Liberal euphoria over this report assumes that very high intelligence is actually something useful and boastworthy *UPDATED*

I can say without exaggeration that I’m a pretty smart person.  Not brilliant, but definitely a long-tail on that part of the bell curve dedicated to higher IQs.  I used to think this mattered tremendously.  The older I get, though, the less impressed I am by my own intelligence or by anyone else’s.  What’s become clear to me is that what matters is a person’s functionality, not his smarts.

I’d actually started to figure this out during my Junior High and High School Years.  One of my classmates was a girl named Trixie.  When it came to native smarts, I could run rings around her.  Except that, when it came to grades, I didn’t.  Trixie had something I lacked — self-discipline.  While I procrastinated wildly as to every project that came my way, Trixie buckled down and got to work.  Her brains may not have been quite as up to snuff as mine, but her values outstripped me so much that brains became irrelevant.  (She was also an extremely nice person, much nicer than I was, for what that’s worth.)

I shouldn’t have been so surprised by Trixie, because my own family history revealed the same pattern.  My Uncle was a bona fide genius.  The Jewish Gymnasium in Berlin, which was probably one of the best schools in early 20th Century Germany (which also means one of the best schools in the world) characterized him as one of the most brilliant students they’d ever had.  He was also a Communist and a general malcontent.  Not only did he not make anything with his life (which could be attributed to the dislocation of WWII), he was an active failure in his own life.  He was going to show the world how great Communism was by failing.  He may have been smart, but he was self-destructive.

My Mom describes him and his wife living in Denmark, in a squalid one-room apartment, which was all they could afford on his salary as a very low-level civil servant.  Her most vivid memory is the fact that, when they had runny noses, they’d blow their noses into their hands, and then wipe the results on the wall.  I shudder even to think of it.  So much for genius….

Certainly we need our brilliant people, the Einsteins and Pasteurs and Bill Gates, but they are often people of limited functionality, some of whom are as self-destructive as they are constructive.  It’s in the great middle that our strength lies — people who can balance functional intelligence, native good sense, and solid morals.

All of which explains why I’m totally unimpressed by a study purporting to show that liberals are smarter than conservatives.  Even if it’s true, that’s not necessarily something to boast about.

UPDATE:  When you get to 3:30 in this brilliant Andrew Klavan video, you’ll understand why it’s a perfect coda to this post:

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  • expat

    This was a study of teens. Add a little life experience to those higher IQs, and you may get different results.  Also, I know some very bright math/science people, but they sometimes have less info (because of lack of time or interest) on social issues than me. So they may not really be using their intelligence to formulate their political leanings.

  • CollegeCon

    You know, I feel like I’m very similar.  I procrastinate to the max, and it doesn’t help.  I had several friends in high school who I’m pretty sure I had beat intellect-wise, but on grades they trounced me.

  • Judy K. Warner

    One reason for the result of the study could be that smart people are more likely to read “higher quality” newspapers like the New York Times, and more news and intellectual magazines. Therefore they are more aware of what smart people are supposed to think, and so that’s what they think, because they’re proud of being smart and want to be identified with other smart people. This possibility came to mind because almost all my relatives on my Jewish side are very smart, high achievers and very liberal. They are also just like sheep when it comes to following the correct ideas, and I don’t see any evidence that any of them has questioned any item on the leftist roll call of beliefs.

    It would be interesting to know what a similar study would show about people a hundred years ago, and two hundred years ago (though I can’t think of any way to find out).

    I’d also point out that the idea of liberals being smarter than conservatives is perpetuated by the media regardless of facts. George W. Bush got higher SAT scores than Al Gore, for example, but you’d never know it unless you’re a collecter of obscure facts from obscure places.

  • jj

    I’m afraid I’m going to have to seriously question this study’s methodology.  In fact I’ll just flatly say it’s BS.
    Students (grades 7 through 12) who identified themselves as “very liberal” show an average IQ of 106 during adolescence…
    Pardon me.  At those ages, 90% of the kids in the room – any room – identify themselves as “very liberal.”  (Particularly the 11th and 12th grades.)  All kids want to save the world, that tends to be the way kids work.  Which is swell, but I suspect that the largest cohort of kids in any classroom do not have IQs of 106 – let alone average IQs of 106.
    The population-wide average is well below that.  It makes it hard to believe that most of the population under age 18 is somehow that much superior.  In fact it makes it impossible.  (If this has been going on for a generation or two, where did all these bright bulbs go?)

  • Spartacus

    Point #1:  Dang, wish I could find that link, but being a stupid conservative, I can’t.  Ran across an interesting web article a few months back about this very thing.  The gist of it was that at the high end of the IQ bell curve, it is a well-documented that there is a higher degree of deviation from the norm in many categories (a finding repeated in this new study).  Even though there are plenty of conservatives in the high end of the bell curve, because most folks throughout the rest of the curve stick closer to the norm, the relative increase in liberals will still skew any trend line one tries to draw toward the liberals.  The example was given that there is a statistical trend away from Christianity and toward atheism in the US in the higher IQ levels.  Does that mean that atheists are smarter than Christians?  No, because in Japan, the number of Christians increases with increased IQ.  It’s more of a commentary of the demographics of the two countries than anything else.  Correlation does not necessarily mean causation, especially when dealing with wildly complex dynamics that involve entire societies and, implicitly, most of the other variables therein.
    Point #2:  Mrs. Bookworm, your uncle reminds me of Karl Marx.  Todd Buchholz, one of the economic advisors to Ronaldus Magnus, wrote a wonderfully readable and entertaining book on… the intellectual history of economics, something that might normally be found next to a bottle of sleeping pills and a glass of warm milk, but not in this case.  One of his chapters is devoted to Marx, and it really helps color in between the lines and present a good picture of what a wretch Marx was as a human being.  The squalor of his family’s London flat was such that his in-laws hired a maid, an arrangement that ended when the maid disappeared for a few months and reappeared with a baby who bore a disturbing resemblance to Marx.  More than one of his children died of diseases consistent with living in filthy conditions, if memory serves.
    I’d go on to Point #3, but I really need to stop procrastinating and get some things done.

  • Ymarsakar

    To a certain extent, people with above average intelligence runs into a super refined version of the superiority-inferiority complex. It’s what causes social and economic and technological dysfunction in places like high crime neighborhoods, aka liberal slave plantations here in the US, and other places such as the Islamic Caliphate. They were told or they had absorbed the idea that they were expected to be superior, yet that very innate ability to puzzle things out will always leave them with a question that they cannot answer; if they are so superior to the Jews, to whites, to the Man, and to Western culture, why the hell are they getting their arse beat in a direct competition?
    Inferiority for the objective fact that they know they can’t complete. Superiority for the neurotic need to be better than others. Combine them together and you have a neurotic, self-destructive population ready for the Cult Leader, the Strong Man, and the Totalitarian Philosophy.
    Naturally secure and healthy individuals are already superior because they are confident in their own success, thus ensuring that they won’t instinctively attempt to destroy other people because they feel a need to be better. If they believe they are already better and they know this to be so, and their life and philosophy co-exist without contradictions, then they can be happy and happy people have no human need or drive to destroy others.
    The Left are not happy. So they ease their own internal contradictions by hurting those weaker than them. It’s very simple. For a human behavioral set, it’s not very complex at all. Monkey gets beat on by a stronger monkey, so the first monkey goes and finds a monkey weaker than him. It flows down hill. That’s one natural state of human affairs. Something beloved by the Left because it is the only way they can live with themselves.
    There’s a principle of harmony and consistency. No matter how many times you tell yourself that you are happy, if you aren’t happy, words aren’t going to make it so. To a certain extent, human behavior is modifiable by changing our behaviors. Changing behavior is far more powerful than simply changing an idea, and intellect is often always about the latter rather than the former. Changing behavior is required for idiots that won’t survive if they don’t change their behavior. Geniuses, however, can spend time on an idea and draw power to that idea, whether this idea draws its power from changing reality or from changing human behavior. Because ideas are necessarily abstract, intelligent people who have placed an utmost importance on their intellectual abilities devote most of their time to abstract thought in the form of words. They don’t change what they do. They just talk about it in theory, because that’s where their intellect is best served. Because once they can filter the abstract into the concrete, they can decide to do something that will have more effect than the alternatives. People doing something necessarily must devote time to the action, rather than the thinking, so if you can out think your opponents you can save yourself work and waste the enemy’s work at the same time. This isn’t so much a special thing as it is a byproduct of civilization when it comes to outputting science and art, given that a population can now be fed by less than 50% farmers. Coming up with more efficient ways of doing things saves time. But you’re still mortal.
    Due to the intense differences inherent in how intelligent people think as opposed to the average or normal, what you tend to get is also a schism similar to the difference between US military culture and US civilian culture. Assumptions made are often times incompatible with the other side. They don’t understand each other. Friction then results because of insecure humans producing violence, fighting, and social hierarchy disruptions: disharmony. For intelligent people, their very way of thinking is different and even inaccessible to the average or sub-normal human. This creates the dichotomy of differences, the minority vs majority portrait. Necessarily, combined with the superiority-inferiority complex, you end up with people abnormally vulnerable to con artists, cult leaders like Jim Jones, and megalomaniacs like Hitler and Stalin. They are cut off from normal human culture. They feel like they should be great, but their mind can see that they aren’t. They know they should be superior to the idiots or the average humans, but they can see that they are not, but they cannot find the reason why. And then… in comes Mao with the answer.
    You see, in reality intellect is only one tool out of a huge box of human tools that we used to survive and succeed. Since every human is born without knowledge, just having a faster ability to process and arrange information is not going to be the end all and be all solution to most things. You’re just going to have to process everything a dumb person would, except you can perhaps shave off a few decades of thought. But that means if you die and a dumb person lives for 50 more years, and puts those years to use, that dumb person would still be relatively more productive than you. Geniuses are mortal, after all. Mozart: burn brightly and burn briefly.

    If intellect was the meta-god cheat for life, computers would be far more capable than they are. Having a faster processing ability, without the self-awareness, free will, and wisdom to utilize your power, just means you are a slave to the Programmer’s Lines. Because intellect is not going to solve your problems by itself, naturally the human that has failed but refuses to recognize his relative inferiority against a world that he should have been one of the elites, will listen and like the message of a Hitler. Hitler will tell you that you are special, that your failure isn’t your fault but the fault of some other minority that can be crushed. And of course, intelligent people will listen. They will process this information. They will arrange it around, play with it, because that’s how their brains work. But in doing so, without the power of wisdom, true knowledge, or internal fortifications, there is no filter stopping external manipulation. A human user can just go in and arrange the code of any computer program and that is that. No matter how powerful the computer hardware in terms of calculation and data processing ability, that power is useless without an overarching Meta goal. Dictators can provide that, when intelligent people fail to achieve personal stability and enlightenment.
    No matter how intelligent humans get, they are still humans. They have personal weaknesses and desires. They want some common things most all humans want: acceptance, status, self-worth. Totalitarian mass murderers will give you this. If you were balanced, secure, and an able leader or member of your community, you wouldn’t require external aid of this form. But since you are crippled by having a superior intellect but without the time and wisdom to learn how to use it correctly, you can convince yourself that the best solution is an Obama or a Mao or a Pol Pot or a Stalin. A New Man for a New Age. The fact that you don’t like the current Age because you are ostracized and unable to utilize your talents to satisfy your own internal cravings, is a subtle and powerful motivation that is constantly being denied by the ego. Because to admit it would shatter the pretensions of superiority held so dearly.

    All these totalitarian village bandits aren’t as smart as the Super Genius, and the geniuses know it. But it is a false image, because the geniuses think that this means they are immune to manipulation and illusion just because they are smarter than the con artists. Well, yes, you are smarter than con artists, but con artists can manipulate human behavior while you can’t even figure out why you feel what you feel. That’s called an imbalance of power, not just an imbalance of intellect.
    A tool is just a tool. Intellect is just a tool. A firearm is just a tool. A chainsaw is just a tool. Give a firearm and a chainsaw to somebody that don’t know how to use them, would have predictable results. Imagine a 13 year old trying to use a chain saw. Even if they knew, with absolute perfection, the idea of it, how are they going to operate it without the muscles required to stabilize and hold the machine? Just because intellect is given at birth, doesn’t mean the use of such a tool is fool proof. The user uses the tool Just cause somebody gave you a tool doesn’t mean you know how to use it nor does it mean you should use it. Humans have something called rationality, judgement, and wisdom: internal qualities that power human will, which then powers the usage of human tools for the achievement of a human goal.
    It doesn’t matter how smart you are. Your emotions are as easy to manipulate as the dumbest human on earth. A bullet to the brain of one human will destroy brain functions just as effectively, if not more effectively, as a bullet to the brain of a genius. Humans like to delude themselves with the idea that if they are rich, favored by the gods, or with lots of power, that they can then become immortal, omnipotent, or even divine. That’s a human perversion and fixation. True enlightenment has nothing to do with human self-destructive tendencies.
    This stuff is nothing new under the sun.

  • Ymarsakar

    “(If this has been going on for a generation or two, where did all these bright bulbs go?)”
    On the government dole getting raises while everybody in the private sector gets unemployed.

  • Bookworm

    I would also add that one of the things that characterizes both those who test high on IQs and liberals is arrogance — but as Obama beautifully illustrated yesterday, arrogance, rather than opening someone’s mind, tends to keep it tightly shut.  After all, how could such a brilliant guy learn from the idiots who constantly besiege him?

  • Mike Devx

    I am not arrogant!  I am merely as humble as reality requires, and in my case, it means being not very humble.  For I am of superior I.Q. and wisdom; and false humility would be unbecoming.  I am merely surrounded by nothing but mental Lilliputians, who tie me down and make of my every day a chore.
    I, The Chosen One, Your President, Have Spoken.
    Book said above,
    as Obama beautifully illustrated yesterday, arrogance, rather than opening someone’s mind, tends to keep it tightly shut.

    Wise words, and not arrogant at all.  Book, you’re special.

  • vanderleun

    It seems to me that “studies” like this and “stories” like this are an evergreen in the liberal narrative. Every year of so, something like this is extruded into the infostream.  Several years back it was “The Brights” or some such nonsense being spread around. There have been similar myths and text dispersed since then on the same theme.
    They must be an insecure people indeed to need this constant reassurance.

  • Mike Devx

    Liberals believe that they are so much smarter than conservatives.  Or as Joe Biden put it after the Scott Brown victory in Massachusetts: “We are listening to the American people, and we have heard your message, and your message is that you want the Democrats to focus on one simple three letter word: J-O-B-S.”
    Yep… so… much… smarter.
    So liberals then believed they needed to focus like a laser beam on jobs, and on the economy.  Or that’s what they told you, anyway.   Here we are less than a month later, and, as you can see from all the news about the recent summit they forced on us about jobs… no… wait… it wasn’t about jobs… it was about health care… oh, haha, that’s right, they had the JOBS SUMMIT a week before that, silly me, because they were focused like a laser beam on jobs and on… no… wait… there wasn’t a JOBS SUMMIT run by the Democrats…  oh, to heck with it.  They focused on it for two weeks, didn’t they?  Wasn’t that enough?  All you stupid, idiotic Americans who just don’t appreciate the greatness and wonderfulness of the Democrats trying to run and control every moment of your lives?
    So, anyway, where were they – oh yes, the Democrats, were back on health care.  Just before the Jobs Summit, I mean, the Health Care Summit, all the liberals in Congress, and in the MSM, were telling us that they were going to start the Reconciliation Process the day after the summit, and ram their stinking bill down the throats of the American People, I mean, pass this noble legislation that the American People would be 100% in favor of, if they only had a brain.  Yes-sir-ee, we’ll begin immediately, one day after the summit!  Because time is of the essence!  Why… it’s practically an EMERGENCY!
    Okey dokey, here we are one day – no, two days – after the jobs summit – dang it, I mean, the health care summit – and the Reconciliation Process has BEGUN!  Ooops, no it hasn’t, just as they intended all along, it’ll actually start five or six weeks from now.  That’s what they MEANT TO SAY, all along, you see, and someone just sort of got it just a little bit wrong.  In the translation from Liberal-ese or something?  One day = five weeks.  You do the math.  (Because they can’t apparently do the math.  But they can Hide The Decline!  And double dip when claiming their health care budget numbers will lower the deficit.  Because they’re so good at counting.  Or something like that.)
    So five weeks from now, they’re going to grant us the good grace of starting the Reconciliation Process, because it’s going to start today.  “This time, we’re serious.”  Thank God!  I was beginning to think they’d never be serious.
    “We’re going to focus on the economy and jobs like a laser beam, because we hear you.  Ha ha ha, we’re NOT being serious, we’re just joking!”
    “We’re going to start Reconciliation TOMORROW – Ha ha ha, we’re NOT being serious, we’re just joking.”
    “No, we’re going to start Reconciliation five weeks from now.  This time, we’re serious. Really.”
    In related news, Liberals have been found to be infinitely more intelligent than conservatives.

  • David Foster

    If liberals/”progressives” are so much more intelligent, why do they tend to gravitate toward fields in which success is determined by glibness and conformity rather than true problem-solving?

    In a university, there will be a higher % of leftists in the English department than in the Electrical Engineering department. In a business, there will be proportionately more leftists in HR than in Sales or Manufacturing or Product Management. In the US Department of Transportation, they will tend to prefer vague positions involving the writing of “studies” to jobs as air traffic controllers.

  • Jose

    Liberal = smart adolescent

    I believe it.

  • Danny Lemieux

    I actually rank a fairly high IQ.  In school, I was oh so smart. Then, in my freshman year, one of my best friends, Karl,  ended up dropping out out of university because he just couldn’t handle the “book learning”. Yet, I recognized that my “lower IQ”  friend was far smarter than I was in so many different areas of knowledge, including basic practical and problem-solving skills.  So much for IQ. To prove the point, I remained a “liberal” in my political convictions far longer than my friend ever did, idiot that I was.
    Fact is, true intelligence is a combination of many different abilities, some of which can be measured and others which can’t. As so many of the reactions to this post remind us, being  highly intelligent is hardly incompatible with being a blithering idiot. Just look at our government today.

  • Charles Martel

    vanderleun’s mention of “Brights,” which was an atheist gambit to be labeled as enlightened and special, reminded me of my own very human response to liberal arrogance: I resent it. It does not make me admire or trust people who are supposedly my mental and moral superiors. I’m certainly not alone in my reaction. So shouting about it from the roof tops in the liberal press only ratchets up the resistance from tens of millions people like me.

  • vanderleun

    Ah yes, “The Brights.” I knew I’d done something on them. And for them too since I’d evidently corresponded with one “Richard Dawkins.” I checked my archives and this is an excerpt from an item I did in July of 2003:

    The “Brights:” Smug, Self-satisfied and Stupid

    One of the problems with smart people is they can be idea hamsters. Like little hyper-active rodents with too much wheel and not enough time, they compulsivley whip up one misbegotten notion after another. Notions that contain about the same level of inate common sense as a hamster confronted with a cotter pin in the lock of his cage.
    Less than two weeks ago I came across an article by Richard Dawkins in the Guardian touting the hot new group description, “the brights.” The Guardian gave a web address for this dubious new group, but wasn’t bright enough to post the URL without spaces. Hence it was useless.
    A brief correspondence with Dawkins assured me that the item was fixed. It was, in a small way, not too bright and Dawkins is a very bright man. But not bright enough to detect the smarm in the whole notion. Still, seeing that it was safely ensconced in Britain, that loves this sort of blather, I let it slide since it posed no clear and present danger to the United States.
    But there’s no keeping a stupid idea down in this confused age, and this morning, Whomp, there it was in the dreaded and dreadful New York Times. Yes, a full-on Times OP-ED blatheration entitled…. wait for it… “The Bright Stuff.” (God, can we just please lose the punning headlines in the Times? Please? )
    In this article by one Daniel C. Dennett ( Identified as “a professor of philosophy at Tufts University,”…and author of the wetly named, “Freedom Evolves.”) is a virtual fornication festival of the terminally unclued.
    The whole item is HERE.

  • Mike Devx

    Vanderleun’s takedown of Dennett’s smug ‘The Brights’ article is great!   And laugh out loud funny.  It’s his last link, above.  I repost it here as a fully visible link.   Check it out!

  • Bookworm

    Mike, let me rephrase that:  Have you ever read anything Vanderleun’s written that isn’t delightful?  I haven’t.

  • Ymarsakar

    “We brights don’t believe in ghosts or elves or the Easter Bunny – or God.”
    Obviously you must not believe in quantum entanglement as well.

  • Gringo

    From comments at  another blog:
    The study found that the more intelligent adolescents were more liberal. So what does that prove? As someone who has taught both psychology and sociology at university level, I have little doubt what it means: It means that more intelligent kids are better at picking up and absorbing the lessons drummed into them by our Left-dominated educational system. It means no more than that. The sociological context overlooked is, in other words, the fact that the individuals concerned were still at school. I think that can reasonably be called: “Overlooking the obvious”.

    There was a study of preschools in Berkeley,which  claimed that personalities in nursery school could predict political affiliation when one was 23.
    Do whiny, deviant, insecure nursery school kids grow up to be conservatives? And do fluent, resourceful, self-reliant pre-schoolers grow up to be liberals? The answer to both questions would appear to be “Yes” according to a new study to appear in the Journal of Research in Personality. Its authors are the eminent psychologist Jack Block, an emeritus professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and his deceased wife and colleague, Jeanne Block.

    Given the extreme leftist orientation of Berkeley, this sample can hardly be considered representative of the United States as a whole. Which means that whatever conclusions made about those two nursery schools in Berserkeley apply to Berserkeley only, not to the rest of the country.This shows the idiocy of liberal “social scientists”  making generalizations about liberals and conservatives. It is not surprising  that  many add “bovine excrement” to their opinions of  “social scientists.”