Resources I Love: The Curse of High IQ

Curse of High IQ
Cover of The Curse of High IQ, by Aaron Clarey

I’ll admit it, I am an economics nerd.  I didn’t have the interest to take econ in University; back then I was still under the delusion that one could make a good living writing science fiction. It, along with Beysian Logic, Libertarianism, and Business are all things I started caring about when I was 30, disillusioned, and ready to pretty much disabuse myself of everything I thought I knew if it might mean leading a happier life.  Aaron Clarey of Captain Capitalism was my gateway drug into the world of Thomas Sowell, Walter Williams, Friedrich Hayek, and Christian Bastiat. Which means that I will buy any book he writes if it looks like it will be of even the vaguest interest to me. I wasn’t sure that Aaron was going to tell me anything new about having a high IQ, but I wanted to give him my dollars. I am glad I did, this book gave me a fresh perspective that has inspired me to start making some significant changes.

The most important thing he does in this book is point out that high IQ has downsides as well as upsides.  Some of them were hauntingly familiar:  I thought it was a flaw in my character that the world seems to move too goddamned slow and it was driving me nuts.  I thought that I lacked perspective when our cultural and economic system seemed grim… I couldn’t understand why all the information I had made me depressed when everyone else thought the world was all hunky-dory. I also assumed that I had a problem when I was constantly looking at new things to learn to keep myself from getting bored.  Not once did it occur to me that this might be because I was trying to get along in a world where a lot of people just didn’t work as fast, see as many connections, or enjoy learning in the same way I do.

I have been told time and time again that IQ just doesn’t mean all that much, so it never occurred to me that I was all that different. The very idea that a high IQ might change anything other than how quickly I solved math problems or picked out important ideas in books ran contrary everything they told me about IQ in Junior High… and that meant that the real problems that I had went improperly understood, and at the same time my potential advantage went untapped.

Pretending IQ doesn’t matter might be great for the self-esteem of the average kid, but it also means some of us just don’t understand why we go through life feeling like we are stuck in traffic all the time.  And when we do understand that, then ways to actually make use of that excess time and energy begins to suggest themselves.  Knowing where on the bell curve you sit can help you find new reserves of patience and confidence.   Learning that I was in the 99.4 percentile of human learning and processing capability suddenly changed my game, because I realized that I could be doing a lot more, and making much better money… which is leading me to make some serious shifts in how I do business.

The Curse of High IQ is, in essence, a guide to understanding where you sit in relation to your fellow human beings. It reminds you that high IQ isn’t just an advantage; it is a difference that will change how you function and relate to others… complete with its own dangers and dysfunctions which the rest of the world may not be equipped to understand let alone help you deal with.  Just knowing you are not abnormal, that there are other people with the same frustrations, and seeing what they are capable of makes a difference.

And like anything written by an intelligent and economically literate person, The Curse of High IQ is not interested in creating a new victim group – it would be absurd to do so.  Identifying a problem and then expecting other people to magically solve it is not what a person with a High IQ does.  Rather, it serves as a tool to help you re-calibrate how you think about yourself and others.  It gives you an idea of how you can adjust your expectations, direct your energies, and make connections with other people to be happier and more focused.  In the end, The Curse of High IQ lets you see how you are diminishing your own incredible potential.  Hopefully, you can then choose to live up to it, instead.

That is certainly what it inspired me to do.

I’d recommend it to anyone who ever wished they could pump their highschool trig class full of vaporized stimulants in hopes that just once you wouldn’t have to wait 10 minutes for someone to answer the teacher’s question or have to hear some imbecile shout “I don’t get it,” dooming you to repeat the same lesson for the third time in a row. It may give you a stunning change of perspective.

4 thoughts on “Resources I Love: The Curse of High IQ

  1. “…I have been told time and time again that IQ just doesn’t mean all that much…”

    I missed the “everyone’s a winner” phase of education, but I was often told IQ didn’t mean anything – nobody EVER did a test. I wondered whether it was not so much that it didn’t mean anything, but that nobody really understood what it did mean and hence exactly what to do with it.

    1. When we started researching IQ there became a very real worry that it would create a caste system. In most Western countries it is illegal to discuss IQ with a job applicant because they were afraid that people with low IQs would be selected out of the marketplace. By the early 1980s, schools were discouraged from giving IQ tests for fear that it would bias the teachers, or cause students with low IQ to feel inferior and become demotivated.

      Many parents still tested their kid’s IQs anyway, and many professionals like career counsellors ad psychiatrists continued the practice as well. And so the oficially unofficial policy of the education reformists and “values adjustment” lobbies were to downplay the importance of IQ- or even to tell kids straight up that it “didn’t matter.”

      Then Charles Murray released The Bell Curve and hysteria ensured (Murray and his co-writer found that there was a strong genetic component to IQ, and yes, some groups of people have on average higher IQ than others). IQ and measuring thereof became see as a dangerous, racist practice. This was not the point of The Bell Curve, and Dr. Murray himself is actually incredibly well-spoken on the need for racial tolerance and basic fairness.

      And so IQ became the red-headed stepchild of cognitive science. Most people don’t like talking about it, and it can be an incendiary topic.

      FWIW IQ is a measure of the capacity of a person to learn things quickly, process and integrate new information, make complex arguments or perform analysis, and often their basic speed of nonverbal information processing.

      High IQ is not a guarantee of success, but it does mean that if they apply themselves, persons with High IQ are more likely to succeed in risky endeavour, earn high status, and high incomes. Likewise, it does not necessarily make them more likely to be rational: people with High IQ are capable of seeing the flaws in their arguments and changing their minds… but they are also far better at coming up with complicated arguments to defend- and rationalizations for- incorrect and irrational positions.

      High IQs also come with risks and disadvantages: a greater tendency toward pessimism, a predisposition for insomnia, a greater risk for addictive behaviour, and higher risk for mood disorders. It also tends to be socially isolating, wether that person is an introvert or extravert.

  2. To be brutally honest, IQ doesn’t really give that much of an advantage once you’re above a minimum threshold. Being in the 99 percentile of work-ethic, belief in self and determination is going to take you a lot farther in life than what score you got on some test. Most of the great challenges in life are marathons and not sprints and what you got on a test that lasted a few hours means almost nothing.

    If you tackle a difficult unsolved problem in business, or mathematics, or an academic field with the notion that simply having a high IQ is going to carry you through it with minimal difficulty, then you’re in for a world of hurt and disappointment. You’ll wind up defeated, depressed, and with nothing to show for it but bags under your eyes, empty liquor bottles and crumpled-up pieces of paper that told you how smart you were. The determining factor at that point as to whether you’ll succeed is if you have the bloodthirsty grit and tortured determination to keep going. If you don’t, then the piece of paper that told you that you were smart doesn’t mean anything.

    1. “If you believe that…” is always a risky way to start any paragraph, compared to “do you believe that…” In this case I would say that I don’t disagree with any of your points. You are preaching to the chorus Merely believing that I am spmart is not enough to ensure I succeed in business.

      I’ve run my company for seven years now, and much of my success has been due to hard work, a stern wrk ethic, and a positive attitude. Just thinking a business into existence doesn’t work…

      …But intelligence does help. Raw hours dedicated to a task, and the collective volume of the blood, sweat, and tears put into a busness are not a good measure of ho much work you have done A person who has done their market research, planned ahead, set their priorities, and managed their time gets more out of those hours. Their sweat can be worth a lot more per drop.

      The leaders in any competitive market will be the one who create both the solution that has the greatest balance of elegance and market appeal. One thing that I have been hesitant to do is take some fairly different approaches to my business to market becuse I have been unsure about the potential quality of my innovations: are they elegant? are they appealing? Can I make them so? Do I have what it takes to draw the idea in my head out and make it real to the quality it deserves?

      Yes that, too is a majority sweat, but if the ideas and concepts are not up to scratch, then it is wasted effort.

      If you look into studies on IQ, there is a strong correlation between high IQ and achievement of income and position in the private sector; especially in white collar work. Not ever genius is going to make it to a corporate board, but if you want to being the boardroom, a high IQ is very likely to help you get there. The same is true of earning six figure salaries in the private sector. But you have to want it, you have to aply your intellect by combining it with hard work, and you have to actually believe that you are capable.

      Also strongly Correlated to business success is empathy, communication skills, leadership, ability to negotiate, and the capacity for delayed gratification. All of which must also be mixed wih hard work, to benefit their possessor.

      What the “piece of paper” has actually told me is that it is very likely that the ideas I have for innovations to my industry are as valuable as I suspect in my more optimistic moments. That yes, they may well be original, and not someone else’s preexisting failure, and that I am fully capable of bringing them to the market in a way that will bring me the resources I desire…

      …if I am willing to work both hard and smart.

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