Abstract Thinking Is Not A Sign Of High Intelligence

Abstract thinking is NOT a sign of high intelligence. Abstract thinking is easy, and the laziest thinkers among us rely too much on untested abstractions.
Intelligence is more about the facility with which we climb up and down a ladder (or tree) of abstraction, and knowing when it’s time to descend, than it is about how high we can climb.
“Socialism is good” and “Socialism is bad” are both far too abstract to be useful in most circumstances. So are “Capitalism is good” and “Capitalism is bad”. Yet that’s the level at which much of our political discourse is conducted.
If the goal is to signal tribal loyalty, then lofty abstraction works just fine. But, if the goal is to figure out which economic policies we want to implement in our country, then it doesn’t work very well at all. As the saying goes, it’s like trying to perform surgery with a chainsaw instead of a scalpel.
When opponents debate at high altitude, they rarely use their abstract terms consistently themselves, let alone consistently with each other, and would benefit from asking several questions before proceeding. What do you mean by “socialism”? What do you mean by “capitalism”? What do you mean by “good”? What do you mean by “bad”? Which specific socialist/capitalist policies are “good” or “bad”? And how are they good/bad? And how do we know these things? What’s our evidence? And when we say “good”, what values or preferences are we using as our benchmark?
If climbing down a ladder of abstraction sounds like a lot of work, it is. And our political process would be more effective if we gave more weight to the opinions of those who are willing to dig in the trenches, and less weight to the opinions of those flinging poo atop the berms.
  • Beth Maud

    aww threatened much?