Intellect as Social Currency

From Bloomberg, by Tyle Cowen I Want More Immigrants and a Census Citizenship Question:

It’s obvious Tyler unapologetically and unconditionally supports more immigration, possibly even more so than most left-wing pundits and politicians, who support immigration but under the condition of including with reform. What is interesting (to me, at least) is how certain pundits and academics such as Scott Adams, Tyler Cowen, and Bryan Caplan are able to entertain left-wing views while still maintaining intellectual credibility and respect in the eyes of the center and even the far-right.

My explanation is, it is because they exude intellectual credibility, which is one of the most valuable forms of social currency, the others being sex appeal (such as Instagram and other social media influencers) and social status (such as the Kardashians, Paris Hilton, Trump Jr., etc.). Outside of the realm of celebrity culture/gossip and other mainstream topics, intellectual credibility is the most valuable currency. It grants whoever possess it not only social status with one’s own ‘in-group’, but also out-groups (the so-called intellectualism passport concept).

This is similar to the concept of idiosyncrasy credits, but rather it’s more like intellectual credits. Conveying intellect lends credibility to possibly bad ideas that would otherwise be outright dismissed if proposed by less intelligent people.

From On Having Good Opinions (deconstructing Joe Rogan’s success):

Imagine if two people, one a theoretical physicist with an IQ of 150 and the other just an average-IQ gender studies major, post the same anti-Trump or social-justice tweet. Even if the tweet is wrong, by virtue of being smart, the the opinion of the physicist is more likely to be taken seriously, and furthermore, the ‘outgroup’ is more likely to try to understand where the physicist is coming from than dismiss him outright, and may even go so far as engage in a productive dialog with him. But the average-IQ gender studies major is likely to be dismissed as an SJW, beneath even contempt. This also works in reverse (pro-Trump tweet) but to a lesser extent (my own observation has been that the ‘right’ is more inclined to entertain opposing views than the ‘left’).


Scott Adams is a cartoonist by trade but evokes the intellectual aura of a polymath by being able to converse about a wide range of subjects, even subjects that he is completely unfamiliar with, and not sound stupid or outlandish in the process. People may disagree with his opinions, but he at least sounds smart and reasonable when he says them. He can get a piece of information such as a news report or memo and come up with a reasonable-sounding impromptu assessment of it.

It’s why Jordan Peterson is so successful and rose to fame so quickly online, because he exudes credibility that the ‘right’ was otherwise lacking, with the exception of possibly Charles Murray, or, in regard to the passport, why Sam Harris can be so critical of the alt-right and Trump, yet on /r/The_Donald and other right-wings subs, he’s still respected and his views are treated as intellectually credible, as opposed to someone like AOC, who lacks such credibly and is too partisan is mocked, even if she and Harris share similar views. It’s like “yeah, I don’t agree with Harris’ antipathy to Trump, but I understand his views are founded on logic and reason, not partisanship and tribalism, unlike AOC or Warren, so we can debate his positions without losing our intellectual respect for him.” But in some cases, the idea may be so dumb or wrong that no amount of intelligence and nuance can salvage it.

As discussed in The Sweet, Boring Middle regarding Tyler Comen and Bryan Caplan, in addition to intellectual credibility, authenticity and shared narratives are also important. High-IQ people of either side of the political aisle can converge on a set of anchor points, those being the shared narratives, that can bridge disagreement on ideological issues. Third, although intellect helps, being too overtly partisan and tribal only hurts, which is why Paul Krugman, despite his credentials, is unable to bridge the ideological gap in the way Harris, Cowen, and Peterson are able to. I think this is why leftist intellectuals don’t hold that much currency in the sphere  of public discourse ,especially online, because their ideological  biases are  too obvious, so rather than their views being perceived as shaped  by logic and reason and a desire to seek the truth irrespective of politics, they perceived–either right or wrongly–as being  motivated by political bias. Even if the idea is good, the perception of bias dooms it.