Smart people are generally uglier

The clever one is the stupid one

Or: the inevitable arrogance of intelligence

By Florian Felix Weyh

Sometimes the smart manager is the stupid, says Florian Felix Weyh (AP)

The boy is small for his age, but smarter than others. After changing school, he only needs a few weeks to get excellent grades again in the more demanding climate. This brings him into the focus of class aggression.

Cut, another example: The management talent, transferred from the headhunter to a large corporation, is supposed to set up a new business area. An existing torso has been devouring millions for years, with no useful concept. The new manager reveals undesirable developments, denounces wrong processes, suggests changes. Because he is right on almost every point, he was sidelined a year later.

Cut, another case: The scientist, who was promoted as a teenager, would have become a brilliant professor had she not had the deplorable trait of always opening her mouth when a formulated problem calls for a clear solution ... which, of course, no one wants to hear, because it does not fit into the private interests of the hierarchically higher level.

There are a number of officially recognized marginalized groups in Germany. They all send delegates to political bodies, employ lobbyists, and publish voluminous reports that show precisely that their fringe group is the worst of all.

Usually the group is then courted by the media and financially nurtured. Dream dancers call this democracy. The most important fringe group in society, on the other hand, remains disorganized and relies on others to recognize their relevance. It's the intelligent ones. More precisely: the more intelligent. Those whose input the whole society lives on.

If you apply strict criteria, they make up significantly less than five percent of the population. A real fringe group, then; and one that cannot be arbitrarily enlarged according to the point of view of political opportunity in order to gain more clout.

Those who bear the stigma of high intelligence remain in the minority for the rest of their lives. Despite positive connotations, he will hardly be better off than the general public. Long-term studies have regularly shown that high intelligence does not correlate with feelings of happiness, but rather with depression. Professional success can also by no means be predicted. At best, wiser ones are characterized by the fact that they become dissatisfied with themselves more quickly. One could cynically describe this as an individual life fate. Don't ugly people also have their parcel to carry?

For society, however, this means a catastrophe: Where one does not listen to the spiritually brighter, darkness spreads. Unfortunately, this sting sits deep in the system because the principle of equality of votes in elections - which does not mean the speaking vote, but the count of the person - is interpreted so broadly that every stupid truism is considered to be primordial democratically equivalent to a clever thought. Could the fathers of modern democracy have imagined that? No! They assumed that when votes were taken, the brightest proposals would be decided and the brightest would be chosen.

A utopia. We are far from realizing it. Smart people learn at an early age to keep their mouths shut at the points of contact in society - in politics, business, science, the media - and to secretly look for allies. As an inferior fringe group, they can never prevail in the distorted competition against the prevailing mass opinion anyway.

But how is the clever one supposed to recognize allies? In the wonderful book "Being Smart", the brain researcher Valentin Braitenberg names the unwillingness to listen to other - namely more stupid - people for a long time as an infallible criterion. A combination of absent-mindedness and irritation sets in with him, the wiser, "as if I knew from the start that I was going to be told something that I had already rejected in my own thinking before it actually surfaced."

How arrogant! How intelligent ...


Florian Felix Weyh, writer and freelance journalist in Berlin (Katharina Meinel)Florian Felix Weyh, born 1963, lives as an author and journalist in Berlin. Prizes and grants for drama, prose, and essay; since 1988 he has been working regularly as a literary critic for Deutschlandfunk. His latest book "The Last Choice - Therapies for the Suffering Democracy" was published in August 2007 in the Other Library. Scattered texts and further information on the person can be found at www.weyh.info.