Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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Are our Brains our Worst Enemies?

Peter’s post raises a question that’s long fascinated me. Are Downs people "loving and charming and a joy to have around" as a function of their defect? If they could be "fixed" would they be less loving or lovable?

In the 1991 film Regarding Henry, Harrison Ford plays a ruthless lawyer who as a result of a shooting loses many of his cognitive functions, but in the process becomes a sweet, loving guy. Does this--as well as the Downs example--suggest that the world would be a much happier place if we humans weren’t so darned smart?

Discussions - 7 Comments

Yes and no. Most highly-intelligent anaimals are capable of extreme aggression (e.g., marine parks try to capture bottlenose dolphins very early in middle age they have very ugly battle scars). Yet, only very smart animals are capable of long-term, systematic charity.

I might also note that mental retardation generally does NOT mean being sweet-natured. From my own experience, that’s restricted to Down’s children. Many retarded adults are oppositional...just smart enough to know they are handicapped.

I put my answer on the thread below: I wasn’t trying to romanticize low IQ in the silly way the movie does. And I’m not even claiming that Downs people have more love or charm etc. than, say, John. I’m just saying the fact is that it was good that they were born.

I don’t think that the movie should be written off as just silly. It seemed to me like a critique of pure reason in a somewhat sensible Rousseauian sense. Tending to be a fan of Rousseau, I think that the issues brought up by those not blessed (or cursed) with intelligence show us a different side of human nature. While still agreeing w/Locke, that humans are by nature reasonable, I think that Rousseau is right that there is a seperate and just as natural sentiment--pity. People with lower intelligence can still be extremely loving and good because man (unlike or to a higher degree than animals) has pity by nature. Modern man’s over use of reason does seem to take away some of his natural goodness that would stem from pity.

Pity and reason ought to work together--neither necessarily ruling the other for man to be his heroic best.

Interesting thread.

I would point out that it is modern man’s hyper focus on "intelligence" and "IQ" that suggests the question. A more balanced (and thus realistic) anthropology would say that there are many aspects that make up man. Christianly speaking (just to use one example, there are others) man is reasonable, but more importantly he has a heart, a spirit, a moral capacity, a capacity for virtue, etc. Why conflate "cognitive capacity" with "moral virtue" so cleanly? Not that there is not a relationship, but why assume they are the same?

Today’s prisons are full to the brim with people who are highly aggressive and yet not terribly intelligent. Of course, those are the aggressors who got caught, but still.....

Also, for what it is worth, I have been around Downs populations quite a bit, and have perceived as much variability along the "lovable" scale as I have in other populations (excluding those in prison: I find few lovable people there!)

I knew one guy who used to regurgitate his strained peas and make them come out through his nose. I found that hard to like. My wife, however, thought we should adopt him during the deinstitutionalism movement. I think that lovability must be in the eye of the beholder. I knew another who put my friend in the hospital by throwing a bed frame at him.

Speaking of which, the same may be true for gays, as well (linking back to the original post). From what I understand, some gays find other gays quite lovable.

Gays are, in fact, lovable too.

Christopher’s point about well-balanced individuals is quite valid. A high IQ isn’t a guarantee of success any more than being 7 feet tall makes you Isiah Thomas.

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