I have just finished listening to Satoshi Kanazawa’s book The Intelligence Paradox. (I should have read it rather than listen to it. There are too many statistics and graphs that need to be read to be properly digested). The paradox in the title is that intelligent people, while being better suited to the evolutionarily novel situations that our modern world throws up, and actually being the ones who create those new situations in the first place, are often no better, and sometimes worse, at things that all humans do naturally. For example, intelligent people are no better at making friends, being parents, or having children than less intelligent people, which are arguably the most important things in life. In fact intelligent people generally have fewer children than less intelligent people so fail at the one thing all animals would agree – if animals could agree – is the biological meaning of life: reproduction. Some people appear to be so clever that they have thought themselves out of reproducing entirely.
Intelligent people often lack basic common sense, as suggested by the George Orwell quote, “Some ideas are so stupid that only intellectuals believe them.” Maybe intellectuals have too much faith in conscious thought and forget, as Blaise Pascal said, “The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing.” Unconscious thought, which comes to us in the form of feelings and intuitions, is also important.
Of course thinking things through is often a good idea. If you need to decide what the square root of 64 is it’s better to think it through than to try to intuit the correct answer. But not everything in this world is a Maths problem. Should you have children? Perhaps that is a question for your intuition to answer but many intelligent westerners appear to have thought it through and come to the conclusion that, all in all, the world would be better off without their offspring. Such a conclusion would make even the stupidest person scratch his head in disbelief. Hence Orwell’s quote.
Dr. Kanazawa lists many evolutionarily novel things that intelligent people like that less intelligent people don’t. More intelligent people are more likely to drink alcohol and smoke because they are both evolutionarily novel. On average intelligent people prefer instrumental music like classical and modern jazz while less intelligent people like pop and rock. This is probably because songs and the human voice are evolutionarily familiar while instrumental music is a recent invention. Apparently about 95% of people can sing reasonably well while the number who can play a musical instrument is much smaller. This is because the latter is something we have to learn whereas singing comes naturally to us. Interestingly the two most intelligent ethnic groups, Jews and east Asians, are over-represented in the composition and playing of classical music.
Until recently everyone went to bed when it got dark and they got up at sunrise. The introduction of electric light meant people could stay up later if they chose. This is an evolutionary novelty and it turns out that ‘night owls’ are more intelligent than ‘morning larks’. In the ancestral environment there were no TVs but it turns out that it is the less intelligent who watch the most TV. Why? Because they tend to mistake the images on the screen for real people. This is why they often view actors in soap operas and films as their friends, or the really stupid ones stand up and shout at the cinema screen. Because intelligent people are aware they are watching actors on a screen they get less pleasure out of the pastime.
Democracies, a relatively new idea, thrive among intelligent populations while the rule of powerful families, a much more traditional idea, is more popular among the less intelligent. Large urban areas are newer than the country and city-dwellers are more intelligent than country bumpkins. Reading books, sitting in classrooms and taking exams are all evolutionarily novel and are preferred by intelligent people. Vegetarianism, homosexuality, atheism and liberalism are all evolutionarily novel and vegetarians, gays, atheists and liberals appear to be slightly more intelligent than meat-eaters, heterosexuals, the religious and conservatives.
Evolutionarily novel white collar crime like fraud and embezzlement is committed by the more intelligent while interpersonal crime like rape, murder and theft, which have been around since Cain and Able, is committed mainly by the less intelligent. You may say that is obvious because the former is more difficult, which is why only intelligent people can commit it. However, I don’t think this is quite true. Some things just seem easy or difficult depending on whether they come naturally to us or not, not because they are intrinsically any easier or more difficult. For example, accurately throwing a spear involves an assessment of the distance you want the spear to travel, the calculation of the speed and angle of the spear at release, the pull of gravity on the spear and other such calculations. This requires an incredible amount of brain power yet it feels easy, simply because it comes naturally to us.
By the way, if you are wondering if listening to Arnold Schoenberg’s awful atonal music, staying up late at night or trying to appreciate Tracey Emin’s ‘art’ will make you more intelligent then forget it: that is getting things back to front. Intelligent people have a taste for unnatural stuff but trying to like to develop a taste for unnatural stuff won’t make you more intelligent. Even so, I suspect many people who claim to like modern art do suffer from this misapprehension.
There are many more examples in Dr. Kanazawa’s book that I have now forgotten. He says little about politics but it is clear that novelty and the political left go hand in hand, with their revolutions and such. Just the name of their opponents, ‘conservatives’, rather gives the game away: they dislike change. So it is no wonder the Right thinks the Left strange and unnatural while the Left sees the Right as consisting of a load of knuckle-dragging retards. Liberals seem fascinated with the evolutionarily novel idea of having their culture overrun by people of other races: friendly or hostile, either is okay since both are novel. Conservatives, being evolutionarily boring, would prefer their race and culture to endure. Liberals embrace the novel idea of childlessness; conservatives not so much. Liberals find the biologically odd deviation of homosexuality perfectly normal whereas conservatives find it a bit yukky.
So liberals consider themselves more creative and intelligent than conservatives and conservatives think liberals weird and lacking basic common sense. Both sides are probably right.