Clever Sillies

I don’t have good numbers on this, but I often get the feeling that bright people are particularly susceptible to moderately complicated intellectual scams, like Marx and Freud and foot reflexology. By the way, I would guess that you all have noticed that foot reflexology teaches that each part of the body has an image on the sole of the foot – logically this must include an image of the foot itself! Brouwer! Quaker Oats Box!

I would like to have more certain, more quantitative knowledge about this (about clever sillies, although the foot thing is also interesting)

Anyhow,I was reading a post by by Scott Aaronson (a smart guy) about silly nomenclature in the “social sciences”, which touched upon past delusions of this sort- but with the implication that Scott probably wouldn’t have succumbed to such nonsense. But I kinda think he would have, considering that he takes modern feminism seriously, enough so to have asked a therapist to chemically castrate him, since he was such a threatening, yet miserable, tool of the patriarchy.

But, as I said, he’s a bright guy: why did he ever believe any of this shit? Why would he ever have taken feminism seriously? Roughly speaking, you can factor an ideology into a statement of preferences and a theory of the world, usually one that can be inscribed on a 3″ x 5″ card: I cannot think of any example in which feminism’s index card ever showed any predictive power at all (male rhesus monkeys prefer toy trucks, for example) . I mean, Andrea Dworkin, really?

I’m pretty sure that an unusually high fraction of high-achieving types in math and physics show a funny, low-fitness personality, but that’s something different, I think.

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164 Responses to Clever Sillies

  1. Jacob says:

    Doesn’t it have to do with rejecting what’s obvious or what dumb people believe– and dumb people believe a lot of true things, because they’re obvious? Smart people want to show how smart they are, so they have to believe something else, which is usually false.

    In some cases, like Marx and Freud, I think the mechanism is a little different, though– more like a false analogy that is appealing because it’s implicit. Marx is appealing because we are really tempted to view society like a family or tribal group, where concerns about fairness and cohesion trump all. All the crazy verbiage makes us think he’s onto something more than our own innate biases. Freud is a better writer and was a cultured guy, and talking about sex and hidden desires and covert symbols isn’t a bad way to understand stories and plays and legends, even it’s a terrible way of understanding or treating mental illness.

    • BurplesonAFB says:

      Yes, exalting the counter intuitive is part of it. Smart people enjoy knowledge that seems esoteric. re: Marx and Freud there’s a great book on the subject by Dr. Kevin MacDonald, I’m sure you’ve heard of it.

  2. Jerome says:

    Dogs never fall for astrology. Humans do. You have to have the mental power to understand astronomy, in order to get very far into astrology. Since most of what we know — all of us — is received knowledge, the question of which elaborate conceptual structures we come to regard as “true” is perhaps less one of intelligence than of some sort of judgment. But you can’t fall for a hoax you are too dumb to understand.

  3. Leonard says:

    People tend to believe what other people believe, particular high status people. Normal people do, that is. Only a tiny fraction of men will believe what their lyin’ eyes show when there’s difficult to falsify high-status contrary explanation. Of course, it helps if expressing any unorthodox belief is punishable. This is probably what is keeping Aaronson in the fold, to the extent he is.

    Feminism, 3×5 card or not, is the professed belief of the great and the good.

  4. pyrrhus says:

    I think humans love to have a “theory of everything”, and sometimes actually come to believe in it…But low-T academics are the worst….

  5. One reason may be that there is some pleasure to be gained from teasing people, and believing 6 impossible things before breakfast, hoping that the dull will be unable to muster strong arguments against the impossible belief. What begins as an affectation could take on the status of an over-valued idea which, in a small number, becomes cherished.

    • iffen says:

      Trust in a person or source can be another reason. I am not naming names, but the way some people think is that once an item is trusted it is never reconsidered, never evaluated or questioned, it is a building block. This can produce a real blind spot if the information comes from a person who has your complete trust.

    • benespen says:

      Or perhaps that we tend to become what we are pretending to be.

  6. IC says:

    This can happens. Some personal acquanitances did that. I can only explain this like some kind of faith which does not need objective evidences. They need some thing to feel unconditionally good or relief for their pain due to personal or social reasons. Faith/religion can be very good placebo for psychological and organic pains.

    Without need of objective evidences, you can create all kinds of fantacies for your own happiness.

    • IC says:

      By hopping on novel faith, they can dissociate themselve from underclass people’s faith/religion. Novel stuff might be also intimidating since they can easily label others as “ignorant” as way to defend themselve. The estabolished reputable rebuttals do not exist yet. They can feel safe in their faith.

      • Rosenmop says:

        “By hopping on novel faith, they can dissociate themselves from underclass people’s faith/religion”

        Similarly with modern art, arty “films” , modern literature, and so on. Its all crap.

  7. Abraham Lincoln says:

    Low-fitness as in “awkward bumblefuck”, or low-fitness as in “having fewer and lower-quality children”?

  8. Jim says:

    I think that Freudian and other psychoanalytic theories appealed to the vanity of people in the humanities by apparently showing that a non-scientific literary approach to human behavior could produce insights not attainable by empirical science. So it helped protect the status of literary humanistic scholars in a time of rapidly increasing prestige for scientists due to the tremendous advances of technology that were associated with modern science.

    Of course very smart people could believe in psychoanalysis. Reuben Fine, one of the very strongest chess players of all time, was a professor of psychology who wrote books on psychoanalysis.

  9. drethelin says:

    In general, moral theories are not about predicting the world. Christian morality is never seen to result in ascensions to heaven nor angels descending to save the afflicted from rapists. Feminism fits into the category of moral theory that pretends to have a basis in historical facts, much like Christianity pretends to be based on the actions of a series of historic figures culminating in Jesus.

  10. Not me, I’m above getting scammed. I paid an extra buck for my “organic free range chicken eggs raised on an Amish family farm.” I just love the idea of those amish kids chasing those chickens around the barn yard. Tonight college basketball starts and I’m just sure this is the year my system works and I grow my bankroll like never before.

  11. iffen says:

    Everybody has to pick a turtle. If you pick the wrong one it throws everything off after that.

    • Everybody who is idealistic, and overconfident in their intelligence, picks a turtle and then the damn thing crawls off in a random direction. Those are the big two qualifiers in being truly world class full of shit, idealistic and not knowing how little you know. The stupid usually aren’t too idealistic, why should they be.

      • iffen says:

        No. I don’t believe there is a lot of random where people are involved. Anyway, I am sure that most of the smart women will stay home and pop out babies, so everything is going to be okay.

  12. James Miller says:

    This just might be selection bias in the set of silly theories you pay attention to. Lots of low IQ people believe in complicated and silly theories such as astrology, alien abductions, and Illuminati-like conspiracies.

  13. AppSocRes says:

    I’ve always had a vague sense that human “intelligence” — and here I’m defining it, as I think most readers of this blog would, as that vague thing that correlates highly with scores on measurement instruments such as IQ tests — doesn’t correlate with Darwinian fitness nearly as much as many naive persons think. For one thing, unless the C(onscientiousness) dimension of personality (OCEAN) is exceptionally high, it makes good sense that highly intelligent people would be lazy shirkers: Why would an intelligent person otherwise take on unnecessary and onerous burdens? Such persons should avoid the burdens of marriage and kids. They’ll work only enough to get out of life what they want, and so on. After all this is the most rational, intelligent approach to life. What does an individual care about what happens to the next generation or even whether his genes survive into it? Any rational person who realizes the burdens of power, fame, and other measures of success will avoid these like the plague. Experimental mall group sociology demonstrates again and again that group leadership imposes incredible burdens on individuals assuming it. Any rational, intelligent person will try to avoid these burdens.

    So I’d argue that intelligent and rational persons will tend to avoid hard work unless other endowments, e.g., a conscientious personality or exceptional gifts in some area, e.g., art, music, mathematics, creative writing, etc. make some sort of arduous striving a pleasure.. The work to be thus avoided includes intellectual hard work. Unless you have the aptitude and interest, it’s pure drudgery to gain the respect of others by learning useful intellectual skills like mathematics, science, engineering, etc, and then apply these in productive ways. It’s much easier to learn some easy to assimilate knowledge, e.g., astrology, pop psychology, sociology, etc., that you can painlessly use to impress others and make a handsome living. So I’d argue that there’s a natural link between intelligence and an attraction to painless and empty intellectual pursuits.

    I scored in the high 800s on my GRE’s back in the very late 1960’s. I’d guess that that puts me near the top pof the heap as far as intelligence goes. I had a natural aptitude for math and science. I’ve fritteredd away my life staying single and making a lot of money not working very hard at programming and various social science endeavors. I’ve had a pleasant life without any pain. I don’t envy highly intelligent colleagues who’ve married and raised families and won academic honors and renown. It seems to me they are driven by pressures that are alien to me and that I’ve enjoyed more cumulative happiness and satisfaction than many of them.. IMHO my approach to life is highly intelligent and rational although a population of persons with my genetic endowmewnt is not likely to long persist.

      • AppSocRes says:

        In the immortal words of Curley, “I resemble that remark.”

        But I do have to say that despite my best efforts, I have made some significant contributions to human knowledge while doing research solely because I have enjoyed doing it and because I require diversion from tedium. I am fortunate to have been gifted with a special set of intellectual skills that I enjoy exercising and which others will pay me for using. In the process of thus utilizing these skills I’ve coincidentally created, in partnership with others, some useful findings that are occasionally cited in a few different fields. I lose interest quite quickly in the different subject areas where I’ve worked so I’ve never bothered developing a career or much of a professional reputation.

        My main point in my original post was simply that many highly intelligent people, just because they are intelligent, will seek a path of minimal resistance as they go through life. In the absence of special intellectual skills and /or personality traits this will often lead such people to divert themselves and impress others with easily absorbed but essentially useless intellectual systems, e.g., various branches of psychoanalysis, esoteric religions, astrology, alchemy, UFOlogy, Marxism, poorly-understood, post-modern literary theory, etc. Personal observation has led me to the conclusion that this is one main reason why intelligent people – particularly those without exceptional drive and skills – often latch onto these sterile, hermaneutic systems; it’s an easy way to divert one’s self and others without exceptional effort. Similarly, in literary theory, one theory of why people read literature is that it is a method of painlessly exercising the brain.

        • Abraham Lincoln says:

          It’s why I just spent the last minute or so reading your comments.

        • Double slacker!

          Actually, I’ve been similar in my professional choices. Certainly minimal resistance describes many of the programmers I know, myself included. It is much easier to conquer a new programming language, framework, or architecture than to conquer similar topics in the non virtual world.

        • IC says:

          I believe the opposite. Purpose of human life is seeking wealth, which is behind war, education, hard-working, immigration, power-struggle, net-working, even marriage itself.

          In market economy, value is determined by supply/demand. This applies to both products and proffesions. High demand/sarce supply comands high value. When something can be easily done (like janitor job), that means every body can do it, that means a lot of supply of it, it gonna be cheap (poor). In an efficient market, any easy pathway will quickly become cheap and poor since almost every body can do it.

          On the other hand, any proffession that is hard to be qualified means fewer people available for the job. Physicians get high pay for such high demand/supply ratio. If you are capable to do something most other people can not do, it is your loss not doing it.

          But people need the psychological defense(denial) for the things they can not achieve like `wealth not make you happy’ ect. There is nothing wrong to defend the ego to survive as long as people do not take such defens as truth. Religion/faith are good placebo for the situation also. We need these defense mechanism to survive. We got it. But keep it to self. That is very reason most people can compartmentalize their faith and reality as splitted mental world.

    • antimony says:

      By this definition of rationality, the most rational beings are people with These are people who are happiest sitting in their room all alone, all their lives, and who genuinely not care what the world thinks about them.

  14. Bestpredictions says:

    “I cannot think of any example in which feminism’s index card ever showed any predictive power at all (male rhesus monkeys prefer toy trucks, for example) . I mean, Andrea Dworkin, really?”

    Equal mean IQ, and female performance in the professions, e.g. as doctors. Letting women enter medical schools and PhD programs increased supply. Opening the workforce to women increased the total number of jobs and income per capita.

    There is now a female Fields Medalist, who got two gold medals and a perfect score in the blind-graded International Math Olympiad:

    Basically, feminism correctly saw that women were being underutilized in the commercial economy, in R&D, and in government and that there could be gains from removing restrictions. Although feminism in that sense includes people like John Stuart Mill, and the movement that Aaronson listened to has a distinct character and worse track record..

    • gcochran9 says:

      It’s all been a mistake – all of it, not just the floridly crazy pinheads that Aaronson was listening to. Professional women, including academia, are about as fertile as the Mohave. That’s a cost, one that in the long run has to ruin us, if you believe in selection. On the other end of the spectrum, you see an awful lot of women’s jobs just being monetized versions of what they were doing already – people making just enough money working at a day care to pay for fast food and day care for their kids. All now taxable.

      Women are disproportionately represented in the administrative and administrative-support jobs that we need today but somehow never needed in 1950. Those jobs, along with lower teaching loads, are the main reason that college is about 2.5 times more expensive in constant dollars than 50 years ago. They are completely useless.

      One Fields – one is a small number, last I checked. Women’s direct contribution to Solovian growth has not been very big.

      Once I listened to a friend who was considering have a kid – when it was almost too late. She said that although it might interfere with her career, what about all that her children might achieve, and their children, etc? I nodded, silently thinking of a certain farm boy that figured all this out in 27 seconds when he was 12.

      This probably should be expanded into a post of its own. The title is obvious enough.

      • JayMan says:

        “This probably should be expanded into a post of its own. The title is obvious enough.”

        Please do. 🙂

      • Bestpredictions says:

        You’re right in broad strokes on reduced fertility in rich countries costing far more in economic and scientific progress than higher labor force participation can make up for, although that’s happened from Japan to Korea to Mexico to Iran.

        If the U.S. and Europe had 3 billion people that would more than outweigh lower labor force utilization.

        But there were a lot of people who denied that women could achieve as highly as they have, and if you’re going to say something like ‘no correct predictions’ rather than ‘has made things worse overall, and has been wrong about most of its big claims’ it would be nice to do so only when it’s true.

        • gcochran9 says:

          Fair enough. But even a lot of not-all-wrong claims are seriously flawed – for example, women MDs are significantly less productive, working shorter hours, more part time work, more extended leave, dropping out of the profession, etc.

          • In Denmark we have an acute lack of specialist MDs. One of the reasons for this is that MDs are increasingly female and females have lower rates of being specialists, preferring instead being general practitioners. Probably one could find some non-coercive solutions to this, such as changing the admission system which is currently based solely on passing grades in required classes and GPA (females have higher GPA).

            Danish sources:

          • Bestpredictions says:

            Sure, even accounting for that.

            Separately, while high fertility in rich countries will boost technology and incomes for a while, eventually you will hit physical limits. At that point continued high fertility will mean Malthusian decline of incomes toward subsistence. Would you support high fertility all the way to that point, or just while it contributes to or is compatible with rising or steady standards of living?

          • Ilya says:

            @Bestpredictions: who said that once humanity develops energy extraction via fusion, that society can’t grow towards hundreds of billions, if not trillions, on Earth (including subterranean) alone, not to mention expanding (possibly, later) into space colonies? Where/how do you define your physical constraints?

          • liqaf says:

            Even assuming this is true of female MDs on average (and I suspect it is), female MDs on average are generating more taxable income and doing more to advance society than 100-IQ male burger-flippers. By admitting women to the workforce, we’ve nearly doubled our quantity of high-quality workers, or at least increased it by a significant degree.

          • IC says:

            I tried to keep silence on this subject due to my concern about my smart female colleagues might read it.

            But Greg is right about gender’s different attitude toward work and family. Males tend to duty oriented over family. They actually are willing to give their life away for their duty at work and army work. Females are strongly family oriented. For their own family, they could betray anything outside of it.

            Men can be sacrificed without much loss for next generation as long as a few survivors are enough to impregnate all fertile females (not a moral judgment here). So males are traditionally risk takers, cannon fodders for good reason. Over millions years evolution, males are willing sacrificing every thing including their life for their duty. A strong sense of duty over anything else is developed for male. Sense of duty is highly honored male character. When they work, they likely to devote every thing for the job.
            On the other hand, fertile females are valuable resource for keeping next generation stable. Sacrificing fertile females is self-defeating for any population. Strong sense of duty over their own life are not good for female to have if the population do not seek self-destruction. Over long time, females evolution result in lack of sense of duty over their life or family. Their family is importatnt over anything else. Every thing is nature for the good of species.
            Well, if you are running a company or army which demand sense of duty over one’s life or family, you know the choice.
            If you are looking for some one who are willing to die for their jobs, then males.

        • liqaf says:

          Why would increased TFR and lower labor force participation benefit rich countries? Sounds like a recipe for less efficient labor markets and reduced GDP per capita. Furthermore, for any given 130-IQ woman, seems that the goals of economic and scientific progress would be better advanced by having her work than having her stay home and raise kids. If you treat her as nothing but a glorified incubator for potential sons, you’ve sidelined one high-value worker with no guarantee that more will be produced. Most likely, her sons regress to the mean.

          There are more 130-IQ men than women, but feminism needn’t prescribe affirmative action or other labor market distortions. A reasonable formulation would be: hire the best person for the job, irrespective of sex.

          • Ilya says:

            @liqaf: obsessing over single-generation’s GDP (besides, there’s only so much today’s people can consume, including taking into account Maslow’s hierarchy of needs) at expense of next generations’ total GDP (read: more total people due to expanded carrying capacity due to STEM, predicated on the fact that these same people are capable of both expanding STEM & Population further, in self-reinforcing loop) is a bad idea.

            For shorter explanation, see gcochran’s comment about a “certain farm boy” below.

            If you still don’t get it, try thinking harder.

          • gcochran9 says:

            Sons ( and daughters) don’t regress to the mean – they regress towards the mean, in the direction of the mean. But not all the way: if that was the case, natural selection wouldn’t exist. It’s interesting how many people misunderstand this – it wasn’t just McCloskey.

            If all the women with an IQ above 130 stopped having kids – or had a lot less – than the population fraction of really smart kids would go down. And, of course, women don’t contribute much to Solovian growth, as I pointed out: few are inventors or technological innovators. Some are of course, and I could reel off a number of stories about those female innovators – but I also know that men are far more likely to be key innovators.

            A reasonable social policy would take into account the long-term consequences: in practice markets don’t. Social policies since the neolithic somehow resulted – by accident, in some populations – in the abilities needed to develop technological civ. Modern social policies erode that human biological capital. I could say that this is due to ignorance of the breeder’s equation & psychometrics among our political classes – and it is true that they are ignorant of it, just like you – but they would never value the long-term future very heavily in any event. If they did they’d be defeated by someone who didn’t.

      • Jacob says:

        Pre-modern women didn’t spend an enormous time on childrearing- only for the rich was tending to baby a full time job, and they had help at it. The rest had to do the hard work of keeping a house warm and not entirely filthy and a family clothed and fed. But those tasks became much easier in the early 20th century, just as male productivity was taking off.

        Even now, your argument only applies to work force participation that interferes with (smart women’s) fertility and a minimum of childrearing. Given telework, you could easily have women work comparable amounts with higher fertility.

        In the end, I agree, though, that mainstream feminism is these days more about reducing the status of having and raising kids than it is about anything else- even the male bashing is mostly a ruse. The reason why Scott’s post about being sad and lonely elicited so much venom from feminist journalists wasn’t because he would convince nerdy men to throw off their chains- the feminists aren’t interested and wouldn’t care if they did- but because it was potentially appealing to women, who are often as beleaguered by current mating and dating arrangements as Scott was. Demonizing him as a sexually entitled monster is much easier than explaining why the old shtetl system was so much crazier than showing up at a bar, downing seven shots of Cuervo, and hoping that the stranger you wake up next to is a lifelong match.

      • Yudi says:

        I won’t argue with your points about false promises concerning the economic productivity of working women–you’re probably right–but about whether or not every single thing twentieth century feminism said was a mistake. According to Steven Pinker’s book about violence, rape rates are way down from the mid-twentieth century, as are killings of men by women (presumably because they now have better legal protection from bad men). Couldn’t at least some of this decline be due to feminist ideas spreading through society?

        Furthermore, women leaving their houses has led to a greater female voice in public affairs. This has mostly not been very good (there’s a lot more nonsense in academia than before), but perhaps certain male excesses can be balanced by considering feminine views more, particularly about violence, which is mostly a male affair.

        I’m also interested in just how much of feminism you disagree with (not to bash you or anything, I’m genuinely curious). Do you also disagree with first-wave feminism, e.g. that women should be allowed to vote?

        • gcochran9 says:

          In a quick look, I couldn’t find mid-twentieth century rape statistics that I felt confident about. But homicide? Not so hard: and the age-adjusted homicide rate for white women was 1.4 per 100,000 in 1950 and 1.8 per 100,000 in 2010. Killings of men by women might be down over this period (although I doubt it), but killings of women by men can’t be. And there’s a real difference in the quality of medical care that’s deflating those 2010 figures.

          I can’t see that giving women the vote had much effect, one way or the other.

          You know, if the argument is now whether I was only 90% right on this, rather 100% (or 110% !) I feel as if I’m getting somewhere.

          There’s a concept that came up fairly often in Western jury acquittals: “He needed killing.” With creeping Pinkerization, we probably have all too many of those people wandering around loose.

          • Yudi says:

            How about greater property rights for women within marriage and equal education for girls? (Again, this is first-wave feminism stuff, from before the twentieth century).

            Populists like Andrew Jackson supported giving poor, presumably unintelligent white men the vote. Was that a good, bad, or irrelevant decision?

          • Jacob says:

            Although, given differential fertility, the daughter of any given woman born in America in 1950 might have been less likely to be murdered than she was.

    • Jacob says:

      Actually, the medical schools responded by lowering the number of male doctors trained, and raising the standards for admission (at least for most applicants) extremely high. There was a good AIR post about this, which has disappeared from the Internet, perhaps because of the implicit criticism of feminism.

  15. Patrick Boyle says:

    Goody. I’m the first one to mention Global Warming.

  16. Space Ghost says:

    To build on your observation, it seems that the particular intellectual pathologies you describe are more common in highly abstract fields. Math, theoretical physics, theoretical CS, etc. In my experience it seems to be much less common in engineers, computer programmers, experimentalists, etc. Maybe it’s because they aren’t quite smart enough.

  17. dearieme says:

    Marx and Freud are attractive, I assume, because each provides an abstract “theory” with the claimed ability to explain a huge range of features of the human mind, or of human history, two subjects that are otherwise too intricate and particular to allow ready understanding. In other words, if you find people and their behaviour puzzling, you lean on those daft generalisations rather than engage with trying to understand properly little bits of the complex of behaviour.

    Probably experimentalist, engineers and so on find it more agreeable to tackle problems one little bit at a time, trying to establish facts that may be viewed, if only temporarily, as conclusive, even if they have no universal explanatory power.

    • gcochran9 says:

      My favorite was when a disciple said that Trotsky’s farsightedness explained why none of his predictions had come true yet.

      • dearieme says:

        Roars of applause.

      • j says:

        You are dismissing Trotsky on a wrong basis. Trotsky was not a scientist whose predictions were to be verified. He was a professional revolutionary, and like any politician, his speeches and prophesies were tailored to his audience and aimed at advancing his power.

        What is the word for this system for brushing off people by attributing them purposes they never had?

        • gcochran9 says:

          It is a fact that a Troskyite said that Trotsky’s far-sightedness was proved by the fact that none of his predictions have come true yet.

          And of course your old fashioned Communists filled whole libraries with books about how Marxism-Leninism was a real theory of history. You remember.

          • j says:

            “My old fashioned Communists” were wrong, no one seriously disputes that. But Marxism is still a handy ideology to conquer power and keep it for very, very long. For a funny intermission, one can always read Friedrich Engels book on the origin of the family.

          • Jim says:

            But j – Seventy years is not “very, very long” by the standards of history. Even the empire of Sargon of Akkad lasted longer than 70 years.

          • benespen says:

            The whole theory of history thing was a huge part of Marx’s appeal to the clever sillies. All the cool kids believed it.

    • cthulhu says:

      One of the side effects of being an engineer or an experimental scientist is that you inevitably screw up enough things (e.g., the magic smoke comes out of your new radar array, or your new experimental rocket experiences a rapid unscheduled disassembly) that it becomes impossible to believe in your personal infallibility, or anybody else’s for that matter. You become super-conscious of the unknown unknowns in your knowledge. I find this carries over to most spheres of experience, not just the work world. But maybe I’m just a natural pessimist…

  18. primemonad says:

    I’ve always wondered why there isn’t more study of the well known phenomenon of “common sense”.

    Is it that there’s no good way to measure it? I’m not sure why that would be so.

    Obviously, if it could be measured reliably, it would be very useful to see what it correlates with, how much it’s heritable, etc.

    • IC says:

      If you feel you are the center of universe, that is very common sense for every living being.

      You need a leap of faith or intelligence to break that common sense. Unfortunately most scientists lost that sense when they looked at things around them objectively.

    • albatross says:

      Common sense is probably more distilled experience than anything else. A lot of clever sillies get propogated when you are young and have little experience, and stick around as markers of your social class when you’re older and have more experience and thus more common sense.

  19. Gringo says:

    This reminds me of a George Orwell quote:
    “Some ideas are so stupid that only intellectuals believe them.”

      • Jacob says:

        A longer but still good version from Thomas Sowell:

        “Those whose careers are built on the creation and dissemination of ideas — the intellectuals — have played a role in many societies out of all proportion to their numbers. Whether that role has, on balance, made those around them better off or worse off is one of the key questions of our times.
        The quick answer is that intellectuals have done both. But certainly, during the 20th century, it is hard to escape the conclusion that intellectuals have on balance made the world a worse and more dangerous place. Scarcely a mass-murdering dictator of the 20th century was without his supporters, admirers, or apologists among the leading intellectuals — not only within his own country, but in foreign democracies, where intellectuals were free to say whatever they wanted.
        …intellectuals are people whose end products are intangible ideas, and they are usually judged by whether those ideas sound good to other intellectuals or resonate with the public. Whether their ideas turn out to work — whether they make life better or worse for others — is another question entirely.”[3]

  20. JayMan says:

    “I don’t have good numbers on this, but I often get the feeling that bright people are particularly susceptible to moderately complicated intellectual scams, like Marx and Freud and foot reflexology.”

    Is it bright people the world over, or is it bright people primarily from certain corners of it?

    Indeed, is it the same corners that win the most Nobel prizes and Fields Medals per capita?

    I have an idea on this, as recited here:

    Clannishness – The Series: Zigzag Lightning in the Brain

    This may seem like a simple and seemingly meaningless difference, but it goes to the core of one of the key ways WEIRDO people are different from the rest of humanity. The ability to think abstractly and understand crisp linear rules of how things relate to each other is fundamental to being an effective scientist. I’ll argue that development of the Northwestern European penchant for abstraction is directly responsible (among other traits) for the Scientific and Industrial Revolutions.

    By contrast, in WEIRDO societies, excessive abstraction is common, particularly when it comes to people (example: all of libertarianism). NW Euro liberals are susceptible to this naive abstraction about people. An example from Sweden

    Certain subgroups that also win many prizes per capita are also similarly susceptible (i.e., Ashkenazi Jews), it seems.

  21. MawBTS says:

    Was it not someone here who said “dumb people believe x. Smart people believe y. Really smart people believe x”?

    I mean, Andrea Dworkin, really?

    Please let’s give Dworkin credit for cleaning up the porn industry. Just look at the practices she brought to light:

    “Dworkin testified before the commission about a sexual practice she described as “skull-fucking,” a pornographic paraphilia “apparently brought back from Vietnam.” “These are films in which a woman is killed and the orifices in her head are penetrated with a man’s penis-her eyes, her mouth, and so on,” Dworkin went on.”

    One might ask, had Dworkin ever seen one of these films herself? No, of course not. But she’d spoken to people who had. And who would ever lie about such a thing?

  22. stalin says:

    Sometimes I am really sorry that Andrea is dead. After all, speaking ill of the dead is considered poor form. But pissing on her grave seems scarcely enough.

  23. Andrew says:

    It would be interesting to see a correlation of 130+ IQ v. novelty seeking traits. There appears to be some correlation for moderate IQ.

  24. Yudi says:

    I haven’t read it myself, but isn’t this what What Intelligence Tests Miss is about? From what I understand, the book argues that intelligence by no means automatically frees you from common logical fallacies which can seriously warp your thinking.

  25. JV says:

    Why wouldn’t one take feminism seriously? Is historical and systemic misogyny non-existent? I want that to stop. What avenue is there besides feminism?

  26. MEH 0910 says:

    “By the way, I would guess that you all have noticed that foot reflexology teaches that each part of the body has an image on the sole of the foot – logically this must include an image of the foot itself!”

    Ah. Then would that image of the foot on the foot contain within itself an image of the whole body, including the foot, which would again contain an image of the body, and so on ad infinitum…

  27. John Harvey says:

    Amongst primates, young adults are usually the ones whose behavioural programming leads them to challenge existing social hierarchies, because they want to be troop leaders instead. But because some young adult humans are bright, they don’t just challenge by shouting or waving big sticks like the rest of the primate world, they also feel compelled to justify their challenge by creating complex half-believed intellectual theories aimed at justifying their subversion. Marxism for instance. This tends to increase their support amongst other bright humans who would otherwise be quite offended by people waving big sticks, but who get a virtuous buzz from egalitarian social theorizing. The pay-off for the rebels is that if enough people get hooked on the theory then the theorists get to take over the hierarchy – which happened to quite a lot of countries during the Twentieth century. Once in power the new troop leaders usually drop a lot of the theorising and become rather more authoritarian than their predecessors. Behavioural programming will out.

    • j says:

      No. Our arboreal cousins don’t just challenge the boss by shouting or waving big sticks. They build elaborate networks of friends and supporters that hope to benefit in the new order.

  28. Jacob in the first comment had about as good a guess as we might get at first pass – which is another way of saying that I had the same thought but he said it more clearly. The history of utopian societies in America spread across the top half of the country from New England westward, and that population was more NW European. And we had those knuckleheaded ideas before there were many Jews to teach them to us, though they came on strong after they got here. Jayman’s question may turn out to be key. Readers who know whether current Japanese or Indian intellectuals show the same tendency might be helpful.

    The idea of feminism as a long, slow version of eating the seed corn seems to capture quite a lot.

    As for science versus social-science foolishness, I recommend for your attention Roger W Babson.

  29. Matt says:

    I guess perhaps because feminism does not visibly not explain things compared to the alternative, and there’s social pressure on them (mainly on men from women who are interested in things and wish to study them and work with them), and it is an emotionally appealing notion.

    Are there any alternatives that are particularly great in ways they’d notice? Much of feminism can be reduced to specious psychological and political notions about male sexuality and dominance behaviour, but what is really out explains their observations (or is systematically able to contradict their observations)?

    (I mean, for instance, evolutionary psychology? It’s obvious that human psychology is closer to fairly generalised information processing that then respond to inputs, albeit cruftily dumped in a bath of ape-ish tendencies, not these exactingly evolved modules for specific tasks. Yet enough nonsense is pursued in this regard to discredit the notion of any evolution in the minds of many of the intelligent.)

  30. antimony says:

    Castrating yourself to support women’s rights is no sillier than volunteering to war for god, king and country, giving all your property to the poor and becoming a hermit or monk or similar “irrational” behavior that was nevertheless common in history for a long time before Marx.

    I’m pretty sure that an unusually high fraction of high-achieving types in math and physics show a funny, low-fitness personality, but that’s something different, I think.

    Was it rational forÉvariste_Galois to go to certain death over some “point of honor”?

    • ziel says:

      “Castrating yourself to support women’s rights is no sillier than volunteering to war for…”
      Well not really because going to war can actually accomplish something – not always of course, particularly in recent years, but there’s history. Going to war, for example, worked out pretty damn well for the Mohammedans back in the 6th/7th centuries, no?

      Also, not going to war can be bad for your health, if your compatriots notice your lack of participation.

      As for the Monks, that seems pretty irrational, but we’re interpolating 21st century rationalism onto Medieval society – atheism was hardly the rational default world view at the time.

      But Aaraonson has absolutely no basis for believing self-castration could even solve anything, never mind there even being a problem to solve.

  31. linsee says:

    Michael Shermer (of Skeptic Magazine) has said that very smart people (he was describing audiences at Mensa gatherings) are particularly susceptible to grand theories of everything because they are so good at thinking up supporting arguments for what they already believe.

    • dearieme says:

      That’s an interesting point. Hats off again.

    • Yes, rather like playing chess against yourself. You can make your side win, whether you are a novice or a grandmaster.

    • Anonymous says:

      They also have a hard time dismissing silly ideas that they may not like, because they can always think of the one possible scenario under which the idea might have merit. This + low self-esteem = lots of agony-stricken high-IQ male feminists.

    • Very well said. Smart people can get away with grand theories of everything, because they can verbally defend themselves. We have all witnessed successful people who might be expert enough in one very specific money making skill who then get utterly delusional about what they know about the whole world in general. The world is run amok with smug people who believe their simple answers to complex questions are vastly superior to almost everyone else. Intelligent and/or successful people can get away their whole lives with never eating their humble pie.

      About ten years ago, thinking myself a very clever fellow, I discovered Razib Khan’s blog and started running my mouth with my own ignorant half baked opinions. Razib and Greg browbeat the shit out of me, I didn’t like it, but I deserved it.;)

      Then I started reading a lot of non fiction books that Razib recommended and I realized how little I knew, and how many folks out there are smarter than me. Most sharp people avoid facing facts about their rightful place in complex world. Humble pie might be good for you but it tastes like shit.

      I can make my point better by using an analogy between height and intelligence. A person who has a mental height of 6 foot 4 can wander through his whole life deluding himself he is a mental giant. He can choose to never see his real place on the bell curve of mental clarity.

  32. anon says:

    are women still on track to run the 100 metres in less than 10 seconds? When is that going to happen? After gay marriage is on the books? Oh, it already is. After women are the majority of university graduates? Oh…

    Seriously, have feminists ever gotten anything right?

  33. Unladen Swallow says:

    Along those lines and anecdotally I remember Steve Sailer mentioning a while back that a lot of stay at home moms who organized extra curricular activities at his kids’ high school were women with MBA’s from top business schools like Wharton, Harvard, Northwestern, etc… . I’m sure his little corner of LA is not the only area of the country where you see women making that career choice.

    They worked for a while in the Fortune 500, but then quit after having a kid or two and are now seriously over qualified to be running the concession stands at high school sports events. I guess if you have an your own MBA it’s easier to discern which males will successfully climb the corporate ladder, so there is that.

    • Tarl says:

      I guess if you have an your own MBA it’s easier to discern which males will successfully climb the corporate ladder

      But it’s not going to make you more hot, which is what those males care about.

      • Anthony says:

        It’s also not going to (necessarily) make you less hot, and it will put you around more ambitious men.

        • Tarl says:

          It’s also not going to (necessarily) make you less hot,

          Yes it is. Education makes women less feminine, and thus less hot.

          Anyway, if a girl wants to be around ambitious men, it is easier and more cost-effective to get a job as a corporate admin than to get an MBA.

      • albatross says:

        Some men want to meet a smart woman so they can have smart kids, and so they can have something to talk about at home for the next forty years besides TV.

        • Tarl says:

          Eh, you don’t have to marry an MBA to do that, and if she doesn’t have an MBA she is much less likely to be a self-centered, career-obsessed shrike.

  34. Anonymous says:

    Well, one thing that characterizes bright people is an enhanced tendency to tie the brain’s reward and pain centers to abstract concepts — redoubling the intrinsic motivation to engage with ideas, which over time produces somebody who knows a lot and reasons very well. But this emotionality is a double-edged sword and produces its own distinct form of irrational behavior, especially in people who aren’t emotionally put together right in the first place.

  35. Steve T. says:

    Advances in reproductive technology have changed the equation a bit. My brother’s 3 kids were IVF and surrogate-carried. Total costs about $50k per gestation and falling, as labor supply (heh!) grows. If the wife is pulling in a multiple of that post-tax, it can make sense. Also, you get the benefit of embryo selection, avoiding the obvious miscarriages.

  36. IC says:

    There is a Chinese saying : too smart to be perceived to be smart (大智若愚).

    Basically a lot of super smart people look stupid to average people. Always to be careful to judge others based on our own perception. A lot of time, judging others only makes fool of self. Just be honest if something we do not understand. By prejudging thing easily, we might not be able to learn new thing.

    Also emotional attachment to something is the basis for ideology/religion belief, which can reject objective evidences in front of scientific truth.

    Keeping open mind is the best approach. Here is example which can be true or false. Before we totally understand it, be cautious to judge such stuff.

    • IC says:

      True scientists like Galileo, Darwin, can resist social validation to pursue the truth. Most people are not able to do such thing like this youtube documentary show. Most people want to fit in (conformity).

      This might also explain scientific geniuses who often demonstrate strange personalities which are careless about others opinion. Resistance to social validation will make individual does not fit in any group.

      Introverts tend to be happy with less people around them. Such personality might be product of certain social class or lifestyle over thousands years.

      • ursiform says:

        Darwin certainly hesitated. You appear to be defining “true” scientists to be those who don’t want to fit in.

        • IC says:

          Most likely. For those who put social validation above all (actually majority people are), they would rather say popular things than truthful thing as evidence in most human history. Without social validation, your very own survival is at risk as shown by this documentary. So it is not surprise that very few against democracy in democratic countries, very few against Nazi in nazi germany, very few against communism in communist countries. The lists can go on. Politicians are working hard for social validation (popularity). On the other hand, scientists only care whether objective evidence support their claim regardless of other people’s opinions. Mathematic reasoning only need nature’s approval (or God’s approval) without social validation. Heliocentric idea is confirmed by objective finding through Galileo scope. Eistein’s theory is confirmed by astronomers objective findings, not by popular vote.

          It is very concerning that people jumping on global warming wagon might be due to such social validation instead of objective evidence especially for political left who want fit in their mob. So is poltical right for their own agenda. There are also brown nose type bloggers who pretend to be truthful. But their patterns are very much in line of social validation which are more like to use their blogging as for personal gain like politicians. The real scientists are more like Darwin or Galileo who only respect objective evidences instead of human’s opinions. Interesting enough, very academic degree often correlate with such objectivity. Majority people with Phd degree in natural science or MDs are able to do such objective thinking process. Physicians make diagnosis based on objective evidences not on others opinion (others opoinon can only serve as reference. Physicians are legally responsible for the outcome. Others opinion will not make a malignant tumor going away). Scientists make discovery based on objecitive evidences. PhD at least need more vigorous process in most respectable institutions.

          Master degrees are too easy to get. People with that kind degrees are not objecitve enough to do scientific work. Forgive me if this sounds elitism or prejudice.

          • IC says:

            Unfortunately, Nobel prize is form of social validation by its nature. If you work with serious scientists (with PhD degree), they often make fun of nobel prize.

  37. Thagomizer says:

    Scott Aaronson studies theoretical computer science. That’s basically a form of math.

    So his undergrad experience involved learning a lot of complex things that were 100% proven, and do it as quickly as possible.

    Questioning anything he was learning in his major would have been a complete waste of time.

    I think when he encounters feminist writing he just swallows it whole and assumes someone else has done the fact checking.

  38. Nick Rowe says:

    IIRC James Randi, the magician and skeptic, said that scientists are the easiest people to fool, because they believe what they (think they) see. He would be an authority on the subject.

    • gcochran9 says:

      I doubt if that is the reason. Hang out with physical scientists too much and you get the idea that people are almost always truthful, since your associates are. Much like cops eventually coming to think that everyone is a scumbag.

      • brendan says:

        Oh this explains my nana. Nicest old WASP lady you’ll ever meet whose lived around nice, hard working, honest, smart WASPs her whole life. She’s sharp as old people go but if you can’t conceive of many factions being composed almost exclusively of liars/idiots/crazies then your theory of the world is gonna be really messed up.

      • Nick Rowe says:

        I should have been more careful when I said that James Randi would be an authority on the subject. He would be an authority (based on his long experience) on which people are easiest to fool with “magic”. But perhaps not an authority on why they would be easiest to fool. (But this is just my memory, which may be faulty.)

  39. Chip Harding says:

    Dumb people don’t have any excess intellectual horsepower they need to find a use for.

    It’s a truism that moderately intelligent women, notoriously unable to focus seriously on interesting or rewarding problems, are the greatest offenders in the matter of believing bullshit like Freud or Theosophy. Ask any New Age guru who his marks are: Bored middle class women top the list.

    “Just enough brains to marry a urologist” is the sweet spot.

    Academics in bullshit fields are also smart people too lazy to think about anything demanding.

  40. brendan says:

    Well costly signaling explains why smart people prefer delusions that are too fancy for dumb people to even entertain.

    But why doesn’t rationality and IQ correlate more strongly?

    Greg, when you were 16-24, were you excessively militaristic, in hindsight?

    I was, and I can see now that I was signaling toughness and loyalty. Male traits.

    Aaronson’s feminism fetish signals empathy, compassion, etc. Female traits.

    Most people err in those two correlated ways so that war mongers also believe their pistol is just in case the US military gets outta hand, and the feminists think polar bears deserve a bill of rights.

    Those biased in the prototypically male fashion seem to have an easier time overcoming their tendencies with age and experience. Maybe that’s an innate thing or maybe it’s because modern propaganda tamps that down while amplifying feminine sources of delusion.

    Among folks you know personally and famous people, don’t smart, comfortably masculine men seem least prone to this stuff?

  41. Dear Greg,

    Since your book “The 10,000-Year Explosion” had a big effect on my thinking, you can only imagine my “honor” when I glanced at your blog, after half a year of not looking at it, and found that the latest post was all about me! 🙂 But maybe you’re being a little uncharitable.

    Look, I have no idea whether I would’ve fallen for Marx or Freud, had I lived in the early to mid 20th century. If even Einstein was partially seduced by both of them, then who am I to declare I wouldn’t have been? But if you want to extrapolate from the recent past, I think you’d have to concede that, if nothing else, I’d be liable to get myself in serious trouble by dissenting on various points from Marxist or Freudian orthodoxy! Among all the hundreds of math/CS/physics academics who I know, many of them far more accomplished than me, I’m the ONLY one reckless enough to have shared heterodox thoughts about gender politics in public, and to have endured the massive denunciation by SJWs that comes with that. So, of all the things one could criticize me for … not having the courage to argue or disagree about feminism?? Seriously?

    OK, you say, but you’re not talking about where I am now, but about where I was 15 years ago, when I wanted to reduce or eliminate sexual desire by chemical means. Here you strangely echo the other side, which concluded that the very fact I could ever desire such a thing simply means I’m a nutcase who can’t be trusted about anything, and whose experiences can’t possibly be representative of anything broader. Like them, you seem to have misinterpreted what I wrote to mean that I religiously studied Andrea Dworkin, accepted everything she said as gospel, and believed I was “commanded by her to castrate myself.” But that’s not what happened.

    Yes, I read Dworkin (who, whatever else one says about her, was a clear and vivid writer consistent in her principles), as well as other less famous feminists. But I also read lots of evolutionary psychology, and other ‘suspect’ material. I questioned everything I read. I was constantly looking for an ideological equilibrium — i.e., a set of behaviors and attitudes that would not commit me to a belief in anything illogical or scientifically false, but that would also be compatible with being a kind, decent person who could live a fulfilled life, contribute to science, and not be hated by the people whose intelligence I respected. I never exactly found that equilibrium — I’m not sure if I’ve found it yet — but I don’t see the search for one as inherently silly.

    The way I thought about it was this: the main point of my life is to think, write, teach, argue, do research, try to increase human knowledge by some epsilon. It would be swell if, in addition, I could have romantic relationships like the “normal people” do. Unfortunately, the culture in which I find myself provides no sanctioned way for a shy, nerdy male to express romantic interest in anyone, in any situation where he might realistically find himself, without running a substantial risk of being “creepy” or “gross.” The privilege of avoiding those labels is reserved for the suave, socially-confident, neurotypical people. (This was well before services such as Tinder — online dating existed, but my fellow 19- and 20-year-olds at Berkeley didn’t use it.)

    So, rather than being tormented by unfulfillable longings, wouldn’t the next best thing be to devote my whole life to truth and understanding—maybe just travel the world proving theorems, like Paul Erdös did? That actually sounded quite appealing to me. It also seemed like a very mild, reasonable response compared to the other option, suicide, that someone in this situation inevitably contemplates.

    And here’s a key point about chemically regulating sexual desire, that people somehow missed: it’s completely reversible! If, hypothetically, dating were to become easier as I got older — as I already had an inkling might happen, and as DID in fact happen — then I could go back to the previous hormone balance whenever I wanted. (And of course I pointed that out to the psychiatrist I saw.)

    So, to summarize: yes, it’s possible that I would’ve had incorrect beliefs about Marx and Freud had I lived 80 years ago, as we all surely have incorrect beliefs about many social questions today. But I don’t see how the fact that I once wanted to be asexual can be used as evidence for that proposition. Wanting to be asexual was, I think, a pretty understandable response to the circumstances in which I found myself, circumstances which I can only be grateful are now behind me.


    • albatross says:


      Just for myself, I was impressed with your willingness to talk about your experiences in public.

      I wonder if some reasoning process similar to yours led to the existence of monasteries, and people like St Paul suggesting lifelong celebacy for those who could live that way. If you can’t seem to be around women without having lustful thoughts and drives that you believe are morally wrong either to feel or to act upon, maybe it’s better to isolate yourself from women or commit to celebacy to take the whole question off the table.

      • IC says:

        Religion is very good placebo (or opium of mass as Karl Marx said) for such pain. The best example is Buddism which considers suffer as unfufilled human desire. If you get rid of desire, you might not suffer from that unfullfiled desire. Human have no desire to eat feces like dung beetles. If a meal of shit was snatched away from you, you were not going to suffer from loss sicne you had no desire to eat feces. There are many ways to develop psychological defense or denial for survival. Country music targets suffering population with lyrics like this

        Dolly Parton – Silver And Gold Lyrics | MetroLyrics

        “Well I met an old man walkin’ down the street
        His clothes were torn and tattered
        With sandals on his feet
        And I stopped to help him, and lend him a hand
        He said, “I love you so much”
        But you must understand

        Silver and gold, might buy you a home
        But things of this world
        They won’t last you long
        And time has a way of turning us old
        And time can’t be bought back, with silver and gold

        And he said to me, “Let’s rest for a while
        ‘Cause I have some good news to share with you, child”
        He said, “You can’t change this old world”
        The people need to know
        That a dear Savior died here
        A long, long time ago

        And silver and gold, might buy you a home
        But things of this world
        They won’t last you long
        And time has a way of turning us old
        And time can’t be bought back, with silver and gold

        His eyes shown like diamonds
        And his smile was Heaven sent
        His hair was long and flowing
        And his back was slightly bent
        And I knew, he knew it
        ‘Cause that day I changed
        And as I watched him walk on, I forgot to get his name

        He said, “Silver and gold, can’t buy you a home”
        When this life has ended, and your time is gone
        But you can live in a world where
        You’ll never grow old
        And things can’t be bought there, with silver and gold
        And time can’t be bought back, with silver and gold”

        Self-delusion/fantacy is very useful when every thing fails.

  42. Hi Scott,

    Never mind Greg’s comment. It’s just jibberish.

    Your quite good looking, and believe it our not, there are nice, nerdy, shy, good looking women out there who are also feeling quite isolated and probably over worked with their physics problems.

    Hey, I married a shy, nerdy, briliant guy, from MIT. It happens. He came to my office to ask me if I was using Matlab. Not your average pickup line. Check it out: MIT Alum Andy N. Karanicolas.

    Greg is an idiot. That’s all there is to it. He’s fretting away about professional women being as fertile as the Mojave Desert. (In fact, there’s quite a lot of biodiversity in the Mojave Desert, something Greg should know, since he claims to know something about evolutionary biology. ) In any case, it takes two incomes to raise a family these days. So you’d have to be as dumb as mud to support the notion that forcing women to stay home will somehow increase prosperity. For all you family friendly wunderkind, can you say ONE YEAR PAID MATERNITY LEAVE and SUBSIDIZED QUALITY PRESCHOOL? Not rocket science.

    Anyway, Scott, I thought your discussion was honest. Believe it our not, a lot of women also feel quite isolated and frustrated with how difficult it is to meet people in today’s superficial world.


    • gcochran9 says:

      Professional women have low fertility, way below replacement: look it up. It’s not a secret. If you believe in high heritability of smarts – and you should, because it is true – that pattern is bound to have bad effects in the long run. Bad effects on the economy, too.

      And if you think that biodiversity is the same as productivity, you’d make a lousy farmer. Try growing anything in the Mohave: yields are low. Probably zero. You seem to think that ignorance is much the same as expertise: not so.

      It doesn’t take two incomes to raise a family. Mormons manage: so have I. There, that was simple.

      Maternity leave and subsidized quality preschool have not significantly raised fertility anywhere. I have heard an interesting suggestion though: take the childless career women and strap fifty-pound sacks of cement to their backs, to even out the competition.

      • Anonymous says:

        here, we get to the crux of this entire thread . . . “Mormons manage. ”

        Mormons, those scions of modernity, intelligence and tolerance.

        The planet is full up, in case you haven’t noticed. We’re on the verge of destroying it. No, we don’t need more babies and families with more children than they can afford to care for. That’s Capacity Building 101: Reduce family size to replacement level and increase education of girls and women.

        In any case, traditionally speaking, women were not full time mothers. You only need to look to traditional villages in Europe or Africa, or to Amerindian societies to realize that “women’s work” included manufacture of clothe, clothing, butchering, milling, baking, ceramics manufacture, gardening, farming, dairying, shepherding, gathering of firewood, liquor making, cheese making, responsibility for burial and even church politics

        Hell, my husband’s grandmother and her relatives defended her village (in Greece) with machine guns. These were not passive women with nothing better to do than tend the children. There’s even a picture of them decked out in bandoliers.

        The isolated situation of women (and men) today is an aberration compared to most historical societies where men and women had to work together to survive.

        “Maternity leave and subsidized quality preschool have not significantly raised fertility anywhere.”

        That’s wrong. Maternity leave has been shown in increase the birthrate and increase the prosperity of families. I know of studies in Canada, Australia and France that have shown this.

        ” I have heard an interesting suggestion though: take the childless career women and strap fifty-pound sacks of cement to their backs, to even out the competition.”

        You sound like a very angry, hateful person. I feel sorry for you.

        • gcochran9 says:

          You, on the other hand, sound like an idiot. You said that nobody today can raise children on one income: I gave an examples of a fairly large group that often does so. You say you don’t like them – but that hardly proves that they can’t or don’t raise families on one income. They do so. You can’t argue it away.

          Moreover, although I have been known to put up with idiots, they have to be interesting or funny idiots, and you are neither.

          If you could fucking read, you would know that no country capable of building a decent cuckoo clock has to worry about reducing their TFR to break-even – their TFRs are already below break-even, often drastically so.

          • Anonymous says:

            Hi Greg,

            ” You said that nobody today can raise children on one income: I gave an examples of a fairly large group that often does so.”

            I didn’t say that nobody can raise children on one income. It’s possible, but not economically a great way to go. Most people have three or less children today. Forcing women to stay home, or segregating them into non-professional work does not increase family size, for the most part. Most of the stay at home mom’s I know have only two or three children, by choice. Why? Because, unless you have help from grand-parents, it is just very difficult to attentively care for and educate more than three children, even if you have one parent at home.

            But rather than creating a situation where we foster high family formation, we’ve instead headed in the other direction, where now more that a third of all children are raised in poverty stricken single parent households.

            I just read that for every construction job available, there are four unemployed contruction workers. Surely, unemployment and lack of access to education must have something to do with the low rate of family formation and unstable family formation.

            But, no, you’re ranting on against professional women, and the lack of stay-at-home moms as the cause of all evil in modern society. One of the reasons women increasingly did not want to stay at home was because of the high rate of divorce and abandonment, as well as the lack of adequate social security benefits for stay at home mothers. If your so hot on promoting stay at home mothers, why don’t you address lack of social security for these mothers?

            “If you could fucking read, you would know that no country capable of building a decent cuckoo clock has to worry about reducing their TFR to break-even – their TFRs are already below break-even, often drastically so.”

            Who cares? I’ve seen all you nuts ranting and raving on Steve Sailors blog, trying to enslave women to win the global baby production race for you. I don’t see you signing up to move to one of these highly over populated, polluted places. You’re hypocrites.

            My grand-mother had seven children. Most of her children had three or few children. Why? Because if you have seven children, you can’t help out your grand-children very effectively. Especially not in the world we live in now where education and housing are very expensive.

            So time for you, f*word user, and pompous Universtiy of Utah ass, to come down from the mountain in your old age and figure out what young people today are actually dealing with.

            • gcochran9 says:

              “three or less” Should be “three or fewer”. That mistake makes me itch.

              You said ” it takes two incomes to raise a family these days.” If you meant something else, you should have said something else.

              If the stay-at-home moms you know have two or three children, that is three or four times more than typical for professional women.

              Anyhow, real incomes may have been fairly flat over the past 3 or four decades, but they are way higher than they were in 1920. Children are more affordable than they used to be – people are just choosing not to have very many.

              “The inflation-adjusted price of new homes has been relatively stable since 1973 in a range between about $105 and $125 per square foot.” People are buying bigger houses – because we’re fatter?

              As for how terribly hard it is to ” attentively care for and educate” more than three children: don’t try to teach your grandmother how to suck eggs – we have five, and they’re doing pretty well.

              I could say more, but I’ve said enough to make clear that you don’t have the facts straight.

          • albatross says:

            Are there any examples of countries managing to bring their TFR up via policy changes other than immigration?

            In the US right now, the main thing determining fitness is willingness to use birth control. If things continued like this for long enough, I expect we’d find that the future belonged to people who, for some genetic reason (Interest in religion? Burning desire for children?) forgo birth control, or at least decide to have a few kids and do it reasonably early in their lives. But I suspect that conscious genetic engineering will probably change the makeup of the population in big ways before that can run its course.

        • Anthony says:

          The planet is full up, in case you haven’t noticed. We’re on the verge of destroying it. [citation needed]

          There’s a map out there which draws a circle around South and East Asia, including most of India and China and Indonesia and everything in-between. Inside that circle is more than half the population of the world, on something like 10% the land area of the world. What that map doesn’t note is that inside that circle is pretty much enough food production for all the people inside that circle. And while technology and politics in that area have improved a lot in the past 30 years, there’s still room for improvement – that area will be able to feed itself for a while even with increasing population, provided they don’t get too stupid about politics in the future.

          That also leaves something like 90% of the land area of the earth for the other half of the population. Now, a lot of that remaining land isn’t terribly suitable for agriculture, but a lot of it is. Even if half the earth’s land isn’t suitable, that leaves 40% – 4 times as much as the China-India circle has – to feed half the world’s population.

          We’re nowhere near full up.

        • Days of Broken Arrows says:

          I spent time out in Utah, around the Provo Canyon area. I’m Italian-American and a lifelong East Coaster. Out of the hundreds of Mormons I met, not one was intolerant in the least to any group nor to me — who looked and acted very differently than them. This isn’t anecdotal. I met lots of them of all ages. If their church seems “intolerant,” well, that’s the nature of virtually every religion. However, it only seems to count as intolerant when it’s a religion the left doesn’t like. Where are the complaints about the Muslim opposition to gay marriage?

        • ho says:

          “Mormons, those scions of modernity, intelligence and tolerance.”

          This is why I regard your kind as vermin: Mormons are famous for being tolerant, particularly towards homosexuals. But when you’re an unthinking lemming that gets it’s cues from watching Bill Maher, I suppose that would escape you.

          Lol at this turd claiming to ´be tolerant while accusing Mormons of being unintellgent.

          You know what group is actually unintelligent, more than Mormons? Hint: it’s the one whose lives supposedly matter.

      • liqaf says:

        take the childless career women and strap fifty-pound sacks of cement to their backs, to even out the competition.

        Senseless, obvious misogyny like this is not a good look. Well, depending upon the type of readership you’re seeking to cultivate.

        • Jacob says:

          Greg clearly meant that childrearing is a sufficient burden on women that there is almost no way for women with children to compete with those without, incentivizing low fertility for professionally-capable women. It’s not a mysogynist remark.

          • liqaf says:

            It’s a misogynist remark because apart from misogyny, there’s no reason anyone would make it. Why should we care about the ability of fecund and childless women to “compete” in the workplace? Greg believes that all of feminism has been a mistake and wants women out of the workplace entirely; bemoaning unfairness to working moms would be inconsistent with that. It would also be laughably illogical to wish for a workplace where a major undertaking such as raising a child, contracting a terminal disease, or writing the Great American Novel didn’t interfere with one’s career ascension. Promotion lag for moms is not a type of “unfairness” we should seek to nullify; rather, we should embrace it as evidence labor markets are working.

            Since boosting moms’ career prospects vis-a-vis childless colleagues isn’t a rational goal for anyone, why else would Greg fantasize about punishing women who choose to pursue careers? Hmmm…

          • Jacob says:

            ‘It’s a misogynist remark because apart from misogyny, there’s no reason anyone would make it. Why should we care about the ability of fecund and childless women to “compete” in the workplace? ‘
            You realize that this was exactly what Anne Marie Slaughter’s “Why Women Can’t Have it All” article was about, not to mention innumerable studies of the origins of the gender wage gap?

          • albatross says:

            Personally, I’m less interested in applying moral labels to Greg’s arguments (Mysogynist! Racist! Anti-American!) or claims than I am in deciding whether they’re right.

          • Toddy Cat says:

            “Senseless, obvious misogyny like this is not a good look.”

            Senseless, obvious obliviousness to satire is an even worse look, as if anyone should care how they look to you. Now, I’m off to enslave some women with my ISteve pals…

      • R. says:

        If you believe in high heritability of smarts – and you should, because it is true – that pattern is bound to have bad effects in the long run. Bad effects on the economy, too.


    • Thanks so much for your kind comment, Marnie! I’m now married to another theoretical computer scientist, Dana Moshkovitz. (I did—believe me—eventually discover the population of nice, nerdy women you’re talking about, as well as the self-confidence to connect with individuals even if there are others who might hate me, and only wish I’d been able to do so earlier.) Dana and I have a two-year-old daughter, and are planning to have a second. It hasn’t been easy to raise one kid on two academic careers, let alone two, but with help from daycare, babysitters, and grandparents, we manage.

      And yes, I wish the people attacking me had read far enough into that thread to realize that I’m just as interested in the situation of shy, nerdy women as I am in that of men. Like you, I don’t think that the dating mores of the modern world serve either population particularly well. I was touched when Laurie Penny shared a “nerdy female perspective” in her response to me, and am glad she and I will write a joint post exploring these issues further.

      Now, regarding Greg’s worries about the Mojave desert: as another commenter pointed out, we’re now living on an overcrowded, degraded, overheated planet, so it’s not obvious whether civilization will make it past the next few centuries anyway. If we do make it, though, then surely parents will eventually gain the ability to enhance their kids with designer genes, so that we could have a million Terry Taos and Ed Wittens running around (as well as Scarlett Johanssons and George Clooneys and Michael Jordans, or maybe all of them in one?).

      One of the many things I liked about “The 10,000 Year Explosion” was that it explicitly suggested this as an application of, for example, understanding the origins of Ashkenazi intelligence. It seems to me that advocating for accelerated research into gene enhancement, and for the removal of the political barriers in its way, might be more productive and ironically more realistic ways for Greg to do something about his dysgenic worries, than suggesting the return of women to the home.


      • iffen says:

        Scott and Marnie,
        You both landed on this site after you met someone nice. Maybe you could spread the word that this site is a good place for intelligent singles to meet.

      • et.cetera says:

        First of all, a disclaimer — unlike our host, I am not at all worried about the true fertility rate among the highly civilised. The process is, to the abject horror of a lot of people (were they to be seriously, keenly aware of this), self-correcting.

        So, with that out of the way, even if I do sometimes wonder whether the bird in the hand is worth less than the two in the bush, nonetheless, the fact that there are people out there who deem getting smart women to have children as a (my God!) less realistic prospect in societal maintenance and advancement than trying to employ genetic engineering on a massive scale to the same end, that fills me with a sense of glee (and schadenfreude).

        You really are a… nerd.

        • et.cetera: It’s easy to think of examples of an advance in technology or medicine rendering some previous issue irrelevant. It’s much harder to think of examples of an entire culture deciding to halt and then go backwards in the evolution of its social mores, and succeeding.

          • et.cetera says:

            That’s because you are wont to think about these things in terms of optima. Typically, people worry about what works first. Maximal solutions always suffice, but they’re not always necessary.

          • et.cetera says:


            You don’t actually have to “reverse” the social mores in the entire culture. Indeed, you don’t even have to reverse any social mores: there already exists a relevant fertility differential within advanced societies; smart women are not, and have never been uniformly childless. Facilitating and expediting what is already happening would transform dysgenic fertility into a non-issue. And, if there’s anything to the Pareto principle, 80% of that would be to simply shorten the time spent in education by 4 years.

          • BurplesonAFB says:

            What’s with this talk of halt, go backwards etc? Is there some sort of inexorable, immutable forwardsness to human affairs? Can’t we advance to a bold new future where people in developed nations have a TFR of 3+ and are emigrating to the benighted backwaters of the world? Isn’t that a brighter future?

            Suppose there were 173M Germans in Germany instead of 173M Nigerians in Nigeria as there are now (the populations were roughly equal in the early 80s). Wouldn’t those hypothetical surplus Germans be producing a greater intellectual output than our current surplus Nigerians? Similar question for Japanese and Indonesians.

            PS: Laurie Penny is not a nerd, because nerds engage in production while she engages in rent seeking. That said, I’m sure having a joint op-ed with her will increase your social status. Clearly you’re learning to adapt.

      • IC says:

        we’re now living on an overcrowded, degraded, overheated planet, so it’s not obvious whether civilization will make it past the next few centuries anyway.

        Dont worry. When Malthusian limited reached, resource became scarce, it would be changed society that could not afford to give free handout to the poor. Natural selection will be back like it used to be. Survival of the fittest, which are most likley the types who can outthink others and gather wealth on their own like our ancestors did. Cycles of life continue. Certainly it would be brutal when that happens. Today, we are helping the poor in order to starve their overpopulated desendants to death. Most humane way is set up limiting factor to prevent underclass from over population.

        Studying human history is very useful to predict future.

    • Bartolo says:

      I read Cochran´s book “The 10 000 year explosion” at a time when the consensus in the scientific community was that Neanderthals could not possibly have mixed with modern humans. Cochran and Harpending, in said book, said there must have been interbreeding (without empirical evidence, just by using logic and connecting certain dots) – again, they said this against unanimous opinion. Not much later, evidence of admixture was found. The scientific community changed its opinion. Cochran didn´t, since he knew it already. But Marnie Dunsmore tells us he is an idiot. So it must all have been a fluke. I don´t hold Cochran in high esteem anymore. Thank you, Marnie, for enlightening me!

      • gcochran9 says:

        Some of the bone guys thought that there might have been admixture with archaic humans, but the geneticists were largely convinced that it hadn’t happened, for no very good reason.

        One odd thing – most biologists are not even a little impressed when someone makes a theoretical prediction that comes true.

  43. Jim says:

    One basic problem here is that the age of sexual maturation in modern humans is adapted to life as a hunter-gatherer. In modern societies adolescents are not yet ready for parenting responsibilities but nevertheless they generally have a high sex drive. The result is that they pass through a lengthy and stressful adolescence. Maybe delaying sexual maturation by biochemical means might help. But I’m leary about interfering in natural sexual development.

    I think though that we could speed up the educational process to try to bring about a closer match between the age of sexual maturation and the ability to function as an adult in our society.

    • Jim, I think that’s an enormously important factor. What it means, in practice, is that nerds are forced to spend a decade or more of their sexually mature years in environments where romantic success is determined solely by popularity contests, and not by any “higher” personality traits or ability to do anything that matters in the external world. (For more about this, see Paul Graham’s brilliant Why Nerds Are Unpopular.) So, it’s not just that the nerds are miserable and alone—it’s that they have to watch the non-nerds succeed precisely because of their lack of the higher qualities that the nerds are trying to cultivate.

      I love your idea of speeding up the educational process so that the age of adulthood would match the age of sexual maturation, as it did in hunter-gatherer societies. Unfortunately, as you’re no doubt aware, the evolution in the modern world has been in precisely the opposite direction.

      In my case, I skipped three grades and started college at 15, because I was incredibly impatient to start doing research, rather than wasting what could be some of my most mathematically productive years in school. Alas, while this did mean that I was able to start “adulthood” earlier, it also naturally meant that the social isolation issues, while I was still in high school and college (and even grad school), were exacerbated even further.

      • Ian says:

        where romantic success is determined solely by popularity contests

        Do you mean natural selection?

        they have to watch the non-nerds succeed precisely because of their lack of the higher qualities

        Lack of higher qualities? Or enough testosterone?

        • scottaar2 says:

          I thought it was reasonably clear what I meant — natural selection keeps chugging along, but what’s a highly prized trait in one social context (Silicon Valley?) can be worthless in another (the typical American high school?), and vice versa. In any case, I don’t look to natural selection for moral guidance.

        • Ian says:

          Of course, an “is” is not an “ought”, but the contrary is also false, and it’s probably more dangerous: there’s only one reality, but too many uninformed fantasies about how things should work. The tragedy of the American Left is that they have shifted from Jack London’s Wolf Larsen to Lisa Simpson in just a century.

  44. A substantial minority of women historically had 0 children (15-25% through the ages) and a usually smaller number had only one. It’s hard to make the case that extremely intelligent women reproduced much more often than they do now, since they would be only a few percent or so max of all women, especially north of 130 IQ range. Maybe they were significantly more fecund in the past, it’s pretty hard to say. Many of those women ended up lifelong nurses and tutors and household managers for richer and more average-brained women, or as nuns, etc.

    Society would have to look very very different than it looks right now in the West to make having kids palatable to very intelligent women at high rates, and as a side effect it would make having kids palatable to even more less bright women.

    • gcochran9 says:

      And the average number of children was well over two. The “average” is a powerful statistical concept: you should check it out. Because obviously you do not comprehend it yet.

      • 0o0 says:

        What about the effects of assortative mating? In a world without feminism, perhaps the average 130+ IQ woman had 2-3 children – but she had them with whatever schmo she married in her teens, who wasn’t guaranteed to match her intelligence. Same for high-IQ men who married, e.g., their secretaries rather than their Harvard sweethearts.

        Today, perhaps the average 130+ woman has .5 children, but she is more likely to have them with a 130+ man. Wouldn’t this more reliably produce high-IQ offspring? Raising parental midpoint IQ should also mitigate significantly the effects of mean-regression.

        • gcochran9 says:

          I don’t know of any evidence that assortative mating for IQ has increased: I have heard a little that suggests that it has not. It would have had to increase a hell of a lot to even keep things even with a big drop in birth rates among highly educated women – and that big increase hasn’t occurred.

          Parenthetically, I get tired of hearing solutions to social problem that rely on a miracle occurring, a miracle that has to occur because reality is too distasteful.

          • Jacob says:

            I don’t think the people running things view deteriorating intelligence as a problem; they view it as a bonus.

          • Jim says:

            It seems very hard for many people to fully grasp that reality is indifferent to our moral sentiments.

          • Jacob says:

            Whenever I see Pundit number 6543 making some argument about how behavioral economics means we have to be more benevolently paternalistic, I see a Davos crowd that may not be thinking ahead, but is perfectly happy with the idea of a dumb populace today and tomorrow.

          • o0o says:

            re evidence for increase in IQ-based assortative mating, Charles Murray emphasizes this at length in Coming Apart. So maybe Murray is a deluded feminist grasping desperately at miracles. Don’t have the book in front of me but presumably he cites something.

  45. namae nanka says:

    These men take feminism seriously because they don’t feel inferior to women and thus don’t get that feminists operate on a gargantuan inferiority complex. And secondly, that its lunacy is nothing new.

    “An essential difference between “Feminism” and “Suffragism” is that the Suffrage is but part of the greater propaganda; while Suffragism desires to remove an inequality, Feminism purports to alter radically the mental attitudes of men and women. The sexes are to be induced to recognize each other’s status, and to bring this recognition to such a point that equality will not even be challenged. Thus Feminists are interested rather in ideas than in facts; if, for instance, they wish to make accessible to women the profession of barrister, it is not because they wish women to practice as barristers, but because they want men to view without surprise the fact that women may be barristers.”


    “To the party that will, as a preliminary, pledge itself to level male and female wages in government employ, will be given the Feminist vote; and if no party will bid, then it is the Feminist intention to run special candidates for all offices, to split the male parties, and to involve them in consecutive disasters such as the one which befell the Republican party in the last presidential election in the United States”

    Feminist Intentions, WL George 1913 and not 2012

    So even critics of modern feminism end up accepting that it’s at least better at some point in time before some crazies got hold of it by magic, since they don’t know its history. Like Married Women’s Property Act.

    And Aaronson is at MIT which was the pioneer in feminist hijinks at the start of millennium, with Nancy Hopkins as the brave heroine speaking truth to power. Larry Summers would get a taste of that five years later for tickling that gargantuan inferiority complex.

  46. Andrew S. says:

    I’m 6’2 and when I was younger was much better looking than Aaronson. And I couldn’t, and still can’t get much interest from the opposite sex. I am also worth about 2.5 million. Should have just left the U.S. But anyways, to finally get to my point, at 40 I still have a very high sex drive, of course it’s nothing like when I was younger. but giving him shit for wanting to find a way out from the sexless nightmare that screws with so many men in this country is uncalled for. It’s a zero sum game that very males take part in, and for those with high sex drives like myself who were never in the game finding a way to lessen that drive would have been nice.

  47. peppermint says:

    Marxism lets you talk about how great things would be if you were in control of everything, and call for industrially successful people to have all their stuff taken from them, which if you’re not totally autistic raises your social status level and can thus lead to sex.

    Freudianism lets you talk about sex, which if you’re not totally autistic can lead to sex.

    Foot reflexology lets you talk about foot massages, which if you’re not totally autistic can lead to sex.

    These scams are easy to believe in because people of higher than average IQ unconsciously want sex and think they can use these scams to get it.

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