A quiz from the NZ Initiative got people talking this morning, mostly because it showed we were a nation of dumb-dumbs. Alex Braae, a person of limited intelligence and vast general knowledge, took the test.
People who know me often conclude that there’s one area in which I really shine – I know a lot of things about stuff.
I could tell you that Columbus sailed to the Americas on the Santa Maria, or that the longest river in the world is widely considered to be the Nile. I know that Bobby Charlton played football for England last time they won the World Cup, and that the capital of Kenya is Nairobi.
It’s relatively useful for pub quizzes. It’s amazing for when The Chase comes on the telly. And it’s pretty handy for my job, which involves reading about four or five hours of news every day. Knowing facts can be fun and cool, and possibly even comes across as vaguely impressive.
So when a general knowledge survey put out by the NZ Initiative began circling this morning, I was very excited. The NZ Herald reported on just how many people got a lot of quite basic questions wrong. In Auckland, we don’t get the Dominion Post’s five minute quiz, and The Spinoff office has no culture of doing it together online. Finally, this was a chance to show my colleagues, and possibly even the world, that I am S M A R T.
There were 13 questions. I got 12 correct.
So what was the other one? Well, it proved my lack of intelligence in a few ways all at once. First of all, I didn’t answer it because I misread the very basic instructions for the test, and actually just skipped it altogether. And secondly, I wouldn’t have actually known the answer anyway.
The question was: Why was the Native Land Court established in New Zealand? a) to return land to Māori b) to make it easier for Pākehā to purchase land or c) not sure?
Having massive stores of general knowledge rattling around the brain pan can also have downsides. After hearing a fact, there are a whole lot of questions people tend to have as follow-ups. Mostly those questions start with – why? And here, all of us are routinely all at sea.
Now, I could make an assumption about the establishment of the Native Land Court. It seems relatively safe to assume – by the use of the word ‘Native’ for starters – that it was established some time in the distant past. And I know that there were various legalistic methods employed by settlers to dispossess Māori of their land, so it stands to reason that this would be among them. But really the only honest answer I could have given would be c) not sure.
That’s a problem, because it’s a piece of information that explains a hell of a lot about why New Zealand right now is the way that it is. Similarly with another question in the test, about the year the Treaty of Waitangi was first signed. The answer – as you’ll all no doubt know – is 1840. But why then? What was going on at that specific moment in history to make signing a treaty make sense to both the Crown and the iwi who chose to? And how have the specific conditions of that time affected the subsequent relationship between iwi groups and the Crown?
Again, I’ve got no idea. I’ve got vague notions that it had something to do with trade, and iwi wanting the Crown to rein in the more unruly settlers encroaching on their rohe. But for the love of god please don’t quote me on that, because I’ve got no idea if it’s true or not.
(To be fair, the original survey was conducted by phone).
The bad thing about building up a reputation as a Person Who Knows Things About Stuff is that giving people answers to questions is kind of addictive. Everyone will know someone who gets like this – the person who feels the need to Well Actually their way into other people’s conversations, uses their one mouth far more than their two ears, and frankly starts to become quite annoying to be around.
And with the addictive nature of telling people things, it can start to feel like a personal letdown to not actually be able to give an answer. It’s incredibly easy to fall into the trap of speculating, and making ‘educated’ guesses, and then leaps of logic, and then just straight up getting things wrong, but with an air of authority built up from years of not often being wrong. We all know people like this too, and unfortunately that air of authority often means they end up in positions of power and influence way above their actual capability. You only need to look at the current state of the world to see how much smart people have screwed it all up.
I don’t want to end up like that. I’d much rather be the sort of person who answers c) not sure, every single time I should. I don’t want to have my ego tied up in being able to recall any old fact at a moment’s notice. I’d probably rather not even be thought of as particularly smart. But just maybe, many years or even decades in the distant future, I might like to be thought of as wise.
Still though, it could be worse. My colleague took the test and got 10/13. Moron.