I had a discussion with someone about a political matter the other day (the exact subject doesn’t matter) that made me realize that there’s a bias out there, a rhetorical condition that plagues many people in this country. I’ve dubbed this, “The intelligence fallacy.” Allow me to set the scene for you.
First of all, I don’t consider myself to be political. That is to say, I don’t subscribe to any one philosophy. My voting is dictated by logic and common sense–not partisan lines. My philosophy and voting record is subject to change to new information and new arguments. The person I entered into a debate with, however, subscribed to one specific political philosophy. This person was also an engineer by trade. And here is where the intelligence fallacy comes into play. It’s a fallacy to assume that because one has completed X degree of higher education, that they are in fact intelligent or that they are putting forth the most cogent argument possible.
There is a statistical correlation between intelligence and higher education, but as everyone knows correlation does not imply causation. There’s an old saying, “C’s earn degrees.” Attaining a college level education is not necessarily an indicator of intellectual prowess. All it proves, quite frankly, is that you’re capable of regurgitating information and completing paperwork–not that you are capable of original, constructive, abstract, or intelligent thought. You could make an argument about people who have doctoral degrees, since they do require an ability for abstract, original thought and the ability to defend it, but the amount of people in the population with a PhD is so small that you’re not likely to be debating one very often.
The second part of this fallacy assumes that because someone is intelligent, their reasoning is automatically air tight, or better than other reasoning. “Intelligent” people can be incorrect or put forth a flawed argument for a variety of reasons: bad information, a faulty assumption, flawed reasoning, letting emotion dictate an argument, etc. The bottom line is that even “intelligent” people are capable of making mistakes.
So, to recap, the intelligence fallacy is predicated on the false assumptions that, a) education is always a marker of intellectual ability, and that b) intellectual ability will always create a cogent argument.
The main reason that this is a problem is because it gives people who fall prey to the fallacy a belief that they have an upper hand before even going into the argument. It creates people who are so narrowly focused on worshiping their own ideas that they are unable to or flat out refuse to entertain the validity of other arguments–even if the other arguments are more logical. No matter how much information to the contrary you throw at them they refuse to believe it or acknowledge it because of the intelligence fallacy. I’m sure everyone knows a person like this. I’m not exactly sure what to do about this situation. If anyone has any rhetorical strategies for dealing with it, I’d be happy to hear them.