Teachers as Bullies

BullyThere was a heartbreaking story on Yahoo recently about teachers  as bullies. I don’t want to spend time talking about how awful the teachers are and express my moral outrage because it’s going to be difficult to find anyone who disagrees. Never accuse me of taking the easy path! What I do want to talk about is how it happens that people are hired for certain jobs.

This one is going to be difficult for my audience to swallow but sometimes people take jobs because it gives them a chance to act out on their sadistic nature. We like to think that people pick a career they enjoy but there are a number of self-loathing people out there who enjoy hurting others, this is how we get teachers as bullies. I know it seems strange to call them self-loathing but generally people who hate themselves are the ones who are most sadistic to others. An interesting idea but a topic for another day.

What I want to explore today is how to avoid getting sadists in positions where they can take advantage of their desire to hurt other people. I think most teachers, police officers, soldiers, boy scout leaders, animal husbandry employees, and others who work at jobs where there is power over other people or animals are in it because they want to help. But, there is a sizeable minority who take jobs like that simply to hurt others, to be teachers as bullies.

There are two hugely important factors in preventing sadists from getting into positions like this. The most important is management oversight. Anyone who manages positions like that needs to be constantly vigilant that people they hire might be sadistic. The second thing that must be done is careful evaluation of people who apply for such jobs. The police force and the army are well aware that sadists apply and screen for them. Finally, and this is an absolute must, people who use their position of power to abuse other people must be immediately punished or removed. If this behavior is allowed then it simply emboldens sadists and causes good people to leave.

This is something that seemed to be strategy of the George W. Bush administration. Abu Graib, Pat Tillman, Brownie. The first instinct was to cover-up the wrong-doing because it embarrassed the people in power. The cover-up just emboldens sadists to be more brazen in their actions and inhibits good people.

I have absolutely no doubt the teachers in the case that I mentioned at the top of this article were at some point reported by teachers whose sense of decency and love of children motivated them into action. I’m just as certain no action or minimal action was taken to avoid scandal and embarrassment. Thus good people were driven away and sadists thrived.

The only thing necessary for evil to triumph in the world is that good men do nothing.

Thank you Edmund Burke. Of course, he never said it. What he did say was this:

When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall, one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.

So, the next time you encounter sadistic behavior, even in mild form, step up and take action. Particularly if you are a supervisor. It’s hard to confront people sometimes but the consequences of allowing such behavior are too terrible to tolerate.

Tell me what you think.

Tom Liberman

Facebook Outing

cyber stalkingThere is an interesting case in the news these days about a German athlete (and police officer) who received an email from a fan that included a sexual explicit photo. The reason it is in the news is that the athlete then posted the name and photo to her Facebook page effectively outing the stalker from the anonymity of the internet.

I think it’s a pretty normal first reaction to say, “Good for her”. The vicious anonymity of internet posters and their ability to cyber bully is a well-known phenomenon by now and has resulted in more than one tragic incident. The fact that someone was sending these things to a relatively public figure is a violation of her personal life. I see this sort of behavior in minutia every time I read the comment section of a news article. The anonymity of the internet gives way to a crowd mentality wherein otherwise law-abiding, peaceful people behave in ways they never otherwise would.

However, in this case there are some considerations of privacy for the person outed to be thought about.

The first thing that comes to mind is if the stalker used someone elses identity when they emailed and sent the photo. This is not as far-fetched as some might imagine. It’s quite easy to impersonate someone with an email. All you need is a photo and a fake email account with that person’s name on it. A supposed stalker could really be someone with a grudge against a third-party. They would then frame this person by sending incriminating emails. When I was in college a few friends of mine thought it would be funny to give gay men they met at clubs my phone number and name as their own. It was relatively harmless as I simply informed the eager caller that it was my friends being stupid. In this situation the person so outed might have a significantly more difficult time proving their innocence and would certainly have their reputation tarnished.

Another possibility is that the supposed victim of the crime might actually be the perpetrator. Perhaps they have a grudge against the other person and have a partner send phony emails and images. Again, it’s not hard to obtain pictures of a person as almost everyone has posted images of themselves to some form of social media or another.

There is talk in Germany, where online privacy laws are more stringent than the United States, of charging the athlete with a crime.

It’s an interesting case and I’m not sure there are easy solutions. Cyber bullying and cyber stalking is a huge problem but the potential for the wrong person to be unintentionally outed our even framed certainly exists. Once erroneously outed that person’s reputation and life might well be forever ruined.

What do you think?

[polldaddy poll=6166935]

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist

Hammer of Fire Update

I took a day off from posting because my fanatic week kind of ran out of steam and I didn’t have another topic that I felt too strongly about. I thought I’d fill the gap with progress on my third novel, The Hammer of Fire. I managed to finish about half of the rewrite and my proofreader has started on the first few chapters.

My cover art from Raro is coming along very nicely. He had a different vision for one part of it but I really like what he has done. I’ll probably post a series of pictures as it is coming along for all to see. I’m amazed by how an artist turns a paragraph I wrote into a sketch and then into an amazing image. It’s a talent I do not have.

I’m pretty excited with the rewrite as several characters are really getting their voice. I find in my original rough draft that all the characters start to sound like me but as I do the rewrite I move more quickly through the book and get a sense of each character’s inner workings.

To give a little teaser I’ve included the first rough sketch of the cover. You’ll be amazed as it takes shape!

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist

Fanaticism and Brain Damage

FanaticalWhen I look around I see a lot of anger and hatred in the world and yet there are relatively few people going out and murdering as many others as they can. There is certainly the perception that such attacks are on the rise but I wonder if statistical evidence supports this idea?

What I really want to look at in this topic is if people who do such things have actual brain damage. The textbook case for brain damage leading to mass murder happened in 1966 when a former marine named Charles Whitman climbed a tower at the University of Texas in Austin. An autopsy later revealed a highly aggressive brain tumor.

However, Whitman was court martialed from the marines, suffering from familial stress, abusing drugs, and suffering pain so it’s not clear that the tumor played a role in the attacks.

There does not seem to be a correlation between traumatic brain injury and violent behavior. There have been documented cases of behavioral changes but no particular bent towards violence. There isn’t even a correlation between schizophrenia and violence despite popular culture’s claims.

There are actually several studies that suggest interpersonal violence has decreased in modern society.

I would conclude that the targeted violence we see today towards people of one particular party, religion, or country in the form of terrorism, school attacks, work attacks, or other such behavior is largely not the fault of brain damage. It is the fault of failure in thinking mechanisms.

Wikipedia’s article on violence includes a prevention section which mentions several things that make sense. Children who are well nurtured by parents or caregivers are far less prone to violence. Children who learn coping skills to deal with stress are likewise less violent. There is also a very important intervention component. When someone sees a person starting down the road of fanatical violence an early intervention can do much to prevent it.

I’m of the opinion that this intervention can be very subtle. When a person is heading towards fanaticism simply conversing with them in a non-violent way and offering alternative points of view can be helpful. I talked about this concept at length yesterday so I don’t want to repeat myself too much.

I guess in conclusion; we can’t blame brain injury for fanatical violence. People who are raised in violence are prone to act in such a way and they’ll find a cause to support their insanity one way or another. There also seems to be a correlation with drug or alcohol abuse.

I’m left with the idea that what drives people to such madness is lack of critical thinking skills. Certainly violence in childhood, learned hatred of other groups, and drug abuse play their role but I’m of the opinion that if we can teach strong reasoning skills that we’d reduce such violence. Maybe I’m a dreamer.

Tom Liberman

Teaser – Fanaticism and Brain Injury

Is there is a correlation between people who raise relatively normal fanaticism to an extreme and violent level and potential brain injury? I’m not totally conversant with the subject and perhaps some of my friends will chime in to critique my analysis tomorrow. My goal is to look at some of the murderous maniacs in history and compare them to the mindset of terrorists today.

Is murderous fanaticism actually a brain malfunction rather than a learned behavior? Perhaps it is a tragic combination of the two. Come back tomorrow and you’ll get to explore the topic with me.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist

The Road to Fanaticism

FanaticalToday I want to talk about how people become fanatical.

I do want to make it clear that I’m not talking about a light-hearted fanatic behavior. Perhaps someone is “fanatical” about a particular sports team or clothing designer. This use of the term has roots in aberrant fanatical behavior but there is an important distinction.

Someone who is passionate about a particular team or food or author is not to the point of killing someone who likes another team or food or author. Although, sports fanaticism can rise to the level of violence. I want to be clear that liking something passionately does not meet the criteria of fanaticism that I’m talking about here. Also, to be very clear, I’m not talking about religious people. It’s more than possible to be deeply religious and not be fanatical. Fanatics transcend the sport, religion, or other thing to which they profess their fanatic love. They are violent, they are unthinkingly loyal, they are certain that those who oppose them mean to destroy their way of life.

Finally, I also want to state that people who rise to violent fanaticism are not forced into it by any of the things I describe below. They, and they alone, are responsible for their actions. I think people who commit actions like this have brain damage of some kind. I just think, as I’ll talk about, that an environment that emboldens such maniacs can be limited through our own behavior and educational methods.

We see fanaticism currently in Anders Breivik who argues that his murder of seventy-seven children was self-defense because they represented a threat to his way of life.

This pathology shows us the means and methods of becoming a fanatic.

A fanatic is convinced that they must act to preserve their way of life. The way to achieve this conviction is to simply stop thinking about the possibility that you could be wrong. This is the very definition of Faith Based Thinking. I believe it is true and therefore it is. Without this, there is no fanaticism. So, how is that people can be convinced they need not look at evidence that doesn’t support their theory of the world?

Again, I don’t want to seem to be picking on religion in this post because, for once, I’m not. Fanatics transcend the religion they often, but not always, use to fuel their fury. They latch onto something and that something is often religion but it doesn’t make religion the villain. It comes from a mindset that looks at things in a very black and white fashion. I’m right, you’re wrong. There is no reason to consider your point of view, your feelings, your right to live.

So, how do we get people who think like this? How do we end up with fanatics who were “such nice, quiet boys” just a few weeks ago. Who are loving family members, good friends, contributors to society? People who “we could never imagine would do such a terrible thing?”

We fill them with faith-based ideas and more importantly fail to school them on critical thinking skills. That’s the road to fanaticism. All of you, my most religious friends, you don’t use faith-based thinking when it comes to the next big purchase. You use critical thinking. You don’t use faith-based thinking when it comes to an important work project, you use critical thinking skills. Everyone is capable of doing it but when we encourage people to ignore facts, to ignore science, to yell down those who disagree, to insult them, to attack them, then we teach fanaticism.

The talking heads on media are trying for ratings but are actually laying the foundation of fanaticism when they shout down and ridicule those with different opinions.

Again, don’t get me wrong. Even with encouragement most people don’t turn into fanatics. Most people maintain their critical thinking skills well enough to know not to kill a bunch of other people. But, the more we teach people to laugh at, ridicule, attack, and belittle those of opposing points of view the more we are fueling fanatics. Words like Repukicans, Libtards are vicious attacks against those we disagree with. You mean them as harmless verbal jousting but there are people out there who don’t see it that way.

I’m not blaming you. I’m not blaming me. Nut job fanatics have only themselves to blame but can’t we try rational discourse to set an example?

Next time someone espouses a position you disagree with try asking them this question: “What facts do you have to support that position?” And, here’s the crazy part, listen to their answer and think about it. Even if they don’t convince you at least you’re setting an example for those around you and I think we all know how important it is have good role-models.

The guy sitting next to you when you launch into a diatribe about how President Bush/Obama is destroying America might not be as rational as you imagine. They might not be a “nice, quiet guy”. They might find fear in your words. Fear of losing their way of life. This fear might embolden them to act.

So, I say stand up for critical thinking. Listen to the other side. Be a shining example to your family and friends. If everyone did that I suspect the world would be a better place and isn’t that the goal of any rational person?

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist

Hammer of Fire – Book Cover Artist

I’m extremely happy to announce that Jesus Garcia Lopez has agreed to do the cover for my third novel, The Hammer of Fire. He did the amazing cover for my second book, The Staff of Sakatha and I’m eagerly awaiting his interpretation of the new work.

Beware those of you who follow the original link, some of his work is a little racy, nothing pornographic, more pin-up.

I finished the rewrite on the first quarter of the The Hammer of Fire and my stalwart proofreader, mom, is hard at work finding all my comma splices (and there are a lot of them). I anticipate having the finished work sometime next month depending on how fast things go.

The picture accompanying this post was done for me by Jenny Dolfen and depicts the protagonists of the new novel along with the titular weapon.

Thank you all for your great support,

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist

Teaser – The Road to Fanaticism

FanaticalTomorrow I delve into the road the leads to fanaticism. A lot of things have to go wrong for someone to become a violent fanatic and it starts early. If you think about all the people in the world who could, with the flick of a wrist, turn their car into a crowded sidewalk and don’t it’s pretty amazing how few violent fanatics are out there.

If the path to being a fanatic is so well-known it seems we could take a few easy steps to stop it. I’ll try to cue you in on the warning signs and maybe you can stop someone heading down a dangerous path.

See you tomorrow!

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist

Fanatics Week – Fanaticism

FanaticalI’m going to spend a week talking about fanaticism because the trial of the self-righteous murderer Anders Breivak is in the news. I’m not going to focus particularly on that case but on the nature of fanaticism and some of the psychological factors that play into it. I’m going to start off with a simple look at what fanaticism is and why it is so dangerous. And, believe it or not, I think my opinions here will be disputed by a great number of people. Read on and see for yourself.

Ok, back to fanaticism. Wikipedia defines it as a belief or behavior involving uncritical zeal, particularly for an extreme religious or political cause or in some cases sports, or with an obsessive enthusiasm for a pastime or hobby.

For those of you follow me regularly I hope you can see where I’m going to have a problem. Involving uncritical zeal. The key word being uncritical. The very nature of fanaticism is tied up in Faith Based Thinking with a complete absence of Critical Thinking. It’s important to understand that Faith Based Thinking is not merely the belief in god or some particular religion or another. It is a method of thinking that is dangerous.

I think that it is largely impossible to behave like Anders without faith-based thinking. It is impossible to become a fanatic without faith-based thinking. It is impossible to become a monster without faith-based thinking. It is this abandonment of critical thinking that leads to much ill. I’m certainly not saying that those who engage in faith-based thinking are destined to murder seventy-seven children on a camp retreat but I am saying, loudly and clearly, that those who abandon critical thinking and embrace faith-based thinking are going to make mistakes in every aspect of their lives.

Fanaticism largely stems from giving into your fears. When you fear something completely; you are willing to abandon reason and allow the violence that swirls beneath the surface to emerge. We all have that violence. It is important to understand the capability for humans for violence. I could, at any moment, kill my cat. I could easily grab a child around the neck and throttle him. I could push a pedestrian in front of a moving bus. We have that in us at all times and it is our reasoning, critical thinking skills, and rational fear for our own safety and well-being that keep us from doing it.

Here is where someone will say it is fear of eternal damnation or faith in god that keeps us from doing violent things. I disagree. If I behave violently, if I kill seventy-seven kids on their camp retreat, the odds are I will face terrible repercussions immediately. My freedom will be lost, my friends and family will abandon me. The only reason I can do such a thing is if I feel my situation is without hope, that I’ve given into fear and turned off all rational thought. fanaticism.

I’ll be doing a deeper examination of fanaticism, good and evil, and right and wrong as the week progresses but I think it’s important to understand that the root of this thing is the abandonment of reason and of critical thinking. While fanaticism might be born of fear and utter hopelessness it is driven to action by faith-based thinking.

Tell me what you think!

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist

Emotional Intelligence

Social GracesAfter yesterday’s post summing up my conclusions on intelligence I got a comment asking my opinion on how I thought “Emotional Intelligence” factors into success. So that’s today’s topic. I admit a complete lack of knowledge on this subject but that isn’t going to stop me from telling you all about it!

A quick perusal of Wikipedia reveals the following definition: Emotional intelligence (EI) is the ability to identify, assess, and control the emotions of oneself, of others, and of groups.

I’m willing to get over my initial distaste at the combination of the words “Emotional” and “Intelligence”, as the two things are paradoxical in many respects, and try to break down the concept. It seems to me what is being said here is equivalent to social graces. People who are good at judging others’ emotions get along in social gatherings. They are good at “reading” what another person is feeling and are able to respond appropriately. As a card-carrying member of the Aspberger Team this is not exactly my forte but I can certainly recognize the trait in others.

This is supposedly testable using something called the Mayer-Salovey-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test (MSCEIT … for short (insert eye roll here)). Event this admits it is testing against social norms. I don’t want to get into a big debate about testability. It is pretty clear that getting along socially is part of success in life, in answer to the original question.

So, if we say high intelligence leads to success are we not also bound to say that high emotional intelligence, or social graces, also tend to lead to success in life. My answer is … yes. Sadly.

Why sadly? I’ll tell you why. Because being good at social graces doesn’t mean you are good at achievement. People who are good at social graces get far in life. They convince people to trust them, they achieve positions of power, but they do not have the ability to actually achieve great things once they get there. There are exceptions, naturally. Some, rare, people have both high intelligence and high social graces. But, by and large what we are talking about here is The Monkeys or Milli Vanilli. Fake musicians who make millions of sales without doing anything other than being socially adept.

How many times have you lamented “politics” at work? This is someone using social graces to achieve promotion. Why do we call it “politics”? Because that is what politicians do. They get elected not on their actual qualifications but upon their ability to manipulate the emotions of voters.

Do I sound bitter? Maybe … well … probably. My social graces are next to nil. But, I think I make a valid point here. We want people who have the talents to get things accomplished in positions of power. Would you rather hire a charming plumber or a competent one?

I’ll wrap this up with a test question I’ve been asking for year. How you answer it is telling in this social intelligence versus intelligence debate.

Place in order your preferences for the checker in your lane at the grocery store:

  1. Friendly and Fast
  2. Friendly and Slow
  3. Surly and Fast
  4. Surly and Slow

My order is 3-1-4-2.

Yep, I prefer Surly. Why? Because I don’t want to have a conversation with the checker. It is rude to the people waiting in line and, frankly, I’d rather be at home analyzing my chess games and planning my next Dungeons and Dragons session.

In all seriousness, the issue isn’t black and white. Everyone has shades of Intelligence and Social Intelligence. But, I stand by my conclusions. I’d rather have competent people working with me than socially adept ones.

Tell me what you think!

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist

Teaser – Emotional Intelligence

In response to my recent conclusions on intelligence one of my few followers asked me what I thought about “emotional intelligence”. I thought I’d take on this topic. Just to get you ready for my blog I’ll tell you right now that I’m not sure that “emotional intelligence” is actually a thing. I do think I understand the gist of the question which boils down to the concept of social skills as opposed to intelligence.

Anyway, it’s an interesting question and I’ll talk about it tomorrow!

See you then,

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist

How to make More Intelligent People

IntelligenceI’ve been discussing intelligence all week long and now it’s time for my conclusions. Brace yourself because, as usual, I’m not out to make friends.

It is clear some people are more intelligent than other people and that intelligence plays an important role in the advancement of both individuals and societies. The Bell Curve speculates that government policies that allow poor people, who do less-well on IQ tests, to have more children has a negative effect on the average intelligence of the United States  and thus is detrimental to the health of the nation.

I have serious problems with almost all of the principles of both measuring intelligence by IQ tests and trying to determine, through government policy, the best way to breed for intelligence. IQ tests, it seems to me, are most certainly culturally biased. Immigrant groups will always do poorly but as they become amalgamated with the culture, or as the culture changes with immigration, they will drift towards median scores.

Blacks traditionally do poorly on IQ tests and I can tell you exactly why. Black culture largely associates education and success with being “white”. It has nothing to do with intelligence potentials. I went to a highly mixed race school. Far and away the most brutalized students were the “smart” black kids who took upper level courses with the white kids. They were assaulted for trying to be “white”. Many prominent blacks have pointed this out over the years and things will not change for blacks until they overcome this cultural belief.

A culture that values education will produce kids that score high on IQ tests. Bottom line. Perhaps there is something to be said for inheritable intelligence but this limits the potential ceiling of achievement. By this I mean that I can play offensive left tackle as an eight year old for my block football team but I cannot play that position for the St. Louis Rams because I am limited in my ceiling by my physical stature. Everyone, with the exception of the mentally handicapped, is capable of thinking at a reasonable level and scoring reasonably well on IQ tests. So, in all practical terms intelligence has nothing to do with wealth, race, creed, or anything else. If parents and community value education and intelligence then the results will follow.

I absolutely agree that intelligence, or high IQ, is a predictor of success. Success is good. We want people who achieve. The more people who achieve the better for society. I don’t really much care about whether high IQ scores are exact predictors of intelligence or not. They are close enough I suppose but it doesn’t matter. If you are intelligent you will likely do better in life. If we threw IQ tests away we’d still have intelligent people, just not a snobby way to quantify them.

So, that’s the bottom line. We want intelligent people. We want to encourage all people of all cultures to value education so they will get good jobs, produce, achieve, elevate society. How do we do it? Reward achievers! That’s Ayn Rand, that’s Objectivism, that’s Critical Thinking. That is everything I talk about in this blog.

There’s nothing wrong with making sure our schools have the best equipment, that our teachers have all the aids necessary to be great, to encourage parents to be a part of their child’s schooling process, and to find the best ways that people learn and implement those methods. I’m all for those things.

The thing we can’t do, and this is where I’m in partial agreement with The Bell Curve, is reward stupidity. There should be a safety net. There are disabled people, mentally retarded people, people who fall on hard times, and we do not want to become a nation where those sorts of people are discarded and brutalized. But, we can’t continue to reward failure.

When it comes to wanting to stop rewarding failure so-called Conservatives seem to focus on the poor, and I agree that changes must be made with welfare, but the reality is that far and away most rewards to stupidity go to business. Our failed politicians, Democrat and Republican, still rake in massive amounts of bribes, er campaign contributions, in the hopes that they will pass laws to give one business an unfair advantage or bail-out yet another round of failed enterprises. Stop the madness!

Government get out of the tax-break business and social engineering. It leads to failure. Let good business succeed on its merits, let educated people succeed because of their intelligence.

And parents, most of all, take a hard-core, hard-line, day-to-day interest in your child’s education. Smart is good. Dumb is bad. And I’ll stand by that until the day I die.

Tell me what you think in the comments and share if you feel like it!

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist

Teaser – Conclusions about Intelligence

Tomorrow I wrap up Intelligence week with my conclusions. It’s a complex topic and I don’t think that I’ll have the final say in the matter but there are some important issues that need clarification. Are IQ tests accurate? Is intelligence inherited from one generation to the next? Is it important for the government, through policy, to discourage lower IQ people from having children? These are major issues that have an impact on the future of the nation and the world.

So, come back tomorrow to see what I think!

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist

The Bell Curve

The Bell CurveThe Bell Curve was a novel written by a Libertarian in 1994 that took an analytical look at intelligence using IQ testing as the backbone for its conclusion. To say it was highly controversial is to accurately portray its reception. In addition to libertarian Charles Murray it was co-authored by Richard J. Herrnstein a professor at Harvard.

The book argues that intelligence is primarily a product of genetic inheritance (40% to 80%) and secondarily to environmental factors and an excellent predictor of success in life at almost every level. It based the results on IQ scores of large groups of people and their eventual outcomes in life. It looked at education, criminality, age at which children were born, salary, and other life defining issues.

The reason it generated so much controversy is that it suggested that inheritance of intelligence played the predominant predictive factor although it stops well short of suggesting this is the only factor. It also points to the undeniable difference in IQ scores with whites and Asians scoring significantly higher than other races.

The recommendations from the book included ending most welfare programs, ending affirmative action, and reducing immigration. It couched most of these recommendations in the idea that poor people have bad IQ scores and yield children with the same issue. Also, that the poor tend to have far more children than the wealthy and this imbalance has the effect of making the United States less intelligent as a whole. It generally spoke in terms if income not race but the implication is undeniable.

It predicted a stratification in society wherein the middle class would diminish and the gap between the wealthy and the poverty ridden would mirror that which we see in poor Latin American countries. Thus the wealthy whites and Asians would live in fenced communities protected from the poor masses of other races. It predicted the conservative movement would be subverted into a philosophy that focused on doing anything to preserve its wealth and an eventual turn of government towards totalitarianism.

Dire predictions indeed.

There are a number of criticisms of the book in particular as to its assignment of IQ test results as the primary source of its base assertion of intelligence. I’m not going to get into them all here but I’ll talk about a few before I wrap it up.

Many criticize the idea that intelligence can be summed up in a single number, the IQ test result. They claim intelligence is much more complex than this. The manipulation of the final IQ score through the g-factor is relatively arbitrary and when scored as it was on the test overstates the difference in IQ between races. A number of follow-up studies using the same methodology have produced less dramatic results in scoring gap between races.

Many point out that immigrants of all nationalities, Jewish, Irish, Italian, etc. have traditionally done poorly on Intelligence Tests and that as they amalgamated with society saw dramatic increases. This would seem to indicate a bias in the IQ test towards the culture of the people giving the test and argue against the immigration policies suggest by the book.

Charles Murray  answered many of these criticisms with a follow-up of the book using siblings for his study. The siblings he used were chosen because of a wide divergence in their IQ scores. He then analyzed the life accomplishments of the high scorer with those of the low scorer. The results of this test validated the original test although the gap in accomplishments was somewhat narrower than the original.

I’m going to save my conclusions of IQ tests and intelligence as a whole until tomorrow but I will state that there is a great deal of validity to the idea that smarter people do better in life. That the higher the ratio of smart people to stupid people we have in the United States the more likely it is our country will prosper. I am skeptical of IQ testing as an absolute measure of real intelligence and I’m also skeptical of racial causality of gaps in intelligence testing scores. I’ll get more into those topics when I conclude tomorrow.

Today I hope that I gave you some insight into an interesting book that, at its base, was trying to formulate policies that would increase the average intelligence of people in our country. That’s a worthy goal.

Tell me what you think about this controversial subject in the comments and share away!

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a  Libertarian Twist

Teaser – The Bell Curve

One of the most controversial books published on the subject of intelligence and its practical applications is called The Bell Curve. It was written by Libertarians and made some bold predictions about the future of the United States. Tomorrow, in the next chapter of my Intelligence Week, I’m going to take a look at that book and some of its predictions. I’m also going to examine some of the ideas that it promulgates and how they apply to the country and to the world.

It should be fun!

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist

Artificial Intelligence

Artificial Intelligence

Artificial IntelligenceToday Intelligence Week takes a turn towards science fiction as I examine the concept of Artificial Intelligence. I’ve spoken about IQ test and trying to define intelligence, now it’s time to determine if computer intelligence is already or will someday soon surpass that of humans.

By many units of measurement computers are already far, far smarter than humans. Their biggest advantage is speed in information retrieval and their biggest disadvantage is in perception using senses.

One of the things I find interesting is the difference in definitions for human intelligence and computer intelligence. The same standards do not apply. I wonder how a computer would do on an IQ exam?

Still, I understand the differences. When measuring intelligence in a human we are working with a subject that we define as intelligent. All humans have reasoning abilities of one sort or another (hold the jokes) whereas with computers we are trying to determine if one can be created that thinks, for lack of a better term, like a human.

The definition of computer intelligence has been fairly well standardized in a series of problems to be overcome. The list is too lengthy and complex to cover here but it boils down to making computers accomplish tasks that humans can do with ease. Things like planning, learning, using social skills, and creativity.

Progress has been made on many fronts but I’ll give two quick examples. A computer answering machine named Watson recently won a Jeopardy competition over top-level human foes. This represents an important step-forward in artificial intelligence. Another example is that, since the victory in 1997 by Deep Blue, chess computers are better players than the strongest human.

The Jeopardy victory in particular is interesting because it shows that computers are now capable of acting as Help Desk attendants in much the same way as the Computer on Star Trek helps the crew members. Imagine a superfast machine with access to an immense database on the other side of the phone instead of today’s automated system or a person reading from a script. This is something to welcome, not fear, although I know I’ll have a hard time convincing people of this argument.

It seems inevitable to me whether or not a computer actually achieves “artificial intelligence” their role in our lives is going to increase dramatically. And that’s how I want to wrap up this post, with some thoughts about what computer intelligence means for us in the near future.

Intelligence in computers mated with advances in robotics, a topic I’d like to take on soon, is well on the way to changing our lives. Robotic helpers with access to huge amounts of information will soon, I think, greet us on the phone, over the counter, when we arrive home, at school, and at work. Computer algorithms already help us tremendously every day if you think about our use of search engines.

The concept of computer intelligence is summed up in an idea called a Technological Singularity. There are many promises and dangers in this concept but i don’t want to spend too much time it today. Suffice it to say that computers are getting smarter and will continue to take a more active role in our lives, for good and for ill.

I guess that’s my final conclusion. It doesn’t really matter if a computer achieves the title of “Artificial Intelligence” or not. We are going to continue to improve computers and they will continue to play ever more important roles in our lives. The definition of intelligent doesn’t really change the fact of the matter. If the Cylons or Berserkers are the result or if R. Daneel Olivaw is the result, well, that’s where we are headed.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist

Teaser – Artificial Intelligence

Tomorrow Intelligence Week continues when I take a look at the state of Artificial Intelligence development. It’s tough to define intelligence and not so easy to quantify it either but there is still a chance we can build it. I’ll talk about where we are now, with some chess references of course, and what the future might entail as developments continue.

It’s some exciting stuff,

See you tomorrow!

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist

What is Smart?

IntelligenceNormally I start a week-long topic with the definition of said idea but I went a little backwards yesterday because the concept of being intelligent is so difficult to define. IQ tests have become a defacto measurement and they might well represent the greatest probability of measuring intelligence. Today I’ll look at some of the ideas about what defines intelligence and tell you what I think are its most important indicators.

Let me start by admitting that I’m not going to find a unifying answer but I do have my definition. It’s a brutally difficult to define intelligence and more than one brilliant mind has tried to answer the question but there is no consensus. That being said let’s take a look at the kinds of intelligence to be found.

One main theory that has, I think, some excellent points is called the Cattell-Horn-Carroll theory. It suggests there are a number of interrelated factors in intelligence. The list is lengthy, I’ll let you read the article if you desire, and I’ll just summarize here. Intelligence seems to include reading/writing skills, processing information with your senses, numeric understanding, memory, reasoning faculties, and speed of processing.

So, in order to have intelligence we must be able to understand information, store it in memory for retrieval, categorize it, and decipher different pieces of information in a short period of time. Basically you must learn of something and store it away for later, usually an ability to categorize items is helpful for quick retrieval, and then when given other, related information, connect the two pieces into a final conclusion.

This is an extraordinarily simplistic definition but it will have to do. The ability to do the above is something I call mental agility. One thing to consider is that a computer has several of these components particularly the ability to “remember” and retrieve but connection until recently has been difficult to overcome. However, recent advances in computer “intelligence” are beginning to change that fact. I’ll talk more about computer intelligence soon but not today.

So, for me, this defines intelligence: The ability to piece together separate but connected pieces of information to draw a factual conclusion. Now, I’ll wrap this up by talking about some categories of intelligence, at least in my model.

The people who have the ability to see two related facts and instantly come a conclusion that many other people will never find are, in my opinion, smart. There are two groups of these types of people in my model. Some people very quickly analyze information and come to conclusions. We call this genius or brilliance. Other people take time to analyze but also come up with solutions. I call these people plodders although that is an incorrect technical definition. A plodder by definition doesn’t get anywhere. To my mind the plodder is the like the turtle in the proverbial race against the rabbit. It may take him or her a while to get there but eventually they arrive.

In many ways I think being a plodder is better than brilliance. Brilliance finds things easily whereas a plodder has to work hard. As a so-called genius moves through life they start to meet those as intelligent and questions start to become more difficult. Much like a star baseball player in high school is an average player in college and unable to become a professional. As things get more difficult early brilliance usually meets equally brilliant people and can get discouraged whereas a plodder is used to working hard and eventually finding the solution. This best combination is the genius-plodder who makes connection easily but also works hard. People like this are rare but change the world.

So, anyway, that’s my definition of intelligence and a standard model. Tell me what you think in the comments. What is intelligence?

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist

Teaser – What is Smart?

Intelligence week continues tomorrow as I take on a tough one. What is it that makes some people smarter than others? It’s more difficult to measure intelligence than say, speed or strength. But, there are clearly some people who are smarter than others so there must be measurable differences in the groups. The question becomes what to measure and how.

See you soon!

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist