A Wealth of Murderous Stupidity

I read about an interesting study the other day. It said it that intelligence was not linked to wealth. My response was monosyllabic.


According to a recent Ohio State University study published in the journal Intelligence, there is no connection between brain and earning power. You’d think this revelation would have been self-evident. Making money usually requires work. But a large accumulation of monetary or material wealth requires stinginess, greed and a sense of entitlement more than hard work or intellectual prowess.

One’s propensity for stinginess and greed has to be rooted deeply enough to override his or her more noble impulses, and one’s sense of entitlement has to be so pronounced that it squelches rationality and stunts conscience. Once the wings of our better angels have been clipped, we are free to covet, grub after and hoard the spoils of Capitalism in relative peace.

It’s not very ethical and it’s arguably not very smart, but it’s the only game around these days, right?


There are primitive tribes living in the Amazon basin that would probably fill you full of poison-tipped blow-darts if you told them the world was round, but they’re smart enough not to base success in their societies on having more than their share, using more than they need or screwing over the folks in the wigwam next door to get ahead. They haven’t been introduced to the American Way and, obviously, this makes them at least a little better and smarter than us. Especially since they live in harmony with their habitat and we’re destroying ours (and theirs).

They don’t have a written language. They don’t know algebra. They don’t live in high-rises, posh lofts or quarter-acre chunks of suburban heaven. They don’t have air conditioning, hot showers or alarm clocks. And they don’t have bank accounts or private property. But they know how to survive in the natural world and they have sense enough to care whether or not how they’re living impacts their home.

For years we’ve done our industrialized best to root them out, perhaps because they are the antithesis of what we’ve become. We are consumers; they are conservers. We are wasting, poisoning or destroying every natural resource we utilize. They live in harmony with their habitat.

With various forms of environmental peril impending with each step of Western progress, perhaps it’s time we looked to them for wisdom.

We’re not smarter than them. We’ve just been exposed to more ideas. We mistake almost universal technological dependence for progress, rote sophistication for complexity and reading the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal at Starbucks (while sipping on a Frappuchino) for intellectual development.

We consider these primitives brutish, savage and ignorant. But they’re not killing each other over fossil fuels, rotting away from dozens of stress-related ailments or searching everywhere except inward for truth, God and the meaning of life.

And speaking of God, I have it on good information that Jesus Christ was a pretty sharp primitive himself. In fact, one of the only things Christians get right these days — at least in their portrayal of Christ — is his material modesty. He’d give away anything he had. He’d share his last morsel of sustenance rather than hide it from others or hoard it for himself.

True Christianity is the antithesis of Capitalism. Capitalism is based on using one’s energy, talent or cunning to acquire wealth. This was beneath Christ. It’d be nice if it were beneath us. Or at least not held up as what determines our worth.

Saying that the acquisition of wealth requires intelligence is like saying that murder requires courage. If we can’t find a kinder, gentler system of commerce or economic relations — a system that doesn’t reward insatiable greed, perpetually inflated profit margins, ruthless self-interest and reckless over-consumption — then we are murderers and cowardly ones at that. Of primitives, of this planet and of our own natural integrity.

Native Texan E.R. Bills is the author of Texas Obscurities: Stories of the Peculiar, Exceptional and Nefarious and Texas Oblivion: Mysterious Disappearances, Escapes and Cover-Ups. Read other articles by E.R..

6 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Harold Williamson said on May 15th, 2007 at 6:51am #

    Excellent article, Mr. Bills. We humans just aren’t as smart and sophisticated as we would like to think we are. Most of our revered business institutions are nothing more than a reflection of our unwillingness to share stolen bananas with our fellow apes. The same is true with the medico-industrial complex here in the U.S. where some of our brightest minds are committed to the seemingly never-ending task of trying to outwit microorganisms that are eating us alive that do not have brains.

  2. jim slaybaugh said on May 15th, 2007 at 8:44am #

    Exceptional opinion – Articulate & Incisive – should be required reading in all schools.

  3. td said on May 15th, 2007 at 11:44am #

    Nice job e.
    Capitalism can lead to tremendous material wealth if you fully participate. And to fully participate, one must be greedy. I’m sure that even the Amazon basin tribes have to deal with some form of greed in their society. It’s a basic human survival instinct. Just like anything else, it can become destructive when used in excess or towards the wrong ends. Any study trying to link intelligence to wealth is ludicrous. Intelligence is not so tangible. It has more to do with heredity, encouragement, and a desire to become more intelligent, not more wealthy. Not all of us are intelligent whether American or Amazonian.All, however, are greedy. Some are greedy for wealth and power, some for knowledge, some for both. Some want everyone else to help save the earth, stop the war, and stop being so wealthy. Isn’t that greed in itself?
    There’s nothing wrong with being American…there’s nothing wrong with being Amazonian. The problem with so many published articles and studies, unlike e.’s, is that they are written and conducted solely for the purpose of attaining a higher educational rank so as to earn more income than those that are really working but have a lesser greed for monetary gain. Whose to say an Amazonian wouldn’t have done the same thing if they had a written language? As e. has pointed out so well, a study to prove the obvious does not make you more intelligent, but it can make you wealthier. And, by the way, the two are not related.

  4. Kim Petersen said on May 15th, 2007 at 3:03pm #

    Karl Polanyi, the brilliant Hungarian thinker, wrote The Great Transformation that quite solidly refutes the notion that greed is an intrinsic quality of humans that must manifest itself. He based this on studies of non-industrialized, non-capitalistic societies. This points to there being something in capitalism that exacerbates any human predilection toward greed.

  5. Tom said on May 25th, 2007 at 12:43pm #

    Let us all know when you’ve worked out the details of your socialist utopia.

    Humans act in their own self interest. Sometimes that entails being a greedy bastard. Sorry about that.

  6. Kim Petersen said on May 25th, 2007 at 4:16pm #

    Sorry Tom. But a mere assertion from you in comparison to a careful cross-cultural study of human self-interest throughout history, well the choice seems rather obvious.
    Some choose to be “a greedy bastard,” but others like Michael Albert (author of Parecon: Life After Capitalism) and Eric Patton, on this site, have delineated an economic model not based on greed.