Hostility to the idea of IQ

Text of a letter about hostility to the idea of IQ


A book on Child Development, pretty hostile to the idea of IQ, and clearly resentful of its being regarded as predictive of suitability for an academic career, says a lot of factors besides intelligence go into eventual success.  They sure do, and among them one might mention the extreme and irrational reactions which outstanding intelligence may provoke.

I certainly provoked them; from the age of eleven onwards both teachers and my father spent hours telling me how bad my psychology was.  Wishing to justify this, someone might like to suspect or hint at suspecting that I was seriously introverted and in need of ‘help’.  This I don’t accept, and even if it had been so I don’t think anyone should have thought it was their business to interfere, uninvited.

What apparently provoked them was my wanting so unequivocally to do research (and to precede it by having a good time taking as many exams as possible as fast as possible).  It is true that my drives were a direct result of my awareness of the uncertainties inherent in the existential situation.  Retrospectively I can understand better why people are so sensitive to psychology that arises in a context of existential awareness.  Human society is based on the need to obliterate such awareness by investing a lot of emotional loading in other people, particularly in organised social structures.

At the time I could not understand why it was that they thought I should be more interested in people than I was, and in some way that would displace my drive to do research and everything else that I set any store by.

I can remember times when each of the three people (i.e. my father, the maths nun at the convent, and the maths mistress at Woodford) who put in the largest quantity of manhours haranguing me, was carried away, really beside themselves, because they realised they were not able to influence the way I thought.  I suppose it is true that most people are prepared to modify their attitudes to fit in with what gains social approval, so perhaps they were used to more reward for their efforts to change someone’s outlook.

This, for example, was what happened with the maths mistress at the state school.  This must have taken place when I had been there long enough to be fifteen rather than fourteen, and the practice of spending a large part of the maths lessons talking about what was wrong with my psychology had become an established routine.

It was towards the end of a double period (i.e. 80 minutes –she was quite capable of spending all but the last five or ten minutes of these discussing me).  She seemed to realise, and to react impulsively to the realisation, that I did not care what she thought about me, and had no intention of changing my outlook to suit her.  She said vehemently something on these lines:

‘You can’t stop me making you think the way I want you to.  You’re just a little immature chit of a girl and I’m a big strong woman.  I’ll get inside your mind and rip your guts out to use for garters, and there won’t be anything you can do about it.  You just won’t know what hit you.  I’ll reconstruct your mind the way I know it ought to be.’

Until I got to the Woodford school I had not been in the habit of answering back, but now I was getting a bit exasperated at the streams of rubbish I had to listen to, and wished I could put a stop to it.  So I said, approximately:

‘Don’t you think you should be doing something like what they call gaining my confidence first?  What would you think of a psychiatrist who announced to his patient that he was going to smash his mind wide open, whether he liked it or not?  Should you make it quite so plain that you want to do something to me totally against my will?’

She went red in a remarkable way, which I had not seen before and have never seen again since.  A dark red tide with a horizontal line at the top rose over her face from the neck upwards.

‘I don’t think you are being very polite to me, Celia,’ she said in a subdued voice.  ‘I don’t think you have been being very polite to me, Miss Barnes,’ I said.  Then the bell rang for the end of the lesson, so I picked up my books and walked out, without waiting for the customary leavetaking.