Tuesday, March 14, 2017

More "Intelligence" is not always better


It is an unexamined article of faith among intellectuals that more "intelligence" (i.e., being smarter) is always better.  That is balderdash.  There are situations where the ability to follow directions, a high  tolerance for pain and peasant cunning are infinitely preferable to "intelligence".

It seems like a simple proposition:  How can it not be better to be bigger, faster, stronger and smarter than everybody else?

I want to point out some circumstances where that is not true.

Consider professional sports.  When is it not advantageous to be 6'-8" tall, run a 9 second 100 yard dash, have a 31 inch vertical jump and weigh 320 pounds?  How about being a jockey, limbo dancing, marathon running or being a Masters swimmer?

Another time it is not to your advantage to be "big" is during famines.  An 87 pound girl will survive on 1300 Calories a day far longer than Mighty Mammoth.

What does that have to do with "intelligence"?
One marker of "intelligence" is a sense of playfulness.  An eagerness to try new things and do things in different ways.

That playfulness becomes a problem in a resource starved environment where there is no margin for mistakes.

Consider a family of artisans in Kerala building dhows.  Your family has building these boats in the same general pattern, +/- 5% for the last two thousand years.  Boats that don't sink are valued like Warren Buffett's advice.  Boats that sink or handle poorly, leak or cannot carry much cargo, UNLUCKY ships, are shunned like Eaglevale Partners Fund.

Families that experiment too much will lose their livelihood.  Families that stick closely to the known, proven pattern will prosper.

Must be something in the water
Our society sets such a great store on intelligence and innovation that it is hard to get people (and businesses) to learn the basics before they start burning through resources "innovating".

Example one
Folks who are considering raising livestock should start with chickens.  Or if they are a grazing enterprise, they should cut their teeth raising crossbred, "Angus-like" beef.  They should probably start with medium sized Angus-like mama cows and a large muscled, terminal beef sire (I like Simmental but there are a dozen good choices).  Raise them to 1300 pounds on-the-hoof and then sell them.

If you cannot break even raising Angus-cross beef then you will lose your butt trying to raise anything more exotic.  Emus, Texas Longhorns, or 90% of the breeds on this list:
Africander  Akaushi  alberes  alentejana
allmogekor  american  americanwhitepark  amerifax
amritmahal  anatolianblack  andalusianblack  andalusiangrey
angeln  angus  ankole  ankolewatusi
Argentine Criollo Cattle  asturianmountain  asturianvalley  aubrac
aulieata  australianbraford  australianfriesiansahiwal  Australian Lowline
australianmilkingzebu  ayrshire  azaouak  bachaur
baladi  baltataromaneasca  barka  barzona
bazadais  bearnais  beefalo  beefmaker
beefmaster  belarusred  belgianblue  belgianred
belmontadaptaur  belmontred  Belted Galloway  bengali
berrendas  bhagnari  blancacacerena  blancoorejinegro
blondedaquitaine  bonsmara  Boran  bordelais
braford  brahman  brahmousin  brangus
braunvieh  britishwhite  brownswiss  busa
cachena  canadienne  canaryisland  canchim
carinthianblond  caucasian  channi  charbray
charolais  chianina  chinampo  chineseblackandwhite
cholistani  corriente  Costeño Con Cuernos  dajal
damascus  damietta  dangi  danishjersey
danishred  deoni  devon  dexter
dhanni  Djali  dolafe  droughtmaster
dulong  Dutch Belted  dutchfriesian...
And those are just the breeds that start with A, B, C and D.  Raising the majority of these breeds (and the ones E-through-Z) is programmed, economic suicide.  The breeder pays super-premium prices for seed-stock.  The animals die if you look at them cross-eyed due to inbreeding depression (narrow genetic base) and then you get docked at auction because the animals either look funny or you cannot get them to 1300 pounds with a suitable conformation of muscle and fat.

Example Two
Almost the same as Example one.  Somebody wants to start an orchard.  They skip over the various planning tools (spreadsheets) that are freely available through the agriculture universities.  They buy five or ten acres and then think they are going to be able to extract a middle class income from it.
This is the entire market for Heirloom apples.  And they all live in a large, university town ninety miles from your orchard.  They can rhapsodize about the virtues of Tydeman's Late Orange, Ashmead's Kernel and Count Althan's Gage for hours.  All based on old catalogs they unearthed in the University Library basement.  Between the three of them they will eat 25 pounds of apples in a year.
Their reasoning is, "I am not going to raise commodities like apples.  I am going to raise Pawpaws! (or peaches, or plums, or sweet cherries or black currents, or Heirloom apples....).  That is where the money is!" 

The eager fruit grower has a boat load of "problems" he has to puzzle his way through:  Finding good nursery stock.  Finding varieties that will do well in his climate.  Fertilizing.  Irrigation. Weed control.  Supporting the trees.  Pest control.  And here is the 400 pound gorilla: MARKETING his fruit.  Not only must he solve these problems but he must solve them simultaneously.

Until he has solid markets for his products he is pouring money into a firehose and has absolutely no return to support his ever-growing debt.  While juggling all of his sub-enterprises, he needs to continuously walk up-and-down the length of that hose looking for leaks.  The more exotic the enterprise, the more innovative and exotic the money leaks he will have to diagnose and fix.  At least with apples the parameters are well known and the fruit sells itself;  if not as table fruit then as processed fruit (apple pies or apple sauce) or cider.

My advice to the novice fruit grower is to buy enough property to amortize the equipment you will need.  Look for ancillary businesses that can absorb less-than-perfect fruit.  If you must scratch your "exotic" itch, then be fully aware that you are subsidizing a vice and not pioneering a business.  Allocate a small percentage of your acreage to the exotics.  Exotics are trips to the casino, not dollar-cost-average investments in your 401-k.

Know your market and plant accordingly.  Fore example, one local orchard hosts elementary school field trips.  The kids show up in September and October while the weather is pleasant.  They have an area set aside where they grow "kid" apples.

What is a "kid" apple?
  • A "kid" apple is brightly colored.
  • A "kid" apple is not too hard.
  • A "kid" apple is more toward the sweet end of the taste spectrum
  • A "kid" apple has tender skin
  • A "kid" apple tends to be smaller than 200 grams (88 apples per 40 pound box)
Examples of "kid" apples include Empire, Crimson Crisp, Golden Delicious and some strains of Gala.

The schools pay the orchard a fee based on the number of students.  One of the things the students get to do is go out into the orchard and pick some fruit to take back to their family.

Somehow, I cannot see 52 kids quietly riding the bus back home carrying small bags of pawpaws or durian to give to their mom and grandma.

Resources
In the end, it comes down to resources.  Resource starved environments cannot support as much "playful innovation".

Maybe folks buckle down due to their innate, stoic nature (good luck with that).  Perhaps folks blunt their give-a-damn by smoking fine botanicals or ingesting home-brew.  Or maybe nature selects for less "intelligence" when resources get skinny.

Regardless, it must be recognized that assuming "intelligence" is always desirable is a form of cultural imperialism and is IQ-centric.  There are environments where the ability to follow directions, a high tolerance for pain and peasant cunning will whip "innovation and intelligence" every day of the week.

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