Bad boys and bad girls are boring

OLIVIA NEWTON-JOHN and John Travolta in the 1978 film Grease.

It was Fr. Chad Ripperger, the renowned exorcist, that made this chance remark during a podcast: “The devil is actually boring.” He is not prone to creativity. There are set patterns to what the devil does. Which is pretty much summed up in Hannah Arendt’s point about evil being banal.

Media, popular culture, even the academe, tends to highlight evil, making it more interesting than it really is. And while definitely not in the same league, the same can be said of so-called bad boys and bad girls — they’re just boring. After the thrill of novelty wears off, one gets tired quickly of their triviality, their shallowness, their banality. No surprise then that it’s immature adolescents (and mediocre adults) that fall for the bad boy or girl. When grown up, they discard the bad as disgustedly as throwing away a used napkin.

Most of the time, the “bad” are just insubstantial and weak: “The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil,” says Arendt. And she’s right.

In the realm of crime, for example, the negative correlation between intelligence and criminal propensity is well known, with the average IQ range for criminals pegged at around 80-90, which is “low average” and pretty much just a little above “moron” (in the old classification).

In the book The g Factor: The Science of Mental Ability (1998), psychologist Arthur Jensen found that learning disability, as well as slow reading development, are possible determinants to criminal propensity. In the book Handbook of Crime Correlates (Lee Ellis, et. al., 2009), certain personality traits were further attributable to criminals: low self-control, low empathy, low altruism, impulsivity, childhood aggression, thrill seeking, and psychoticism.

Speaking of low self-control, promiscuity has also been tagged as related to low intelligence (as well as low self-esteem): “‘Intelligence is negatively associated with sex frequency,’ says Rosemary Hopcroft, a sociologist at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.”1 Conversely, “people with higher education levels generally have lower numbers of sexual partners. The latest National Survey of Family Growth shows that, for example, men with college degrees are half as likely to have had four or more partners in the last year as men with a high school education alone.”2

This is particularly interesting when one focuses on the teenage demographic: “Carolyn Halpern, a professor at the UNC School of Public Health, found a high concentration of teen virgins at the top of the intelligence scale. She thinks the smartest kids might hold off on sex because they’re thinking through its potential consequences.”3 And indeed, there’s a consistent body of research that “suggests intelligence is inversely associated with age at first sex.”4

Even with regard to lying, a negative correlation with intelligence can be discerned: those with lower intelligence are more prone to selfish lying. Thus, it was found that “individuals with higher intelligence (or cognitive ability) behave more honestly than those with a lower cognitive ability when lying benefits themselves.”5 Indeed, another study (“Clever enough to tell the truth,” Bradley J. Ruffle and Yossef Tobol, 2017) concludes that people with high intelligence were generally more honest. On the relatively rare instance that intelligent people were seen lying, such was considerably of a more modest level.

So, what’s the connection of bad behavior to low intelligence? Because aside from the lack of creativity, seemingly the by-product of lesser smarts, Hannah Arendt points out that the “inability to think created the possibility for many ordinary men to commit evil deeds on a gigantic scale, the like of which had never been seen before. The manifestation of the wind of thought is not knowledge but the ability to tell right from wrong, beautiful from ugly. And [she hoped] that thinking gives people the strength to prevent catastrophes in these rare moments when the chips are down.”

Which leads to an unexpected trait of people with good character and values: A study “examined whether moral character influences perceptions of attractiveness for different ages and sexes of faces. Compared to faces paired with nonmoral vignettes, those paired with prosocial vignettes were rated significantly more attractive, confident, and friendlier. The opposite pattern characterized faces paired with antisocial vignettes. A significant interaction between vignette type and the age of the face was detected for attractiveness. Moral transgressions affected attractiveness more negatively for younger than older faces. Sex-related differences were not detected. These results suggest information about moral character affects our judgments about facial attractiveness. Better (worse) people are considered more (less) attractive.”6

In other words, rather than the beautiful being seen as good, it is the good that is found beautiful.

1 “Sex: Intelligent Intercourse — Why smarties have less sex,” by Lauren F. Friedman, Psychology Today, July 3, 2011

2 Ibid

3 Ibid

4 “Why Don’t Smart Teens Have Sex? A Behavioral Genetic Approach,” K. Paige Harden and Jane Mendle, 2011

5 “Understanding the Link between Intelligence and Lying,” Michalis Drouvelis and Graeme Pearce, 2021

6 “What is good is beautiful (and what isn’t, isn’t): How moral character affects perceived facial attractiveness,” Workman, et al., 2022

Jemy Gatdula is a senior fellow of the Philippine Council for Foreign Relations and a Philippine Judicial Academy law lecturer for constitutional philosophy and jurisprudence

Twitter @jemygatdula

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