The Revenge Of The Ordinary

The smart kid gets beat up in middle and high school.

The physics major can’t get a date.

The guy at work who uses rich and interesting language is considered “snobby” by co-workers.

People who are intellectually curious are viewed as “boring”.


It’s always been fascinating to me, the way we treat the smart people in this world. There is a mountain of evidence supporting this notion that “regular” folks look down at the smarty pants in the cubicle next door.

Satoshi Kanazawa, an evolutionary psychologist at the London School of Economics, has said some very quacky things, one being black women aren’t very good looking. But Kanazawa also wrote “…general intelligence is very important in modern life because our environment is almost entirely evolutionarily novel. Most of the problems that we have to solve today—how to excel in school, how to find jobs, how to do virtually everything on a computer—are evolutionarily novel. So intelligent people do well in almost every sphere of modern life, except for the most important things, like how to find a mate, how to raise a child, how to make friends…”

13 years ago, New London, Connecticut’s police department won a lawsuit brought by a cop recruit claiming he wasn’t hired because he did too well on an aptitude test!

His exceptional intelligence was his undoing.

A science curriculum proposed for schools in Kentucky was mocked by some low-information voters this week for being “fascist” and “socialist”. The crimes of the syllabi were radical concepts like evolution and human-powered climate change.

picture of a geek
Looks like everybody hates this guy

I cornered an HR manager from a Bay Area company the other day. I told “Mary” (not her real name) I was going to write about this subject and wanted her thoughts.

“I have to admit, sometimes a candidate with an avalanche of degrees and obvious intellectual superiority makes me pause. I’m not proud of this, but it does cross my mind to consider the candidate carefully.”

I was flabbergasted.

“Well, we worry about their social skills, working with the teams. We worry they will bore easily and not be fully engaged with their projects…”

Then there’s the laziness bias. There can be a perception the super-smart aren’t really interested in “normal” work, and will avoid it.

Oh, and super brainiacs probably want higher salaries. That’s a problem too.

Writing this for you today prompted me to surf for other articles, blogs, etc. on the subject. There are stories everywhere of this bias toward the mentally superior.

With apologies to certain members of my family, I’m no socialist but I do not watch Fox News Channel because it is simplistic, loaded with polemic and basically a comedy channel (I don’t watch any cable news, BTW.  FNC is not about truth or curiosity, it’s just one of two sides of a constant uninformed argument about politics. Yuck.

This was one of the best moments EVER for people like me who prefer fact over opinion. Watch this brilliant author absolutely dominate the feeble-minded FNC anchor, loaded with predjudice and hyperbole. This was an intellectual knockout punch, right in the teeth. I watched this on YouTube, standing up and cheering for him. The fact that they let him talk at all was breathtaking!

Watch the smart guy pummel a lesser foe here.

This was an anomaly, however. The smartest don’t always win. The facts rarely matter any more, and your above-average IQ is not always as asset.

I had no idea. It seems that being smart enough is often better than being extraordinary.

Now I know why a dear friend, smart as a stack of dictionaries, hides his PhD on his LinkedIn profile.

Should you downplay your potential mental superiority at a job interview?

Yes, you should, in most cases.

Politicians never use big words in speeches for a reason. They don’t want people to think they are uppity, not a woman/ man of the people.

Maybe your insecure hiring manager would be threatened by your intelligence. I wonder. “Mary” my HR friend seems to take a second look when she sees a big brain headed toward her.

Mediocrity rocks? Say it ain’t so!

I always thought I moved pretty well between salt-of-the-earth types and intellectuals. Now I’m not so sure.

Let’s talk about it. Post a comment (without having to register) below.

Picture of John ScottJohn Scott is a media studies instructor and the career services manager at the School of Multimedia Communications, Academy of Art University San Francisco. He loves words and language, but also likes saying stuff like “This cake is hella good!” Check out John’s book, “Destination: Reinvention”, on sale in the Amazon bookstore. The hardcover edition is on sale now at Lulu. Audiobook available on Audible and iTunes.

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