If Liberals Are More Intelligent than Conservatives, Why Are Liberals So Stupid? - Why Liberals Are More Intelligent than Conservatives

The Intelligence Paradox: Why the Intelligent Choice Isn't Always the Smart One - Satoshi Kanazawa 2012

If Liberals Are More Intelligent than Conservatives, Why Are Liberals So Stupid?
Why Liberals Are More Intelligent than Conservatives

While it is consistent with the prediction of the Intelligence Paradox, the conclusion in the previous section that liberals are on average more intelligent than conservatives may not resonate with most people's daily observations and experiences. If they are more intelligent, why are liberals—especially those in Hollywood and academia—so much more likely than conservatives to say and do stupid things and hold incredulous beliefs and ideas that stretch credibility?

Bruce G. Charlton, Professor of Theoretical Medicine at the University of Buckingham and former Editor in Chief of Medical Hypotheses, may have an explanation. In his editorial in the December 2009 issue of Medical Hypotheses,16 Charlton suggests that liberals and other intelligent people may be “clever sillies,” who incorrectly apply abstract logical reasoning to social and interpersonal domains. As I explain in Chapter 3, general intelligence—the ability to think and reason—likely evolved as a domain-specific evolved psychological mechanism to solve evolutionarily novel problems, whereas, for all evolutionarily familiar problems, there are other dedicated psychological adaptations. Everyone—intelligent or not—is evolutionarily designed to have the ability to solve such evolutionarily familiar problems in the social and interpersonal domains as mating, parenting, social exchange, and personal relationships with the other evolved psychological mechanisms.

Charlton suggests that the totality of all the other evolved psychological mechanisms (all of human nature except for general intelligence) represents what we normally call “common sense.” Everyone has common sense. Intelligent people, however, have a tendency to overapply their analytical and logical reasoning abilities derived from their general intelligence incorrectly to such evolutionarily familiar domains and, as a result, get things wrong. In other words, liberals and other intelligent people lack common sense because their general intelligence overrides it. They think in situations where they are supposed to feel. In evolutionarily familiar domains such as interpersonal relationships, feeling usually leads to correct solutions whereas thinking does not.

I personally dislike Charlton's term “clever sillies”—I don't like the British usage of both words, “clever” and “silly.” But otherwise I completely agree with his analysis substantively. As Charlton points out, common sense is eminently evolutionarily familiar. Our ancestors could not have survived a single day in their hostile environment full of predators and enemies if they did not possess functional common sense. That's why it has become an integral part of evolved human nature in the form of evolved psychological mechanisms in the social and interpersonal domains.

As I explain in my last book,17 despite all the surface and superficial differences, all human cultures are essentially the same in broad and abstract terms; there is only one human culture. And part of the common human culture is “common sense” about how to behave and how to treat each other. So not only do individuals from different ethnic, cultural, political, and class backgrounds in the same society share common sense, but so do all peoples of the world. Notice that common sense only pertains to evolutionarily familiar and relevant aspects of social life, not evolutionarily novel aspects. There is no common sense about how to boot up a Macintosh computer or how to fly an airplane, although there is common sense about how to behave in a computer lab or in a crowded airplane, which is the same as how to behave in a crowded cave. Common sense is thus evolutionarily familiar.

Because common sense is evolutionarily familiar and thus natural, the Intelligence Paradox would predict that more intelligent people may be less likely to resort to it. They may be more likely to resort to evolutionarily novel, non-commonsensical, stupid ideas to solve problems in the evolutionarily familiar domains. If this is not paradoxical, worthy of the name “the Intelligence Paradox,” I don't know what is.

This, incidentally, is the reason I never use words like “smart” and “clever” as synonyms for “intelligent.” Similarly, I never use words like “dumb” and “stupid” as synonyms for “unintelligent.” “Intelligent” has a specific scientific meaning—possessing higher levels of general intelligence measured by a series of cognitive tests or heavily g-loaded tests like Raven's Progressive Matrices, as I explain in Chapter 3. In sharp contrast, “smart” and “stupid” have more to do with common sense than intelligence. From my perspective, more intelligent people like liberals are more likely to be “stupid” (lacking common sense), whereas less intelligent people like conservatives are more likely to be “smart” (possessing functional common sense). Yes, more intelligent people are stupider, and less intelligent people are smarter. If this is not paradoxical, I don't know what is.

Matt Stone and Trey Parker—the co-creators of South Park—get it perfectly. In the episode “Go God Go XII,” the Wise One (the elderly leader of atheist otters—Don't ask: You have to see it) says, with reference to Richard Dawkins:

Perhaps the Great Dawkins wasn't so wise. Oh, he was intelligent, but some of the most intelligent otters that I've ever met were completely lacking in common sense.

Charlton's concept of “clever sillies,” and the Intelligence Paradox, can explain why general intelligence and the capacity for common sense may be negatively associated across individuals, and why people like Richard Dawkins are simultaneously very intelligent and very stupid, lacking in common sense, precisely because they are very intelligent. As the pioneer evolutionary psychologist Gordon G. Gallup Jr. puts it very eloquently, in science, common sense is often common nonsense.18

Higher Intelligence as a Peacock's Tail?

There may be other reasons why intelligent people like liberals tend to espouse stupid ideas. The Norwegian-Australian journalist Mads Andersen, in personal communication, suggests to me another explanation for why liberals are stupider than conservatives. Andersen has a couple of great suggestions, both of which utilize the handicap principle, first proposed by the Israeli biologist Amotz Zahavi.19

A prime example of a handicap is the peacock's tail. The long, elaborate, and ornate tail of a peacock does not have any adaptive value; it does not serve any tangible, useful purpose that would aid the survival of the peacock. In fact, it only harms its survival chances. Peacocks with longer, more elaborate trains are easier for predators to catch and kill than fellow peacocks with shorter and simpler trains. It is also biologically more expensive to maintain elaborate trains with symmetrical eyes. So they only have costs and no benefits.

But that, according to Zahavi, is precisely the point. Peacocks are advertising to peahens, “Look, I am so genetically fit and I can run so fast that I can still evade the predators with this huge thing hanging from my ass! Them other guys ain't so fit and the only reason they can evade predators is because their trains are shorter. They wouldn't be able to evade the predators if their tails were as long as mine! Now whose genes would you like your offspring to carry?”

And peahens indeed do prefer to mate with peacocks with longer, more elaborate, and more symmetrical tails that are biologically very expensive to maintain and costly for their survival chances. Peahens prefer such peacocks as mates so that their male offspring will also sport long, elaborate tails that attract females of their generation.

The same idea is captured by the expression “fighting with one arm tied behind my back.” Any fighter who can win a fight with one arm tied behind his back would naturally have to be stronger and more genetically fit than anyone who needs both hands to fight. Zahavi and other biologists suggest that many seemingly useless traits like peacocks’ long tails may have evolved as a handicap, an honest signal of one's genetic fitness to potential mates. They are therefore sexually selected (they increase the carrier's reproductive success), even though they are not naturally selected (they do not increase the carrier's survival chances).

Andersen's ideas capitalize on the Zahavian handicap principle. First, he suggests that more intelligent individuals tend to espouse absurdly complex ideas as an honest signal of their higher intelligence. Because common sense is evolutionarily familiar, and all humans are equipped with common sense, it is by definition the simplest and easiest solution available to them. More intelligent people reject the “simplistic” solution offered by common sense, even though it is usually the correct solution, and instead adopt unnecessarily complex ideas simply because their intelligence allows them to entertain such complex ideas, even when they may be untrue or unuseful in solving the problem at hand.

Many observers have noted that this is indeed already happening in academia.20 In fields like literary criticism that lack external objective criteria for evaluating ideas (in contrast to natural sciences whose theories must be evaluated against nature), or in pseudoscientific fields like sociology where nobody can agree on what the truth is and political ideology trumps empirical evidence, academics are increasingly rewarded for proposing complex and absurd ideas like reader response theory or social constructionism. Andersen suggests that these academics may be (unconsciously) saying, “Look, I have such an excess of intelligence that I don't have to go for the obvious and simple (albeit true) answers provided by common sense. I can come up with absurdly complex ideas because my higher intelligence allows me to!”

Second, Andersen points out that many political liberals, especially in Hollywood and academia, are themselves well off and do not individually and directly benefit from the liberal policies of greater welfare states. Once again, these liberals may be giving an honest signal that they have accumulated and are still able to accumulate so many resources that they can afford to pay higher taxes and allow the public funds to benefit other people. If they are not able to accumulate resources themselves, they would not be able to afford paying higher taxes to fund welfare programs that do not directly benefit them. In essence, they are (unconsciously) saying, “Look, I'm so wealthy that I can afford to waste my money on other people who are not related to me!”

I believe Andersen may be right in both of his suggestions. But I don't think his explanations necessarily contradict the ones offered by Charlton and myself earlier. Instead, they may be additional reasons why intelligent people are more likely to be liberals and espouse stupid ideas as honest signals of their genetic fitness and higher intellectual capacity. One does not have to be wrong for the other to be right; they may both be correct and provide partial explanations.