Being smart doesn’t make you that special.

There are a couple annoying things nerds tend to say that really stick in my craw, and they’re part of a larger issue where smart people think they’re better than everyone else by dint of their innate gifts.  First, the annoying things!

The first is “when I’m not good at something right away, I get frustrated and quit.”  Now, lots of people say this, in recognition of kind of a natural tendency.  The problem is when people say it and think it’s some unique quality that comes along with naturally picking up other things really quickly.  And that is one of the benefits of being smart!  You can pretty frequently grasp a complicated subject more quickly than your peers.  But you’ll still fail to immediately become proficient at any number of other things: learning a new language, playing a musical instrument, getting kills in Halo.  That’s life.

In a similar vein, the other thing I hate hearing from nerds is “I was always bored in grade school, because I was so smart.”  No.  You were bored in school because it was school.  Everyone was bored!  Listening to lectures for 6 hours of a 7-hour day is really, really boring.  Being intelligent didn’t make it more boring for you.

I’m pretty smart.  And I’m guilty of saying both these things, at earlier points in my life.  I think our culture lionizes intelligent people unfairly and severely overemphasizes the importance of smarts.  People are largely pretty much the same.  They get sad about the same stuff, laugh at the same stuff, care about the same stuff on a basic level.  Two people might not both be able to talk about symbolism in Macbeth or whatever, but who the fuck cares?  In the vast majority of areas where we care about what makes a person who they are, emotionally and morally and intellectually, smart people and people of average intelligence are cut from the same cloth.

Where it gets even worse (beyond the belief that being smart makes you special) is the sense of moral superiority, as if anyone made some meaningful choice to be smart.  Now, I’m not denigrating the actual meaningful choices that people make – if you worked hard in school and made some real accomplishments through that hard work, you should be proud.  Not everyone with that opportunity follows through (although that isn’t cut-and-dry either, but we can leave that for another time).  But just thinking that you’re better than someone because you’re smart?  Because you grew up in a position to develop your intellect to the point that you can talk about Macbeth and Plato and so on?  That’s bullshit.

I got lucky.  Whether intelligence is heritable or not, there’s no denying that I was smart as a kid, well before I was making any significant choices that contributed to my intellectual development.  It’s the same as if I’d been born to rich parents who gave me lots of financial support, or had been born with genes that destined me for conventionally good looks or height or whatever.

We live in a system that gives substantial financial rewards to smart people (and wealthy people and attractive people and tall people).  I make more money than I would if I were less intelligent, thanks to the allocation of resources in capitalism.  But it would be silly to think that I was in any way better, more valuable to society as a whole or more morally upstanding, than less intelligent people by dint of that.  Nerds have an awful tendency to slip into that trap, confusing a trait that opens doors with one that is worthy of praise.  Meaningful choices are worthy of praise, but being smart is just the luck of the draw.

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