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Smarter Towns, Dumber Towns - Impressions and Expressions of Ijon
May 6th, 2006
11:07 pm


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Smarter Towns, Dumber Towns
Philip Greenspun, briefly, on sorting by intelligence.

How true is this? How true is this in Israel?

(7 comments | Leave a comment)

[User Picture]
Date:May 6th, 2006 08:26 pm (UTC)
Where formerly intelligent people were more or less randomly distributed and "lay where they fell", our society is now sorting people by intelligence into smart and dumb towns and regions.

Why does he conclude intelligence is the collating key?
Date:May 7th, 2006 04:35 am (UTC)
I'd think about the question in terms of competition. Could we have a competitive process that causes people to self-sort into leagues? Perhaps some towns are the Big Leagues and some towns are the Minor Leagues.
[User Picture]
Date:May 7th, 2006 04:48 am (UTC)
I wouldn't. Reducing the score to one dimension is all too easy. (Presupposing there is such a thing as a score is all too easy.)
Date:May 7th, 2006 05:51 am (UTC)
I'm not sure what would constitute the one dimension, in-so-far as I think that intelligence isn't a scalar. (I also don't think that ability in sports that are divided into leagues is a scalar.)

Simple models are surely wrong, but good simple models are wrong in the sense that most good first approximations are wrong.
[User Picture]
Date:May 6th, 2006 08:30 pm (UTC)

I see a lot of cultural sorting in the US (enough for it to really bother me -- and our country's big enough that people can really spread out, and you can easily avoid meeting anyone who advertises a view other than yours!). And I think a lot of people are under the impression that this cultural sorting is similar to intellectual sorting -- hicks are dumb, people who go to art shows (or drink Chardonnay or...let's be honest here about people's stereotypes...vote according to one's preferred party) are smart.

But I'm not really convinced that that's the case. I guess you do have some places (like, oh, Cambridge or SF) where there really is an intellectual sorting going on, simply because a lot of people are drawn to those places by intelligence-linked criteria (not everyone gets into Harvard, Stanford, etc.), and, finding it congenial, decide to stay. But outside of towns with dominant intellectual industries (colleges, research) I don't know how much that's the case; intelligent people have a wide variety of cultural tastes. (And even with college towns...I'm from a college town, and I certainly enjoyed it, but I don't think we were any smarter than average; it wasn't a particularly selective college and, much as it dominated the local economy, there were plenty of people unconnected with it, and graduates didn't necessarily stay.)

But there are certainly many people in the US who are heavily invested in believing that geographic intellectual sorting is going on according to their party lines. (In Massachusetts, you get a lot of "all those ignorant red-staters may have put Bush in office, but at least we're smarter than they are and can look down on them for it". I'm sure there's a corresponding phenomenon in other states, but I don't live there, so I can't say.)
[User Picture]
Date:May 7th, 2006 03:39 am (UTC)

How about the opposite phenomenon? Take Kfar Yona for instance. The town used to have a reputation of a place inhabited by loafers and petty criminals. Now that the middle class folks are trying to settle away from the noisy metropolises, we're experiencing an influx of engineers, army officers, and other well-to-do people. Are they smarter than the "natives"? I'm almost certain they are, speaking in Greenspun's terms.
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