Many who read this blog consider cognitive ability to be extremely valuable. It is. But let's not go overboard. In my view, brain horsepower sometimes gets us in trouble.
Youthfulness illustrates this. IQ peaks among young people and gradually declines over the lifecourse. I've never been a mental powerlifter, but I was stronger 20 years ago.
Only an ideologue would deny that young people are often foolish. They do and think foolish things. Prudence, wisdom, judgment--all these require more than the ability to reason abstractly.
Reasonable people would agree that it's a bad idea for 14 year old kids to be having sex. Most people don't arrive at that position through rational argument, but it seems to me wise nevertheless. Problem is, the people who agree with me tend to be dumb and uneducated.
The General Social Survey asked participants if it's wrong for young teenagers to have sex. I estimated a model of the relationship between the answer to that question and three predictors: age, IQ, and educational level (sample size = 11, 359).
Here are the results:
OLS regression coefficients (standardized)
All the relationships are statistically significant (although the IQ and education effects are weak). Older, dumber, and less educated people are more likely to think it's wrong. Of course, the discomfort that many intelligent people have with the concept of wrongness is at play here.
I can imagine myself as a teen arguing, "No harm is done if two young people have sex. It's consensual. They're giving each other pleasure--how can that be bad?" I can also see me debating my parents and winning. Their arguments would go something like, "It's just wrong. God says so." With maybe a "the girl might get pregnant" thrown in. On rational grounds, I would probably win the debate, but the inarticulate grownups are right. Teen sex is a bad idea--they arrived at the reasonable view through tradition and by sensing it. This ability needs to be understood and valued alongside mental ability. Conservative thought, of course, has always recognized the wisdom found in instinct and tradition.
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