Flimsy Sanity: Writer or Mechanic

Flimsy Sanity

In individuals, insanity is rare; but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule. - Friedrich Nietzsche

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Writer or Mechanic

What is intelligence, anyway? When I was in the army, I received the kind of aptitude test that all soldiers took and, against a normal of 100, scored 160. No one at the base had ever seen a figure like that, and for two hours they made a big fuss over me. (It didn't mean anything. The next day I was still a buck private with KP - kitchen police - as my highest duty.)

All my life I've been registering scores like that, so that I have the complacent feeling that I'm highly intelligent, and I expect other people to think so too. Actually, though, don't such scores simply mean that I am very good at answering the type of academic questions that are considered worthy of answers by people who make up the intelligence tests - people with intellectual bents similar to mine?

For instance, I had an auto-repair man once, who, on these intelligence tests, could not possibly have scored more than 80, by my estimate. I always took it for granted that I was far more intelligent than he was. Yet, when anything went wrong with my car I hastened to him with it, watched him anxiously as he explored its vitals, and listened to his pronouncements as though they were divine oracles - and he always fixed my car.

Well, then, suppose my auto-repair man devised questions for an intelligence test. Or suppose a carpenter did, or a farmer, or, indeed, almost anyone but an academician. By every one of those tests, I'd prove myself a moron, and I'd be a moron, too. In a world where I could not use my academic training and my verbal talents but had to do something intricate or hard, working with my hands, I would do poorly. My intelligence, then, is not absolute but is a function of the society I live in and of the fact that a small subsection of that society has managed to foist itself on the rest as an arbiter of such matters.-What is Intelligence Anyway by Isaac Asimov

So is it better to be an author or a mechanic?
Some Stats:
1/3 of high school graduates never read another book for the rest of their lives.
42 percent of college graduates never read another book after college.
80 percent of U.S. families did not buy or read a book last year.
70 percent of U.S. adults have not been in a bookstore in the last five years.
57 percent of new books are not read to completion.
70 percent of books published do not earn back their advance or make a profit.
About 120,000 books are published each year in the U.S.

It has been my experience that any visit to a mechanic costs at least a couple hundred dollars even if they misdiagnosis the problem. A lousy mechanic can make a good living but even a good author will struggle. I once watched a program about the New York Review of Books reviewers. They had a huge bin that they chucked all the submissions except the books by already established authors. So it goes.


  • At 8:26 AM, Anonymous RJ Adams said…

    I have a theory that we are all born with a similar capacity for intelligence, and only social issues i.e. family status, education standards, etc prevent us all from achieving our potential. Having once worked in a British university I was amazed how dim many professional academics become when faced with a problem outside of their chosen subject. So many gray cells are filled by their specialism, few are left over for more practical matters.
    I find your statistics amazing. Presumably they relate to only the US populace? It could account for the incredible insularity of so many Americans. Books teach us more about other cultures than probably any other source. I also agree about our appalling literary institutions. Publishers and agents have little interest in anyone not already well established. Hence, I guess, the rapid growth of self-publishing companies.

  • At 10:29 AM, Blogger Peacechick Mary said…

    I wonder if Einstein pondered intelligence when he thought of relativity. Relative Intelligence. I think intelligence is actually measured in our ability to reason. It could be that our ability to reason is being eroded by culture of consumerism. Just thinking.

  • At 4:10 PM, Anonymous sister anan said…

    I missed mensa membership by one point, but my family regularly laughs at how stupid i am.

    Self-worth and career success, which is better? I think many people put them together, which may be setting themselves up for failure when circumstances beyond their control change.

    I've opted to keep them separate; to write for my personal sense of self-worth, and to accrue a bevy of entry-level skills to earn a responsible living for myself in the jobs that nobody else wants.

    Climb the corporate ladder? How can i succeed in a system i don't believe in?

    Become rich and famous?

  • At 4:27 PM, Anonymous michael greenwell said…

    been reading some asimov essays recently. they are fantastic.

  • At 5:29 PM, Blogger Flimsy Sanity said…

    RJ: I'm sure the statistics are US only. We are so chauvinistic, a reporter apologized for showing a Canadian tornado last week (but it was spectacular).

    PC Mary: Sounds reasonable.

    Sister Anan: It would be so nice for writers to be able to make a living from their work - not rich and famous, but safe and secure.

    Michael: Been reading your blog today, the entries are fantastic.

    I just read that it is good blog etiquette to reply to comments. Pretty low IQ I guess and I'm not even mechanically inclined - sigh.

  • At 2:17 AM, Anonymous michael greenwell said…

    thanks very much

  • At 9:04 AM, Blogger United We Lay said…

    I have issues with details and common sense, but on aptitude tests I score pretty high. although probably not if it were written by a mechanic. I think American intelligence has a lot less to do with IQ and a lot more to do with that whole not reading thing you mentioned. It's hard to pass a test when you don't actually read anything. I can't believe that more people don't value education.

  • At 12:17 PM, Blogger Flimsy Sanity said…

    United: Me too, sometimes I lack common sense too. My car wouldn't start in the Walmart (ok, I am ashamed I was there) parking lot a couple days ago and I called a towing company to give me a jump start. I could have walked into the store and bought a charger for less.

  • At 9:27 AM, Anonymous RJ Adams said…

    Ah, yes, Flimsy - but where would you have plugged it in?

  • At 9:38 AM, Blogger Flimsy Sanity said…

    In a current bush.


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