The Curse of the Oversized Ego

“The Curse of the High IQ” is a book that needed to be written, a truthful lamentation of how society discriminates against the gifted. Unfortunately, it’s derailed by Aaron Clarey’s sloppy research and poor writing.

Aaron Clarey is who I want to be when I grow up. Best-known for his blog Captain Capitalism, Clarey has built up a following over the past decade by offering cogent economic advice and snappy social commentary in between his hiking and biking adventures. Worthless, aimed at helping high schoolers avoid wasting their time and money with useless college majors, is a book I’d wish I had when I was a teenager; Enjoy the Decline is a sardonic survival guide for the Obama era; Bachelor Pad Economics may be the most comprehensive guide to personal finance ever written.

However, with The Curse of the High IQ, Clarey has finally reached his level of incompetence.

Anyone who’s ever had to attend a public school or hold an office job knows that smart people are at a disadvantage in Western societies. Clarey’s book bills itself as an examination of why society despises the intelligent and what they can do about it. While The Curse of the High IQ has a lot going for it, Clarey’s lazy argumentation and terrible writing hang from the book’s neck like a pair of obese albatrosses. Because of this, I have difficulty recommending it to anyone who isn’t already a fan of his.

Clarey begins the book by discussing a number of his friends who are depressed and unhappy despite being gifted and successful at their careers or hobbies, identifying the cause as their abnormally high IQs. The book’s chapters each focus on a different aspect of life, from education to work to dating, showing how intelligent people are handicapped every step of the way. While some of Curse’s points are dead obvious – for example, we all know that the obsession with celebrity culture and team sports is driven by the increasing stupidity of the average American – others ring poignant and nearly make the book worth the price of admission on their own.

For example, one of the highlights of the book is the “Education” chapter, where Clarey discusses how America’s Prussian-derived school system rewards conformity over excellence. As someone who was repeatedly punished in grade school for being intelligent, this was particularly eye-opening. In particular, in elementary school, I would often nod off during lectures because I already understood the material, which I proved by getting straight As on every test. In fourth grade, I had frequent run-ins with a teacher’s assistant who would confiscate the novels I read during class, tsk-tsking me by saying there was “a time and a place.”

Curse’s true standouts are the “Career” and “Socializing, Dating & Marriage” chapters. The former concentrates on how political correctness, psychopathic bosses, and the feminine nature of white-collar work make employment a living hell for those on the right side of the bell curve. The latter is a particularly depressing explanation for the loneliness that afflicts intelligent men and women. With brainy people in short supply, the gifted either have to dumb themselves down and pretend to like sportsball and the Kardashians, or otherwise get used to being alone.

Unfortunately, in order to get to these chapters, you have to fight an uphill battle against Curse’s ghastly prose. Clarey’s book has so many typos and such mangled grammar that reading it gave me a minor headache. In fact, his writing is so bad that I doubt he even bothered to run Spellcheck before he put the book on sale. Here’s a sampling of Cappy Cap pinning the English language to the ground and refusing to take no for an answer [sic]:

Children is the third and most devastating stage of attrition to your social life. And the reason why is because it has to be. When people have children they (should) give up their current life to ensure their children are properly raised in theirs. And while your friends’ breeding may be the death knell to your social life, it would be the epitome of child abuse if they prioritized their social lives over their children.

I plucked this passage out at random, but there are countless examples in the book that are just as bad or worse. Not only is Clarey’s writing horrifying enough to induce physical pain, his slapdash prose undermines his core thesis. The Curse of the High IQ‘s central argument relies on the fact that Clarey himself is intelligent and has suffered because of it; in fact, he uses examples from his own life to make his points. Well, Mr. Clarey, if you’re so smart, why do you write like you have an IQ of 90?

Of course, I know that Clarey’s a sharp guy: he is my friend, after all. His problem is that he’s lazy. By his own admission, he doesn’t read many books, preferring to spend his free time climbing mountains, playing video games, or doing cross-country motorcycle trips. He stubbornly refuses to proofread his work or study the craft of writing, arguing that because he already speaks English, he doesn’t need to learn how to write it. That’s like arguing that engineers don’t need to study math since they already know basic arithmetic.

Curse also has several factual inaccuracies that drag the book down. For example, Clarey alleges that intelligent people tend to be night owls, and night owls are discriminated against thanks to the 9 to 5 workday that society is structured around. In reality, scientific evidence shows that people are healthier and more productive when they wake up early and go to bed early instead of staying up all night. In bringing this issue up, Clarey is trying to rationalize his lifestyle choices.

Additionally, near the end of the book, Clarey tries to argue that mental illness and intelligence are correlated, that society’s jihad against the gifted literally drives them insane. Again, this is bunk. There are numerous causal factors for mental illness, such as child abuse, sexual abuse, genetics, and drug usage, but having a high IQ is not one of them.

It’s a shame that Clarey took such a shoot-from-the-hip approach with The Curse of the High IQ, since the book is one that we needed, one that examines a topic that few dare to touch. Had Clarey taken his time with Curse, carefully researching his points and revising his prose, the book could have been a true masterpiece. As it stands, only serious fans of Captain Capitalism – or those with a high pain threshold – should buy it.
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