Last night, my wife and I rewatched part of the Tina Fey/Amy Poehler vehicle “Baby Mama,” and I was again struck at what a natural the actor Dax Shepard is at playing dummies.
He just looks the part. Which, I assume, is why he also played a large part in the film “Idiocracy.” I think he walks in and they say, “You’re perfect.” I’m not saying he’s not a talented man. Maybe he has to work at it. And maybe he’s played some genius characters, and I’ve just missed it.
But when he shows up as the shiftless, clueless common-law husband of the would-be surrogate mother played by Ms. Poehler, I look at him and totally believe he is this guy.
Some people just look like that.
And yeah, I feel bad saying it — that some people look smart and some look dumb. I shouldn’t notice things like that. Unfortunately, I keep doing it. Maybe that’s OK if I don’t make additional assumptions about the person. And let me point out that I haven’t said people who have lower intelligence are bad people. They aren’t, any more than smart people. Or even that people who look dumb are dumb.
But that’s not what this post is about.
Recently, attorney and former Republican legislator Hunter Limbaugh — a smart guy, who holds the distinction of being the only person ever to have cross-examined me in court — posted something interesting on Facebook. That’s something he frequently does, unlike most people on Facebook.
I hope he won’t drag me into court again for this, but here is the entire text of his post:
IQ tests were administered to the defendants at Nuremberg. These are the results:
1 Hjalmar Schacht 143
2 Arthur Seyss-Inquart 141
3 Hermann Goering 138
4 Karl Doenitz 138
5 Franz von Papen 134
6 Eric Raeder 134
7 Dr. Hans Frank 130
8 Hans Fritsche 130
9 Baldur von Schirach 130
10 Joachim von Ribbentrop 129
11 Wilhelm Keitel 129
12 Albert Speer 128
13 Alfred Jodl 127
14 Alfred Rosenberg 127
15 Constantin von Neurath 125
16 Walther Funk 124
17 Wilhelm Frick 124
18 Rudolf Hess 120
19 Fritz Sauckel 118
20 Ernst Kaltenbrunner 113
21 Julius Streicher 106
Nearly all were at least “superior” and several were ”very superior.” I’m not sure what this tells us other than that the combination of exceptional intelligence and evil is a particularly dangerous admixture.
Of course, I was surprised to see the high scores for the entire class. But I was really surprised to see Goering come in at 138.
Hermann Goering, a near-genius?
That’s pretty surprising, because I always had him down as dumb. And I’m afraid it was because he looked that way.
Not that I saw him as comical. If you cast him in a movie on the basis of looks, the flick would have a distinctly different tone from “Baby Mama.” It would have been more like a cross between “Downfall” and, I don’t know, “Nosferatu.”
More scary-as-hell-dumb than funny-dumb.
Admittedly, I’ve never really studied Goering. Never read much about him. Never wanted to. But when I did see him in photos or film clips, he always looked like the dumbest of the monsters in the room — compared to the Fuhrer himself, and Goebbels and the others. He seemed like a pretty good example of the kind of brutish thug who rose up through the slimy ranks of the Nazi Party — a sample of the street-fighters from those battles with Marxists and other groups back in the ’20s. Only this one had managed to get more lucky breaks than the rest of them.
Again, I’m mainly going by looks. And maybe that just shows you how dumb I am. Maybe you could even tell by looking at me.
All of which is beside the point. Stupid or smart wasn’t the issue, was it? There seems little question that he was thoroughly evil.
And there’s that question again. You look at the Trumpists, and you wonder — or I wonder — is it evil, or stupidity? How many times have I asked that since 2016?
And of course, it’s both. With the Nazis, it was mostly evil. These data points that Hunter shared seem to confirm that, and of course, we didn’t really need to be told that they were evil.
I don’t quite believe the “they were smart” part, and the first thing I did when I read it was to go checking around to confirm those numbers. I’m not satisfied. It doesn’t reassure me when I find the same numbers in a Quora or Reddit discussion. I couldn’t find it in any legitimate news source, and Wikipedia (which has its flaws, but can be helpful) had only passing references.
I’ve always valued intelligence — probably overvalued it, having grown up not being great at sports, but being good at tests in school. We should all learn to be leery of things that affirm our own sense of self-worth, but we also have trouble learning that, so reading that these monsters were smart was a bit of a blow. I didn’t want to know that.
But it doesn’t matter. Whether IQ tests have any value at all, or whether Gustave Gilbert administered the test properly, is beside the point. Or at least beside this point:
I’ve always valued intelligence in political candidates. Not as a litmus test that decides the issue, but as a valuable thing. As a voter, I would have rejected Trump on the basis of his obvious intellectual shortcomings. But this thing that Hunter raised reminds me that mental acuity isn’t the whole game.
When it comes to choosing leaders, with all due respect to Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s point, character is what matters in the end.