This isn’t really about intelligence

Listen to this post: 

A few years ago, when I still struggled with my eyes pointing in slightly different directions, with my brain scrambling what those eyes saw, with crashing into walls, laughing and crying at nothing, having obsessive thoughts and behaviors, and the list goes on, someone attempted to reassure me–or maybe themselves–by saying, “at least you still have your intelligence.” I bristled then, and I bristle now. What does that mean? If my IQ had dipped down from TBI, would you love me less, like me less, respect me less? So is that how you feel about people who test below average at any point in their lives? When the neuropsychologist gave me an IQ test, he teased me when I got answers wrong. I cried and told him his teasing was making me feel stupid. He just smiled sweetly at me and moved on.

The Supreme Court ruled in opening marriage to more people, but this post isn’t about marriage.

I’ve been seeing more posts online that trouble me. (Side note: “marriage equality” is a misnomer. There is still a massive financial penalty for disabled people who receive some types of Social Security benefits if they marry. While it’s not technically illegal to marry, our benefits system destroys many people’s hopes for marriage regardless of their gender or sexual orientation.)

The thing troubling me has nothing to do with love, marriage, or capitalism. It’s about the word “idiot,” the use of “stupid” and “moron” as ways that both sides insult each other for disagreeing on this topic.

Let me spell out my perspective here: when someone disagrees with you, that does not make them stupid. When someone states a belief you don’t like or don’t understand, that does not make them an idiot. When someone’s values come across as outlandish, that does not make them crazy. Sometimes we’ve thought something through carefully, and you still won’t agree with it. Sometimes we’re impulsive or follow along with beliefs passed down to us just because they were passed down, and you won’t agree with it. Neither of those strategies makes anyone stupid.

Opinions people hold around marriage are based on values, mores, ethics, religious teachings, culture, history, political protest, and things of that nature. So please, when you encounter someone you disagree with on this, or any other topic, please stop expressing your disagreement by insulting intelligence because it just reinforces this unreasonable bias that stupid people shouldn’t be allowed to be decision makers. Let’s play fair and argue fair.

For anyone who does like to insult people’s perceived intelligence to show you disagree with them, it might be a good time now to stop and examine why you feel that “stupid” people are less valuable than “smart” people. I’m not quite sure I see any human’s value on the planet can be measured by what we think is their intelligence. Although many people have heard about eliminating the R-word, the sentiments are still there. This is why PC language is more about cosmetics than political change. Does it matter if you stop using the R-word but you still think it’s OK to see people with intellectual disabilities as less valuable?

Jisun put it perfectly on the blog Kimchi Latkes when she critiqued the new Pixar film “Inside Out.” It’s not OK to make fun of someone because you believe they’re less intelligent than you. It’s not OK to use intelligence level as an insult no matter who you lob the insult at. Please stop being lazy. Say what you really think: “I don’t get why you believe that. I hate your opinion. I disagree with you. I don’t think you’ve thought this through. I think your opinion is immoral.” Aren’t those more useful ways to discuss politics? They’re certainly more accurate. And they don’t classify entire groups of people as useless simply to uplift the people who you happen to agree with on something.

Yes, I am asking people to change their language, but not simply to have a fresh coat of paint on your words. I’m asking you to seriously and earnestly ask yourselves and others why on earth it is so OK to throw people under the bus by calling people and ideas you don’t like “stupid.” It doesn’t count to say, “But I didn’t mean it like that!” Using these words in this way reinforces the history we have with institutionalizing, sterilizing, abusing, neglecting, and segregating people with intellectual disabilities. So let’s stop invoking that and move on to something more accurate. You don’t like something? Just say that. Just say you don’t like it. Then I will actually know what you think.