Here is an interesting column by Martin Gardner on late chess great, and anti-Semitic and anti-American (America is run by Jews, dontcha know) nut case Bobby Fischer. It contains some facts I did not previously know -- as for instance that in his later years, after he went completely over the edge, he seldom changed his clothes or removed his baseball cap. I imagine downwind of him was a bad place to be.
Gardner's main thesis seems wrong to me, though. The explanation of the Fischer phenomenon, he suggests, is that he was very very intelligent about chess and very very unintelligent -- in fact a complete moron -- about everything else. He suffered from unevenly distributed intelligence.
The modern notion of "intelligence" denotes a certain value-free adroitness in manipulating symbols of certain sorts, such as words and numerals. It enables you to solve problems of certain a certain kind. If your problem is "how do I make this crackpot theory of mine seem plausible so I can continue believing it?" then this intelligence-thing is just what you need.
As I suggested when Fischer died, a failure of intelligence was probably not his problem. Rather, his problem was with something that people don't talk about much any more: wisdom. Wisdom means understanding the things that must be understood in order to live a good life and be a good person. A person who lacks wisdom is -- another nearly obsolete word -- a fool. Fischer was a straight up, confirmed, incurable fool.
Back in the days when people respected wisdom and abhorred folly, intelligence was called "cleverness" and was not worshiped as it is now. Cleverness, like wisdom, is good, but, unlike wisdom, it is also dangerous. It is what makes a successful thief and a fluent, plausible and captivating liar.
You don't need a lot of intelligence, just enough to balance your checkbook and do your job. What you cannot do without is wisdom. Without it you are a poor lost soul, wandering in life's dusky maze without a clue, indeed without a will or a way to find one. And that I think is what Fischer was. A damned fool.
I wish we could bring back the ideas of wisdom and folly. But that would mean a huge cultural change. It would mean placing value on things that we hardly even have words for any more, and letting go of things that we value too highly.
By the way, it just occurred to me, this probably means we're all fools now.