html xmlns="http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml" xml:lang="en" lang="en"> From the archives: In case I missed anyone last week.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

In case I missed anyone last week.

Something happens to smart people when they don’t grow up around other smart kids. If they aren’t very, very lucky, they get broken in ways that don’t mend well and show for the rest of their lives. Sadly, the scars from being the smartest kid in the room show up in grownups as being detached, contemptuous, pedantic and smug. It is hard to feel for those people, but you should. It isn’t their fault.

I ache for people like that because I know how very close I came to being one of them. I’ve told you I was viciously ostracized in sixth grade. Most of it was that bitch, Laura, but some of it was also me. I’d gone to school with those kids for three years; they wouldn’t have turned on me if I hadn’t left the door open. It wasn’t fair that they picked me out because I was smart enough to be different, but it was fair that they didn’t like how I fought back. I was snotty, correcting people’s mistakes, and arrogant, taking refuge in being smarter than most. I can still hear how my voice and inflections changed that year; it would have only gotten worse as I fortified myself with the idea that I was different, and smarter, and better.

It was my great good fortune, fate turned kind, that I got sent to a school the next year where everyone was smart. In that crowd, I wasn’t even particularly bright. It helped that I wasn’t so different anymore, but more important was seeing kids effortlessly do better, learning for sure that there are plenty of people smarter than me. I had been on the verge of losing respect for people, but those kids taught me to respect again real quick.

That’s one way to salvage a smart kid. Another way a smart kid can avoid the smartness-is-everything trap is if she values something else, like sports or acting or anything where she gets her ass handed to her regularly. That’s so good for teaching smart kids that other things are also important. I have also seen a couple extraordinarily smart kids just logic through it. At some point, one friend of mine must have decided that the goal was having friends and getting along. I think it was an explicit decision that he would quietly be the smartest person around, and noisily be the goofiest, nicest, funnest person in the crowd. He is much loved now, and I think he got there by pure will.

There is one sure way to ruin a smart kid. If you take a smart, hurt kid, and give him anything by Ayn Rand, all hope is lost. I haven’t read any Rand, so I can’t argue content with anyone. But I can tell you how Rand works as a black box. You put a hurt, smart kid through Rand, and you get out an insufferable, pleased-with-himself Libertarian. It is a loss to all of us, of course, but more of a personal tragedy for the kid. You can hope that one day that kid will want to get laid enough to rejoin society, but too many of those kids are irrecoverably lost.

41 Comments:

Blogger NYC TAXI SHOTS said...

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5:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Woah woah, be careful not to bite the hand that feeds you.

Anyways, I hope that smart people can see through the fairy tale whatever the philosophy--Ayn Rand and Libertarianism, the Bible and literalists... just through enough exposure to their claims. For me, it was those and the whole Republican / Democrat split.

7:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

mmm. I see now.

7:11 PM  
Blogger Chris Lawrence said...

I've never read any of Ayn Rand's writings.

Clearly other forces were at work in my case...

7:33 PM  
Anonymous Sean said...

I think this relates closely to something Tyler Cowen linked to via Kottke a few weeks ago: the key to wisdom is to weakly hold strong opinions.

http://bobsutton.typepad.com/my_weblog/2006/07/strong_opinions.html

So it's fine if someone is an Objectivist, a fundamentalist Christian, or a staunch atheist. However, these relatively strong views should be complemented by an openness to other views - an ability to give a fair hearing to counterevidence instead of tucking yourself into the obdurancy of confirmation bias.

7:38 PM  
Blogger Ananda said...

That's certainly easier said than done, since those worldviews tend to discourage their being weakly held.

So don't be shy, Megan, tell us a Randroid horror story. We've all got 'em.

8:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

ROTFL!!!

I read Rand and took her as my mentor in my 12th grade philosophy class. However, I rejected Rand during my first two years of college because objectivism is clearly not a path to happiness. Now I just laugh at Objectivists because, while they may be smug and self satisfied, they are unhappy, out of step, and not getting laid.

I totally fell into the smart person trap. Although, I was saved by going to high school with people smarter than I (like Big A). I still fight against the loss of respect thing. Only in the past couple of years have I made a real effort to drop my snobbery and maintain respect for others. It really helps both in daily happiness and in friendships/relationships.

You tell me Meg, have I sufficiently dug myself out of the trap?

Cheers,
Tim.

9:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What about those of us who are smarter than everyone, but are also exceptionally good at everything we try? Is there just no hope for us?

Justin

10:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a great post.

10:40 PM  
Blogger Volpone said...

What about the subjective satisfaction that comes from ideas about the world which fit together?

A justified life -- fire in the soul -- can be more important that fitting in or getting along with others.

I've got plenty of friends, and get along well with people, but there are some people with respect to whom I'd rather be completely alone than be the sort of person who gets along with them. Not many, but there are some people to whom there seems really to be no substance. Of course, I keep hoping I'm wrong.

That said, I think a simplistic/inadequate ideology is an easy trap to fall into when no one's offering a better alternative. The solution is not the lack of theory, but better theory -- unless you think starvation is much superior to an ill-balanced diet.

I'm just lucky I had the friends I did before I read Rand, and the education I've had afterwards.

11:13 PM  
Blogger Jason said...

I'm going to break my "Don't post when hammered" rule to compliment that post, even if compliments bore you. It might have taken about 35 years to appreciate how important it is to get your ass handed to you on a regular basis, but the real joy is not coasting through the carnage. Nice post.

11:55 PM  
Blogger billo said...

Megan, some wonderful posts. Thanks.

Volpone: "we need better theory"
Not so sure. Perhaps we've had too much and this desire to always 'know' can be a sort of 'curse', no? It seems to me that there are many ways to understand a life, to live one's soul. But we tend to think only one way or our way is right.

Perhaps those who are *really* clever aren't hooked to being. clever. Academics, theoreticians may be intelligent, but at only one level.

Anyone who can feel and practice respect for another person just because they are another person is wise beyond words.

anand, I hope there are no typos in this! :)
let me leave you with a "pretentious name-drop"
Coleridge: we need to see *and * feel the stars.

12:14 AM  
Blogger grant said...

I guess I'll have to rethink those Ayn Rand books that are on my Amazon wishlist.

3:48 AM  
Anonymous jens said...

I read all the Rand I could get my hands on.

I AM libertarian, and occasionally pleased with myself, but am rarely told I'm insufferable.

Maybe people just don't think it's worth the bother.

8:02 AM  
Blogger step314 said...

I think a distinction is in order. On the one hand it is well to be accepting of others. Indeed, what it is best to do, i.e., what is moral, is slightly different from what is right, i.e., the behavior exhibited by someone who is best. E.g., if you are fighting alongside someone who is despicable, the moral thing to do perhaps is to not be unselfish in helping or saving him, but it is not the right thing to do, because it is better to be the sort of person who has a capacity for team spirit--otherwise that person fighting alongside you, who may well be patriotic, won't be unselfish in helping you. Patriots don't lament the death of traitors and of the unpatriotic, and team players don't tend to be led by team spirit to feel camaraderie with those who aren't team players. Similarly, it is easy to be bitter when you realize you are better than most people.

That said, trying to forget how you are better than other people is not a good way for a male to help himself "get laid". On the contrary, females and more especially young females are sexually attracted to sadness in males, I think because (a theory of mine) sadness discourages male-created genetic crossover in spermatogenesis, which females find sexually unpleasant. A male reminding himself that he has not gotten what he deserves (as is easier when he often thinks he is better than others), by making himself sad, does improve his chances of sexually attracting females. Especially, it seems to me, when a male is more at one with nature and with (assuming they exist) spiritual influences can a male through piety create in himself a melancholy holiness that comes from his genes realizing that he will get more from nature, God, etc., because he is the sort who merely on account of his superior moral goodness is holy and sad as is necessary both to restrict genetic crossover in spermatogenesis and to make more girls want to have sex with him. As for being sad from underappreciated superior intellectual qualities or other underappreciated superior talents, that is easier than being sad from superior moral qualities, the former such underappreciations being more akin to bad luck.

To me a symbol of what an especially deserving person needs to be is the rainbow. Genially accepting of a diversity akin to its colors, and yet with a sad face (a rainbow is shaped like a frown) that comes from knowing he is better. It's hard for a male to be sad on account of his feeling he is better than others without being bitter, but lots of things are hard and yet should be attempted. Sadness is also confused with undesirable gloominess or depression, but that is another matter, and not something very relevant to my own emotions, probably on account of emotionally I have a fairly clear sense I am not screwed-up, and I don't care much what others think about me, so that when people say mean things about me, it doesn't emotionally faze me much.

9:42 AM  
Blogger Megan said...

Tim:
You're doing great, although you need more male friends.

Justin:
And yet all the ladies here love you. I forwarded your nude pictures to Dubin.

Jason:
NO NO NO! More posts while hammered. All of you, drunken comments and even better, drunken emails are the reason I do this.

12:56 PM  
Anonymous jens said...

But when I am drunk I am usually doing karaoke or dancing, far away from the Web!

Hence my typically sober posts.

My apologies. In my defense, most people agree that I actually make even less sense sober.

12:59 PM  
Anonymous Felix not-of-Loth said...

Nietzsche is similarly dangerous for those too young and bitter and callow to handle it.

1:44 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

Awesome.

1:50 PM  
Anonymous ptm said...

Another way to break out of the smart kid trap is throwing the kid into a situation where achievement takes those other skills (student government, say). Different weird smart kids get it faster than others, but once the competitiveness and logic focus on how to get to the top the kid often ends up learning those skills on his own.

I'm speaking entirely hypothetically, of course.

1:53 PM  
Anonymous jens said...

At least Rand was not only able to get laid, but managed to keep some sort of relationship going.

According to this reference, that ismore than you could say for Nietzsche.

3:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I told you NOT to share those with anyone else. Anyway, I guess damage done, but if she's going to look at them she's gotta send me $50/mo.

Justin

7:14 PM  
Blogger Dubin said...

Megan-

I'm getting pissed off at you for consistently having more empahty for the person that inspired this post than is reasonable.

I'm telling you that all of God's creatures deserve empathy unless they are purposely trying to reduce other people to rubble. I can't let this person off the hook (everyone knows who I'm talkin' about) because she tried to single handedly remove self-esteem from large numbers of idiotic men (idiotic because they set themselves up for her rejection). She stole from them, and it didn't even pay off (she didn't get anything good out of it).

It's one thing to be a snot, and it's another thing to try to make other people feel like shit.

She is dead to me! I'm tearing my lapel.

P.S. I LOVE that you got Ayn Rand involved in this topic. Ayn Rand is also dead to me, by the way. DEAD TO ME!!!

P.P.S. Those photos are of Justin?? Verrrry interrrresting...

9:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Who inspired the post? It wasn't me was it?

Justin

10:34 PM  
Anonymous M/tch M/lls said...

a rainbow is shaped like a frown

Wait, so God was actually showing that he was unhappy that he had missed Noah and his kinfolk with that murderous flood? Wow. I'd never thought of it that way!

11:48 PM  
Blogger billo said...

No, M/tch m/lls, what is a frown from down here is, when looked at from up there, a smile.

er..let's not talk about tornados.

12:20 AM  
Blogger Bob V said...

Does the "everyone knows who I'm talkin' about" apply only to the non-imaginary people or literally everyone?

4:59 AM  
Anonymous Chaim said...

On a slightly related note, it is interesting that while many smart people have self esteem issues, they almost universally know that they are smarter than most people.

Many beautiful people genuinely do not know how objectively good looking they are. Of course, I took full advantage of that when marrying my wife.

5:09 AM  
Blogger Dubin said...

Oh. Shoot. I really thought it was obvious to those who have been following this past week or so. I am going to let Megan decide whether to answer the question or not. Maybe she would rather this post be Switzerland?

5:59 AM  
Anonymous thelonious_nick said...

Is it okay not to like Ayn Rand because she wasn't really a very good writer? I think the preferred method for reaching libertarianism is via P.J. O'Rourke.

Of course, I can recommend a third method for achieving libertarianism, overcoming social-retarding intelligence, and getting laid all at once, but it's kind of cheating. Even so, I've never seen passing around a joint fail.

7:19 AM  
Blogger Megan said...

Dude, this whole blog is Switzerland. Man, I am made of tactful diplomacy. The State Department begs me to give classes. They want to declare my house an embassy. I'm having tact and discretion for breakfast.

8:13 AM  
Blogger Bob V said...

Oh, it was her. Ok, I think I got it now.

10:24 AM  
Blogger ScottM said...

I resembled this post too much, though I wasn't hooked on Rand. I'd lost my mom, and was desperate to never depend on anyone outside myself. (To prevent betrayal through death, or even emotional changes—dependence on others for happiness seemed foolish. There's a lot more babble I came up with to justify it at the time that I'm sparing the internets.)

Smart was an excellent defense mechanism-- very effective for a long time. While I didn't correct people, I did have other "smart kid stigma"-- eagerly answering teachers' questions, roleplaying, and a refusal to play the obvious social roles available to geek high schoolers. A constant forward focus, looking beyond HS to real life beyond, was also isolating.

I'm much better now, thanks. As you suggest, seeking out weaknesses-- heck, seeking out social activities in general-- is a good counteractive. Accepting responsibility for the results you face, rather than blaming others is important. Even realizing that every profession takes skill and effort helps combat the separateness that "adult smarts" encourages. (Adult smarts in the form of professional organizations and the like that praise you to the heavens just for being a member of your profession...)

4:40 PM  
Blogger Paul Gowder said...

Kid can't be too smart if (s)he can't see through Ayn Rand.

9:45 PM  
Blogger amanda bee said...

Dag Nabbit. Some how, when I go to the FTA home page, I keep getting the Aug 15 post on top. It was actually because I was getting bored of that post (c'mon, time to write some more already) that I added the Archives to my Sage Feed Reader so I could finally stop compulsively checking and ... lo and behold ...something is broken. Megan's posted damn near daily for the last week and I nearly missed it all. What could be so broke? Is it just me?

Meanwhile, ptm, I gotta say, I'm not so sure that student government does much to divert tender young minds from the path to hellish superiority. Most of the smarty-pants kids who actually got elected to office just got more insufferable.

Also, Bob V, it took me a while to figure out the name that shall not be spoken, too.

I just reloaded all the new posts are there. Maybe it was me all along?

Megan, I need your help with something--I need some numbers about rainwater catchement. I'm not trying to plug my blog or nothing, but it is a long story so I'll try writing it up over there and hoping you can help me fill in some gaps.

5:53 AM  
Blogger Megan said...

Amanda, I'll go look. Maybe your browser was too lazy to send the mice out to get the new page every day? And you are proof that people can write long, funny comments. Loved your other one.

7:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Megan, I think it may be a Blogger-wide problem. I've noticed it on a completely different blog. It can be solved by reloading the page...

8:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think it's a blogger problem at all. Your browser caches web pages, and will avoid reloading the page if it thinks it can.

In IE it's right there under
tools/internet options/temporary internet files/settings/Check for newer versions of stored pages

It defaults to automatically, rather than every time you load the page. I don't know what algorithm it uses to determine if it should actually reload or not.

But, hitting the refresh button will force it to reload.

In IE you just have to hit F5, that's the Windows standard for refresh.

Mozilla, at least in Linux, uses Ctrl-R to reload.

Justin

8:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the honest words. Ayn Rand did nothing for me, but I was put into a particularly bad situation by some combination of F.A. Hayek and Nietzsche. Thing is I did resurface for a while, but smugness is a disease you never fully recover from.

Perhaps some sort of smugahaloics anonymous group should be created. Of course, it'd have to be as far away as possible from the internet, which clearly is a facilitator.

10:13 AM  
Anonymous JayeRandom said...

I strongly suspect that the mechanism that selects for Libertarian tendencies is genetic, and correlates with expression of Aspergers-spectrum behaviors.

6:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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6:42 PM  

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