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

Who are “clever sillies?"

While it is consistent with the prediction of the Hypothesis, the conclusion in my previous post 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 Editor in Chief of Medical Hypotheses, may have an explanation. In his editorial in the December 2009 issue of Medical Hypotheses, 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 an earlier post, 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 evolved psychological mechanisms. Everyone — intelligent or not — is evolutionarily equipped with 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 (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.

Because common sense is evolutionarily familiar and thus natural, the Hypothesis 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-common sensical, stupid ideas to solve problems in the evolutionarily familiar domains.

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 — whereas “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.”

Once again, 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) 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 known were completely lacking in common sense.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

About the Author
Satoshi Kanazawa

Satoshi Kanazawa is an evolutionary psychologist at LSE and the coauthor (with the late Alan S. Miller) of Why Beautiful People Have More Daughters.