doesn’t count as “twenty years of veganism.” She was never curious about women’s rights and feminism, or she would have stumbled into the discussion of eating-disorder-as-patriarchal-ideology and realized that the symptoms she was attributing to “veganism” were the symptoms that describe the lives of anorectics.
By the same coin, parrots are hella smart. As is my cat.
Critical deduction allows you to question what you’ve observed and found, and to trace together the lines connecting supposedly disparate topics and phenomena. When a cat does a trick someone meant to teach to the dog, that cat is employing critical deduction. Similarly, when you realize that transphobia is yet another form of patriarchal sexism via gender-policing, you’re employing critical deduction.
At the same time, critical deduction is necessarily critical. Reading a condemnation and carnism or intellectualism and thinking, “But animals aren’t humans—they’re obviously inferior to us,” or “But there’s only one kind of intelligence and reasonable deduction,” is employing the very antithesis of critical deduction. Genuinely thinking about it and saying, “Might be right. Have to seriously think about that, and if I decide they’re right then I’ll have to change,” is critical deduction.
Observation allows you to actually receive information from your experience of life. It can be, and often is, distorted through a lens of ideology—for example, thinking of children as stupid or less intelligent because they express themselves in a limited way.
Observation can only be free when not fettered by the paradigms we are taught to believe. Fundamentally, these ideologies—racism, sexism, ageism, carnism, capitalism, intellectualism, etc.—are invalid because they are taught: you are predisposed to them from a very early age, the shrapnel lurking in the back of your mind. I am always unimpressed by microbiologists that start believing in “a” creator, because even Hinduism is fundamentally monotheistic in its creation story. Come back with something that isn’t floating around in preality and we’ll talk.
Intelligence can only be measured by behaviors, and you might rightly argue that they then can’t be measured at all. But hell, that’s just honest—psychology, at least, recognizes that you can only know what’s going on inside someone’s head via the conduit of their body language, behavior and/or speech.
Ought to come down from your high horse, ffs. Y’can’t smell nothin’ but horseshit from up there.