Thinking skill in the STEM fields measures intelligence is bad

For whatever reason math, science, and pretty much any heavily quantitative study has become the metric on which intelligence is based. Someone who can do calculus mentally must be a genius and someone who struggles with fractions must be dumb. I’m not immune to this oddity–I met one particularly brilliant individual years ago and assumed he must be great at maths. (He’s not bad, ┬ábut also not significantly above average.) However, this sort of assumption is just toxic for many people. While some people let the cultural assumption roll off their backs, I have friends who insult themselves for being dumb simply because they’re not skilled with a particular mental skill or two.

I’m generally alright at math; I think it comes more easily to me than many others. I got a 3.8 on a math major and likely to have a coauthored paper published soon. But when I try my hand at writing a compelling story or poetry, I often fall flat on my face. Of course, with practice it improves, but if math abilities were an indicator of intelligence generally, I’d expect to be at least average at these things. Being able to craft a driving story, create art that inspires or comforts people, or say things that somehow improve life for people are themselves incredible intelligences to have. If I could trade my logic skills for those sorts, it’d be quite the tempting offer. Understanding people, feelings, aesthetics, etc. is hard. In my mind, far harder than crunching numbers and symbols.

Ultimately this is just a result of misdirected priorities. The pursuit of money and new technology (for the pursuit of money) has distracted us from the happiness and fulfillment those things were meant to serve in the first place. Certainly a lot of math and science is done for joy, knowledge, beauty, or some other virtuous thing, but the state of cultural supremacy they have taken seems to stem from these misdirected priorities. These misdirected priorities speak nothing of the art-oriented people. Quantitative skills have their place in good living, but it’s not the place that’s given them their current status.

As I can imagine certain complaints will come in, I’ll address them right now. I’m not saying everyone is smart. Some people are dumb. If nobody was, being smart wouldn’t really be anything. (I’m not saying just that it wouldn’t be valuable–it literally doesn’t make sense for there to only be smart people. Of course, there is a wide spectrum, but I don’t foresee anyone trying to make an object on the basis of apparent binaryism.) This isn’t to say they have less value as people. There’s a lot of very good things to be besides smart. Being smart is often only a useful trait in more valuable things. Nonetheless, for people who desire to have that trait but consistently fail because what they do is aimed at knowledge or some sort of mental skill but not one quantitative in nature, this attitude is harmful. (The underlying issue of priorities is an issue with a much larger scope. That there is a problem is simple enough to state, and all that is needed for my point here.)

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Stop making the police so easy to hate

I said some things two years ago when law enforcement and homicides and all those other fun things were constantly in the news. The ideas still hold now as much as they did then, and the problems haven’t really gone away; we just got a new topic for the news to talk about. I’ve been involved in some protesting and I also know a lot of LEOs. While some are acting nothing short of abhorrently, and many are just propping up a system that abuse the weak (see: Standing Rock), there are also quite a few good people under the uniform, and seeing fewer of them get killed would be nice.

The (largely waned for now, though likely to reemerge soon enough) protesting against police and prosecutor corruption is entirely legitimate. Grand juries are fed whatever the prosecutors say, and guess who’s buddied with the prosecutor. Could it be the officers giving them the evidence they need to do their job? People tend to act emotionally and protect their friends; that’s entirely reasonable. I wouldn’t put it past myself to sell out the good of the community for the sake of the people I care about. However, the general public does not gain from this system. Some outside entity needs to be involved to make sure everything proceeds fairly. If an officer can get off free when on camera shooting someone who’s not attacking anyone, we have an issue.

Some LEOs are corrupt or otherwise vicious people, yes, obviously, all kinds of people are. I wouldn’t be surprised if the power attracted some people who have no business being officers. Some extra hurdles to get the badge seems like a good idea. That said, indiscriminate murder of innocent officers is a stupid idea. It’s unethical on the one hand, and only likely to scare more people into encouraging the bad behavior.

Stepping back, though, I’d like to think most rational people ignore the hype and are in the “we need more oversight, we don’t want murder”, etc. category. It’s a pretty middle-of-the-road and easy conclusion. However, there’s a few points I don’t see very often in most discourse on the matter.

The main point that the following culminates to is I want less dead people, both cops and civilians. I don’t just mean the violent protests nor do I mean the racist cases we’ve seen recently, either. Of course, fixing racist cops is a moral obligation the government needs to fulfill, and I’m losing faith in the power of violent protests–at least first strikes. But in general there’s a few big issues that aren’t being addressed much in this context:

-Mike Brown (a divisive case at the time I originally wrote this point, and still a good example) was attacking the officer, yes, and use of deadly force was probably warranted, yes. However, we still have a dead kid’s blood on our societal hands. Most┬ápeople do not charge officers, or anyone for that matter. Most people also don’t rob convenience stores. At least most people who are in a healthy situation. If we look to areas where things are not well, these become more common. These are symptoms of bigger issues. If a system spits on someone long enough without reprieve, why would we expect that person to cooperate? Poverty breeds resentment which leads to no remorse for crime against the people who didn’t give a damn. Lack of education leads to lack of opportunity which leads to a lack of real risk in committing crimes. Moreover, the aforementioned poverty also stresses parents and harms their ability to properly raise a member of society because they lose mental acumen and often simply lack the time from working bonus shifts. (This isn’t to say poverty elements==poor parents, but it certainly makes it harder to parent.) We have the resources to prevent things like this and we don’t. You want less crime? Get rid of the motivation.

-Our current youth generation doesn’t care much for authority figures, especially of the law. But why would we? Our first encounters are often negative. Most kids aren’t being saved from rapists and robbers. A lot of kids are speeding, drinking underage, and smoking pot. All of those lead to negative encounters with the police or at least fear of the police. The police aren’t widely considered friendly people who will help you when you’re in need; they’re considered the people who will screw you over when you’re not doing anything actually harmful. The other week a friend of mine told me she emergency services to send an ambulance to help her friend who was dangerously intoxicated. Instead the police came and hounded her about heroin (which she didn’t have. Never mind the bodily danger someone is in. We need to punish people with imaginary heroin!) Things like quotas and using traffic laws to fill city coffers sure only worsen the problem since they increase negative reactions to police. While many do have important roles and can’t be taken away from investigating a homicide, spending less time ticketing someone going 46 in a 45 (even though the speed clock is wrong and they were actually going 44) and more time being the most upstanding citizens of their communities would do a lot of good.

-This comes full circle to my “I want less dead cops” point. People breaking the law attack. People who have no reason to respect the law or law enforcement break the law and attack. While you can’t prevent all crime, we have data showing lowering bad stuff like poverty lowers crime and we already have the resources to get the job done. We just need to do it.

Quote of the Day 2016-12-06: Bertrand Russell

“By the law of excluded middle, either “A is B” or “A is not B ” must be true. Hence either “the present King of France is bald” or “the present King of France is not bald” must be true. Yet if we enumerated the things that are bald, and then the things that are not bald, we should not find the present King of France in either list. Hegelians, who love a synthesis, will probably conclude that he wears a wig.” (from “On Denoting”)

The Lengthening yet Dying Consumerist Christmas Season (I find it surprisingly saddening)

This year I saw Christmas decorations before even Halloween and Black Friday setup at Walmart early Thanksgiving with signs saying not to touch until 6 pm. A few friends went out to shop at midnight and found out most places were closed, the whole thing happened on Thanksgiving evening without much notice. We’re already two months into the Christmas selling season and there’s not much of the usual excitement in the air.

This might just be 2016. It’s been widely acknowledged that this year has been sub-par. The length probably also plays a factor. Being excited about the Christmas season is harder when it’s three or four months long. Being excited about Black Friday is harder when it’s over a week long. I make the point now and then that scarcity increases our feeling of value in other domains, but it comes into play here, too.

I think in addition, though, there’s a dying excitement in consumerism. Don’t get me wrong–I’m not a big fan of consumerism. But I do appreciate nice things like excitement, even if they emerge from something less nice. Should buying unnecessary things be the focus of our celebration? No. The excitement is still nice. Hearing about the door-buster mega-blowout super-sale and seeing people excited about a cool new thing is nice. And I do still see it in some domains. Long-awaited movies and games that come out can get people excited. (In fact, pretty much all of my examples are cultural things. Books, TV shows, etc. also come to mind.) 4K TVs are making less of a splash than 3D which made less of a splash than HD. I don’t think they’re less cool, either. (I can’t see 3D, so maybe I’m wrong, but that sounds like a huge thing. If I had to choose between seeing more clearly and seeing in 3D, I’d pick 3D.) But the attitude has shifted from “Hey, come check out our awesome stuff!!” to “Buy our crap and get out.”