Wednesday, July 25, 2012

A Fact Made Obvious in Aurora, Colorado: Moral Goodness Not Indelibly Linked to Intelligence

In the aftermath of the horrible evil committed by a single shooter in an Aurora, CO, movie theater last Friday against innocent people gathered on the film's opening night to see, Dark Knight Rises, the erroneous nature of an all-to-common mistake of media pundits and social commentators has been made more clear. This is the mistake of presuming that certain people must be morally virtuous and admirable simply because they have a high level of intelligence and formal education.

It is indeed a serious error about human nature to fail to distinguish the very significant difference between the intelligence of a person (indicated by their level of formal education) on the one hand, and his moral character (and thus moral authority), on the other.

In my observation, many media personalities who comment about current affairs in whatever medium seem to presume that intelligence is somehow automatically linked with moral goodness. The more intelligent a person (especially if they have a PhD or MD), the more good they must be (so the presumption goes). And especially, this presumed moral integrity is seen as giving such persons the role of moral standard-makers, judging right from wrong on behalf of the rest of society.

I am not attempting to prove what I am saying here, but simply to point out what I think is rather an obvious fact of life if we simply reflect seriously upon our own experience. The truth is, moral virtue (and any moral authority therefore acceded), is not directly linked to intelligence. In other words, simply because a person has received a high level of education does not at all guarantee that he has also attained an admirable degree of moral rectitude. There is no direct link between them. The formation of a person's intellect and the formation of the core of his moral goodness do not advance by the same causes. It is a very serious and potentially dangerous mistake to assume such a link.

I mention this because TV reporters and other media talkers often seem to assign to highly educated guests to whom they may be speaking a level of moral authority roughly equatable to their level of expertise according to a scale of intellectual accomplishment. So, an expert in cardiology is asked a question that deals with morality and his answer is treated with the same deference and respect as his responses to questions about the physical heart. This is not wise.

The murderer who inhumanly snuffed out the lives of 12 and injured dozens more in that Colorado theater is a highly intelligent person. He had been in a Ph.D. program for neuroscience. And yet, obviously, the fact of his high scientific reasoning ability does not translate to his level of moral integrity.

A really smart person can be a brutal and soulless killer. I wish that reporters, journalists, and other media figures would keep this in mind and stop looking to everyone with a PhD in whatever field as worthy of being being given the status of a moral guide for society just because they are smart. They simply aren't. We must look to different criteria than intelligence and formal education if we are to discover a person's genuine moral character.

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