Duty vs. Intelligence- What Forrest Gump Taught Us About Each
“The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge.” ― Daniel J. Boorstin
A single feather fluttering in a gentle breeze sets the mood for one of America’s most beloved movies- Forrest Gump. We watch the feather lightly settle at Forrest’s feet after fluttering to and fro with no real purpose but to tempt us to understand its significance. We’ll just have to watch.
This wonderful bit of storytelling is about a simple man and his amazing accomplishments. Yet, he remained but a feather buffeted by the breeze of happenstance, indifferent to himself and his remarkable strength of character. Forrest didn’t pay much fuss to the past or the future. He lived life in the present, incorporating a simple set of principles from what “my momma said.” They served him well. The story ends with him seeing his young son off to school. The feather is set free by the ever-present breeze of life to whiff and waffle, rising until invisible.
Few would argue Forrest an intelligent man. In some ways like a child full of curiosity and always asking questions. His mother brought him up to be a Southern gentleman, but it was his lack of pretensions that endeared him to us. Perhaps his limited intellectual capacity allowed him to explore life exuberantly, not burdened by societal expectations. Yet, he managed to navigate his circumstances well, always juxtaposing his observations with his mother's lessons.
The story challenged our notion of what intelligence is. In one of the movie’s most memorable scenes, Forrest responds to a woman suggesting he is either crazy or stupid, “Stupid is as stupid does, mam”- an idiom that still echoes through our contemporary culture. The phrase suggests that our actions are the great revealer of intelligence- it is not what someone says but rather what someone does. It is not difficult to observe knowledgeable people who are nonetheless stupid.
There is a good chance that most people you meet believe they are more intelligent than you. We believe most people are of average intelligence while we are above average. In fact, 65% of Americans believe they are above average in intelligence while believing everyone else is just average.
An equally perplexing contradiction of we humans is that those who truly are intelligent don’t necessarily see themselves as such. Conversely, those of average or lesser intelligence often believe they are of superior intelligence. This bit of cognitive bias was researched by professors Dunning and Kruger. I wrote about the Dunning-Kruger Effect in a prior essay.
Human curiosity continues in the study of intelligence. More recent research suggests that, yes, it is true that unintelligent people are more easily misled by others- Forrest could be a bit gullible. But the research also showed that intelligent folk are more easily misled by themselves. They have a greater tendency towards holding tight to their delusions. That becomes an important distinction when considering how we might deal with those with strong ideological biases.
It appears that those who claim superior intelligence are better at convincing themselves of what they want to believe than what is actually true. Their ability at reasoning makes them better at rationalizing. The ability to rationalize is seldom conducive to the pursuit of objective truth.
Intelligence is perhaps not the most important factor in the pursuit of truth. In fact, much of human intelligence is spent pursuing social status, tribal belonging, and personal well-being, according to Mr. Gurwinder, with The Prism. He calls it ‘Fashionably Irrational Beliefs’ (FIBs). He also believes “…people bind their intelligence to the service of evolutionary impulses, leveraging their logic and learning not to correct delusions but to justify them.” Or, as the novelist Saul Bellow put it, ‘a great deal of intelligence can be invested in ignorance when the need for illusion is deep.’
This perhaps explains why some seemingly intelligent people appear to find it so difficult to change an opinion. Using our post-pandemic era as a backdrop, we begin to understand the impulse towards a bit of delusion by ‘doubling down.’ Our pandemic policymakers remain self-righteous and would do it all the same despite the mountain of evidence suggesting a better route. They appear stiff-headed to the point where Forrest Gump might say, “stupid is as stupid does.”
This same impulse is displayed when bright, intelligent people, particularly those found on college campuses, suggest that white-pigmented people are the source of nearly every ill in the world. They jump through all sorts of mental gymnastics, convincing themselves that the solution to the sins of past racism is to justify their own racism, thereby suggesting two wrongs make a right. These gymnasts appear to have little interest in dialogue or in pursuing the truth, for that matter. You’ll be met with accusations of being a racist.
Today, a man can become a woman and a woman man by merely wishing it so. So deep is this delusion that a ‘man’ who is biologically a ‘woman’ can have a baby. We are to call her Mr. Mom. This dysphoria is catered to by highly educated medical doctors who happily take the money to both enhance their own ‘personal well-being’ and that of their underage clients. The truth is that the vast majority of young people who suffer from gender dysphoria will grow out of it. In the meantime, those who benefit from this bit of delusion insist that we all go along with their roll playing games.
Unfortunately, many of our educational institutions today appear to be schools of indoctrination. Vast sums of money are being spent encouraging kids to pursue social status, tribal belonging, and personal well-being. One’s intellect is seldom pushed to pursue objective truth. That would require curiosity and exposure to a wide variety of ideas and the taming of our impulse towards holding strong biases.
But education is not futile. Mr. Gurwinder says, “Knowledge can help to neutralize motivated reasoning—but only if it’s accompanied by a far deeper kind of growth: that of one’s character.” And that get’s us back to Forrest Gump.
Forrest, perhaps less intelligent than average, never wasted any of his intelligence on gaining social status, joining up with tribes, or seeking personal well-being. When confronted with the challenges of life, he persevered without complaint. He experienced the pain and suffering of losing the two women he most loved- his mother and the mother of his son, Forrest.
The story ends with Forrest being left to care for his son alone. With his great sense of duty, he made certain his young son got on the school bus. Forrest Gump was a man of great character.
Today, the world is aflutter with revelations of great discoveries in the area of AI- artificial intelligence. A giant leap in AI is upon us. Super duper computers have been set aside to machine learn everything. So good are these systems then when Mark Mills, writing for City Journal, asked it to write something to promote a Caribbean cruise in the style of Shakespeare, AI wrote this;
Hark! good sirs and fair maidens, lend an ear
To news of grandeur and luxury rare.
A Caribbean cruise doth now appear
For those with hearts that do adventure dare.
Upon the azure seas, our grand barque
Shall bear ye to fair isles of sand and sun
Where comfort and opulence shall embark
And memories forever to be won.
Remarkable! Have a great weekend.