In Defense of Smart People

It may be fashionable in certain circles to hate on smart people, who are perhaps perceived as being too enamored or ensconced in their thoughts and machinations to care about society and the world around them, perhaps appearing aloof, conceited, or disconnected. Maybe the economy is to blame, too, in bestowing too much prosperity upon INTP people and not enough for everyone else. The S&P 500 is up 200% since 2009, and a lot of people are asking, ‘Where’s my piece of the pie?’

From Bruce Charlton: Why are so many clever and creative people so fundamentally wrong?

So many of the cleverest and most creative people nowadays are wrong about the most fundamental things that it is tempting (and I have in the past responded to that temptation) to try and explain why the intellectual elites are so very wrong about almost everything.

However, I think the trade-off is worth it, and perhaps being wrong on occasion is small price to pay for creating the technologies that advance civilization…

As I wrote in an earlier essay, Reactionary Realism:

One could argue, of course, that not all high-IQ people are productive, useful members of society, and this is true, but, by in large, the there is a positive correlation between creative output and IQ. In other words, IQ is more than just a number, as much as many wish it were.

You get rid of all the high-IQ people and society will regress. Not just technologically, but also structurally, too. You get rid of the smart people and then you have a situation where the lunatics are running the asylum.

From IQ: More Than Just a Number, Part 2

According to a well-received TedX talk Do standardized tests matter?, people with high SAT scores (a good proxy for IQ) do better in life as measured by academic achievement, creative output, job performance, and income. Although the odds of finding the next Elon Musk or Mark Zuckerberg in the high-IQ subset of the population are low, it’s pretty much zero in the modest IQ subset. Billionaires, in general, are much smarter than everyone else, and while not every high-IQ person will become rich, having a high-IQ certainly helps.

So that includes doctors, medical researchers, physicists, many authors, playwrights, and even philosophers and theologians. Without smart people, the world would be a very boring place.

Here is the TedX talk:

Contrary to the ‘evil genius’ trope, smarter people may be more empathetic, more moral, and less prone to crime and aggression.

And from Pop Psychology Charlatans:

Smart people solve problems and create technologies, and if smart people sometimes act stupid, how do stupid people act? Part of the problem is confirmation bias – our awareness of mistakes made by smart people is heightened, but we ignore the fact that less intelligent people tend to make more mistakes overall. Many people, understandably so, are uncomfortable with the reality that some are individuals are intrinsically better than others, so we look for any excuse however small to knock these exceptional people down to size.

Confirmation bias means maybe we’re more likely to observe the mistakes made by smart people than the less intelligent.

Mr. Charlton continues,

Clever and creative people have no greater insight into fundamental truths than anybody else; probably because fundamental truths are precisely what a person does not need to be clever in order to understand.

Quantum mechanics and Relativity, devised by very intelligent people, help us better understand the universe. Or the discoveries made by Newton, Galileo, and Copernicus centuries ago…Or Darwin, Pasteur, Maxwell, and Galton. Of course, one could argue that maybe these aren’t ‘fundamental truths’, but then that invokes an ‘infinite regress’ argument, where no amount of evidence is sufficient. Understanding how the world works, even if we can’t explain the origin of the universe, helps society through the development of new technologies that improve living standards. Discoveries in chemistry and biology, for example, are used to treat disease, allowing people to live longer, healthier lives.

Maybe smart people may come across ‘arrogant’ – as if they have all the answers – but they tend to be more knowledgeable than those of average intelligence, and complicated problems demand smart people, who have the best shot at solving them.

Actually, the Dunning Kruger Effect refutes this alleged ‘arrogance’, showing that less intelligent people overestimate their abilities due to being ‘too Ill-informed to know how Ill-informed they are’, and that more intelligent people may actually underestimate their abilities.

And there is an abundance of data that shows a positive correlation between economic productivity and national IQ

We calculated expectable wealth productivity effects (in US Dollar of 2010/2011). Internationally, one IQ point corresponds to $810 higher average productivity per capita and year. Between 2012 and 2060 it is expected that 17 year olds’ ability level will increase by 2.16 (pessimistic model) or 3.68 IQ (optimistic model), representing a productivity gain of $1,750 to $2,981 (at constant prices). The general FLynn effect (White’s slow ability rise) contributes at about $219 to $1,806, minorities’ catch up at $1,644 to $1,450, demographic change at–$1,102, interaction between minorities’ catch up and demographic change at $988 to $834 US Dollar.

And the book Hive Mind: How Your Nation’s IQ Matters So Much More Than Your Own, which shows how smarter countries are more prosperous.

So maybe while smart and clever people don’t know all the answers, we (as a society) are still better off having them.