Up the Valley: IQ or DQ?

March 20, 2013

Is it smarter to be born stupid? Today’s column in the Star…

They say it takes all kinds to make a world. Specifically, there often seem to be two types of people in any given category. And I’ve long harbored the nagging feeling that, whichever category was best, I fell into the other one. Having just turned 55, I’ve decided it’s time to finally take stock.

For starters, there are bright, energetic morning people, and then there are groggy night-crawlers like me. An inveterate night owl, I frequently find myself spending “just five more minutes” well into the wee hours. Would I change this habit? Absolutely! I envy those who rise early each dawn to milk the chickens and who put in a full day’s work before breakfast, leaving the rest of the day free to accomplish even more. Plus, they get to smell the morning air, and watch fewer infomercials.

In another category, confident people are praised, while insecure self-doubters are referred to therapy. But isn’t a realistic knowledge of our own limitations a good thing? I’ve occasionally been over-confident, and wish someone would please remind me, for example, that I cannot — and will never be able to — use super glue without gluing my fingers together.

Of course everybody thinks thin is better than fat, although let’s talk when the nuclear winter arrives. Do I covet a metabolism that facilitates the consequence-free consumption of cheese? Of course! But I’m also less wrinkled than my skinnier friends, require fewer sweaters, and suffer less food-guilt, so let’s call this a wash. Similarly, I don’t agree that athletic is automatically better than bleacher-bound. Sure, athletes are healthier and trimmer, but we spectators suffer far fewer sprains, and have a lower incidence of skiing headlong into a tree.

Next: to be beautiful or not? I imagine that exceptional physical beauty would be a burden. The unwanted attention and do-they-love-me-for-my-looks questions, followed by years of anti-aging efforts, sound exhausting. So I’m happily sticking with so-so.

Homeowner or renter? There are arguments on both sides, but no one can seriously argue the wisdom of getting someone else to underwrite the roof over your head. And when it comes to welfare, I’ve always believed it better to avoid joining the moocher-class. But watching wily rich folks dodge taxes and sidestep underwater mansion mortgages while benefiting from taxpayer subsidies is enough to drive you onto the dole.

Career-wise, American mythology elevates the capitalist job-creator over the worker. Yet I’ve noticed that it’s my long-employed friends, with their health plans and paid vacations, who have now retired with pensions, enjoying life when so many entrepreneurs struggle.

And suddenly, we, members of stressful “elite” professions like law and medicine, often find ourselves less valued than those with practical skills, like plumbers, electricians or upholsterers. Becoming well-educated, or even well-trained, can be perceived as wasteful, with a premium placed instead on the practical knowledge of techno-gadgetry found among 20-somethings with scant work, or life, experience.

Which leads to the big question: is it better to be smart or dumb? In the past, I’ve been a high-achiever with OK IQ. But mightn’t I have been happier working at the DQ, clueless but cheerful, clumsily operating the soft-serve machine weekdays for 4.5 hours (with breaks) before rushing home to watch Honey Boo Boo? Certainly it is satisfying to write a snappy sentence. Discerning the Daily Show and the nightly news is great. But if I didn’t, would I even know what I was missing? And if we’re being honest, doesn’t it sometimes feel like certain professionally helpless people fare better — or at least with less drama — than their competent counterparts?

So to recap: in my next life, I’d like to be a reasonably attractive morning person with a speedy metabolism, below-average IQ, but still smart enough to (a) find a lifelong low-stress job with pension and benefits; and/or (b) land a smarter, solvent spouse who finds my air-headedness attractive. I would live cost-free in my mate’s house until it became necessary for me to move on to the next relationship — of which there would be an infinite supply, what with my needing rescue and all.

I would breeze through life letting other people handle all my problems — repairing my flat tires, replacing my toner cartridges and reprogramming my electronic devices. I would develop one serious marketable skill requiring only moderate effort; perhaps something I could learn at trade school or in a manual of advanced sexual techniques. I would never be called upon to pick up a check, hire an employee or pay interest to a bank. I would claim the maximum public benefits and pay the minimum possible taxes. In short, I’d be the smartest stupid person you ever met.

But would I be male or female? I’ll have to get back to you on that one.