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Luis Javier Salvador

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Survival of the smartest: Brains over brawn, why? (moral question)

Hello, fellow TED users,

First of all, I would like you to look upon this exposition more as a philosophical moral exercise than anything else. As you can expect, this is not in any shape or form a claim in favor of physical abuse or any other kind of abuse, for that matter.

We live in a society where people who take advantage of other people by means of their superior natural strength are rightly considered bullies (except in sports, of course). On the other hand, people who do the same by means of their innate intelligence are considered winners in virtually every possible circumstance. For instance, in the ruthless business world (among many others). Is it right to use this innate advantage to make mincemeat of less intelligent competitors, crush their hopes and destroy their lives? Why is this behavior not even frowned upon?

Some could say that in order to success in life or in business in particular, it's also required to work very hard, that a high IQ is simply not enough. Yet, a similar effort is made by the muscular guy in the gym. Consequently, level of effort doesn't seem to be the key to understand the difference in perceived morality.

Some others could say that strong people can success in sports and smart people in business and therefore, they should stick to what they excel in. Very well, but then we find that in every single sport or physical job, it's morally acceptable to use our intelligence to our advantage (even in weight-lifting, where a wise workout planning is vital), while in white-collar professions, it's unacceptable to use our physical strength to defeat our competition. So, appropriate field of work is not likely to be the key either.

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  • Jan 24 2013: I think you are looking at the situation in too narrow a context.

    The moral judgment should be put in the context of fairness and appropriate conduct.

    In fields where physical strength is part of the job, such as the military, firefighters and emergency medical staff, it is acceptable and even required for people to use their physical strength to gain advantage. People with inadequate physical strength are rejected. Maintaining physical fitness is required for promotion.

    In white collar jobs, physical strength has almost nothing to do with the job. It would be inappropriate to use physical strength to gain advantage, just as it would be inappropriate to use bribery or sexual favors.

    The other side of this, that it seems universally acceptable to use intelligence to gain advantage, does seem curious. One aspect of this is that it would be nearly impossible to prohibit this. Another is that we are constantly trying to improve everything we do, and that requires intelligence.

    Competition is a good method of improving the human condition. This has been demonstrated and accepted, and is probably unavoidable in any case. This does result in the less competent sometimes being crushed. But success depends on characteristics other than intelligence. Hard work, determination, creativity, a positive response to early failures, social skills. Your question could be applied to any of these.

    Why? Because that is the nature of competition.
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      Jan 25 2013: I agree with you on the fact that It would be inappropriate to use physical strength to gain advantage in white-collar jobs, that would be kind of absurd. Although, it's interesting to note that one of the reasons why we find that absurd is because we have a moral code that tells us what is right or wrong.

      But the truth is intelligence can be used to one's advantage in both physical and intellectual activities, whereas strength is reduced to a limited number of activities. As a result, strong people don't get the same opportunities to succeed in life as smart people do, which is, from a strictly moral standpoint, unfair. That's why I said "survival of the smartest", which is not to say that we can change it.

      Success depends on characteristics other than intelligence. I agree, however, you can actually train "hard work", "determination", "social skills", etc...but cannot change your innate intelligence. In my view, intelligence ranks up there when it comes to success by itself. So, brains over almost everything, not only brawn.

      But as you correctly said, there's no way to prohibit the use of intelligence and it wouldn't make much sense. However, that was not quite my point, rather the socially accepted abuse of less intelligent beings, even if we can't change it.

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