Intelligence is ableist, but not for the reason you think
Posted August 31, 2011on:
It’s not ableist to acknowledge that people have varying ability levels. I mean obviously come on that’s like, one of the most basic points of disability theory.
Intelligence is ableist because it isn’t actually a thing. It’s a bunch of things, and often they aren’t correlated at all (See for example specific learning disabilities; like I’m completely unable to remember things in the short term and get distracted all the time and forget what I was doing but as soon as something is in my long term memory it is staying there forever.)
Like the best way to put it seems to be to realize it’s not really one specific thing. It’s not even that there’s lots of ways to be intelligent—which there are—it’s that if you talk about intelligence we have no way of knowing if we’re talking about being able to remember facts, being good at processing numbers, having a wide knowledge base (like knowing twenty five languages, for example), or even readily using wikipedia so you’ll have answers to other people’s questions.
It is probably worth breaking the idea down into its component parts here, because really my ability to grasp complex concepts quickly and my tendency to become completely lost if a person uses weird organization or is at all poetic are very different things, and they’d both be considered intelligence or lack thereof. Plus, the way people talk about it now it doesn’t even really mean anything because it’s super vague and, well, a ton of unrelated things.
The other reason it’s ableist is because people without intelligence, or specific facits thereof, are treated like shit and get their autonomy denied them and generally are abused and unaccommodated so they can’t use the abilities they do have (like, I learn really fast and have a ridiculously good memory but then I have no ability to focus and can’t read books very well, so I failed out of college. Even though basically intellectual things are basically what I’m best at, and actually because of my other disabilities are practically all I can do)
It should also be noted that it’s not “intelligence” that’s privileged; it’s a bit more complex then intelligence is privileged and lack of it is disprivileged. In my experience it’s really productivity that’s privileged; I mean i got forced into segregated special ed classes and generally had no material ever that was remotely appropriate to my ability level (either because it was completely impossible for me to do—I completely left the essay portion of the SAT I took blank—or because it was stuff I’d learned years ago and they didn’t know anything better to do then teach it to me six times in a row), but I was generally regarded as “intelligent”.
Certainly there’s privilege in there, including my access to an education and resources and not being completely written off as uneducatable for any of various reasons. But in my experience, testing at the ceiling of IQ tests mostly resulted in everyone insisting I needed to be perfect at everything, and punishing me when I was merely above average. That’s… not privilege.
(But insulting people for lack of intelligence? That’s ridiculously ableist; like there’s no way it could be interpreted as not. So seriously stop using words like “stupid” to attack people)