Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
The Smart Culture

The Smart Culture: Society, Intelligence, and Law

Robert L. Hayman
Copyright Date: 1998
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 414
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The Smart Culture
    Book Description:

    What exactly is intelligence? Is it social achievement? Professional success? Is it common sense? Or the number on an IQ test? Interweaving engaging narratives with dramatic case studies, Robert L. Hayman, Jr., has written a history of intelligence that will forever change the way we think about who is smart and who is not. To give weight to his assertion that intelligence is not simply an inherent characteristic but rather one which reflects the interests and predispositions of those doing the measuring, Hayman traces numerous campaigns to classify human intelligence. His tour takes us through the early craniometric movement, eugenics, the development of the IQ, Spearman's "general" intelligence, and more recent works claiming a genetic basis for intelligence differences. What Hayman uncovers is the maddening irony of intelligence: that "scientific" efforts to reduce intelligence to a single, ordinal quantity have persisted--and at times captured our cultural imagination--not because of their scientific legitimacy, but because of their longstanding political appeal. The belief in a natural intellectual order was pervasive in "scientific" and "political" thought both at the founding of the Republic and throughout its nineteenth-century Reconstruction. And while we are today formally committed to the notion of equality under the law, our culture retains its central belief in the natural inequality of its members. Consequently, Hayman argues, the promise of a genuine equality can be realized only when the mythology of "intelligence" is debunked--only, that is, when we recognize the decisive role of culture in defining intelligence and creating intelligence differences. Only culture can give meaning to the statement that one person-- or one group--is smarter than another. And only culture can provide our motivation for saying it. With a keen wit and a sharp eye, Hayman highlights the inescapable contradictions that arise in a society committed both to liberty and to equality and traces how the resulting tensions manifest themselves in the ways we conceive of identity, community, and merit.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-4478-9
    Subjects: Law

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-x)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. xi-xii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  4. 1 Introduction: Smart People
    (pp. 1-26)

    I’m not sure when I found out that some kids had high IQs. When I did find out, I’m not sure I much cared. When we were kids, we had our own ideas about “smart,” and they had very little to do with IQs. The third-grade boys, for example, had developed their own distinct intellectual hierarchy: it consisted in small part of baseball trivia, in small part of the aptitude for petty crime, and in very substantial part of the skills—cognitive and otherwise—needed for insulting our peers (and, of course, their families). The girls, meanwhile, probably had their...

  5. 2 The First Object of Government: Creation Myths
    (pp. 27-98)

    It is the central contradiction of American life: the absurd divorce between egalitarian ideals and the reality of relentless inequality. It has been with us from the outset, and revolution, civil war, and two national efforts at reconstruction have succeeded more in re-stating the contradiction than in resolving it. We began by declaring all men equal, and a century later guaranteed all persons the equal protection of the law, and after yet another century ensured the civil rights of all Americans—and still our social, economic, and political life is dominated by inequity. There are no castes in America, and...

  6. 3 In the Nature of Things: Myths of Race and Racism
    (pp. 99-166)

    The natural order presupposes natural differences, as well as natural processes for differentiating. Accordingly, it embraces two sets of myths: first, that identity—race, gender, or disability—is biological (and thus inherent, immutable, and essential); and second, that discrimination—racism or other forms of prejudice—is innate (and thus instinctive, inevitable, and rooted in the individual). Together, they suggest that social hierarchies are biologically determined: hence, a natural order.

    But these are merely myths. The salient aspects of group identity are products not of nature, but of politics: identity, that is to say, is politically constructed. ʺRace,ʺ for example, has...

  7. 4 A Neutral Qualification: Myths of the Market
    (pp. 167-214)

    Two explanations are typically offered for the extraordinary divorce between the ideal of equality and the reality of widespread inequity. The first, the ʺofficialʺ explanation, is that inequality is rooted in the disruption of market forces caused by malicious acts of discrimination; the second, the ʺunofficialʺ explanation, is that inequality is rooted in the natural inferiority or superiority of individuals or groups. The two explanations are really more complementary than they are alternative: both suppose that people, as individuals or as groups, are either more or less deserving of some reward based on their ʺmerits,ʺ and both contend that inequity—...

  8. 5 Creating the Smart Culture: Myths of Inferiority
    (pp. 215-252)

    The official explanation for Americaʹs inequality is supplemented by an unofficial understanding: the elimination of all purposeful discrimination will not result in social, economic, and political equality. The reason: the natural inferiority of some groups and individuals. Americaʹs hierarchies reflect an enduring natural meritocracy: some people just are, by nature, better than others.

    This chapter begins the examination of Americaʹs unofficial understanding, the mythology of the natural order. It reviews the history of this mythology: the history of racial and gender inferiority, the construction of mental deficiency, and the invention of IQ. It notes that while the myth of a...

  9. 6 The Smart Culture: Myths of Intelligence
    (pp. 253-306)

    The natural order is a product partly of science fiction and partly of political malevolence, yet it remains a cultural truth for many Americans. This chapter seeks to offer an account of its extraordinary resiliency. It examines the contemporary attempt to place the concept of merit—of ʺsuperiorʺ and ʺinferiorʺ—somehow beyond culture, rooted instead in a genuinely universal phenomenon called ʺintelligence.ʺ It examines as well the attempt to cloak that phenomenon in the garb of scientific neutrality: to fix intelligence in biology, to measure it with standardized tests, and to define it as a single quantifiable entity, IQ.


  10. 7 The Constitution Is Powerless: Myths of Equality under Law
    (pp. 307-370)

    The ʺnatural orderʺ survives because of, rather than in spite of, American law. The law sanctifies the order in theory and secures it as a social fact. Neither the first nor the second Reconstructions has substantially altered this course: indeed, the arguments against both Reconstructions have seemed, in the end, to carry the day. Thus law continues to protect the advantages of some Americans while obscuring the disadvantages of others, all through a carefully crafted set of legal fictions that subvert the constitutional promise of ʺequality.ʺ That promise thus becomes, perversely, a guarantee of privilege for some; and it becomes,...

  11. An Epilogue: The Next Reconstruction
    (pp. 371-374)

    There may be a story within the story here, and it will be the last story of this book. The law is blind, willfully or not, to the steady replication of advantages and biases because, perhaps, it too embraces them, and it is quite oblivious to its own self-perpetuating patterns of disadvantage and exclusion. Law is made by lawyers, and, importantly, lawyers are made by law. Thereʹs not a lot of room here for new perspectives.

    Consider that law students are admitted into law school based on their aptitude for the study of law, an aptitude measured in substantial part...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 375-390)
  13. Index
    (pp. 391-398)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 399-399)