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We're at a point in our society where being smart is becoming more and more valued. Hollywood films are featuring smarter heroes, TV shows try to shame people who are dumber than a fifth grader, we elected a smarter president, etc. Unfortunately, every time something becomes cool, a lot of people are in such a hurry to jump on the bandwagon that they focus on the outer trappings and don't put in the work. In this case, trying really hard to look smart without focusing on learning or thinking.

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Why study when you can just put on some glasses and look at people real serious like?

The biggest problem is that there's a lot of different kinds of smart, and we can't all be good at all of them. Some people just panic and think there's only two groups of people -- the smart and the dumb. The cool and the uncool. These people might be smart in some ways, but they feel like they have to exaggerate those ways and fake being smart in all the other ways in order to not fall into the "dumb" category, which really really terrifies them.

But pulling these stunts just backfires terribly, like when people try to:

Brandish Academic Credentials

Now, there's an appropriate time to pull out your Ph.D. or your standardized test scores, like when you are applying for a job or a school, or picking someone up at a bar.

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"Hey, do you wash your pants with Windex because I got an 800 on my SAT math section."

There are also hilariously inappropriate times, like during sex, or to prove you are the smartest person in an argument.

Now, maybe this is just me being silly, but I'm pretty sure that you show you are smart in an argument by being correct. Sure, the issue being argued might be murky and debatable, but the facts you use to back up your side can be obviously right or wrong. For example, if you claim that China is not going to stay a dominant economic power because the Chinese economy relies on a barter system where everything is paid for in chopsticks, you are obviously wrong, because we all know things are paid for in fish balls.

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Yum!

If people pointed out you were literally, factually wrong about China's currency, you probably would back off and be a bit embarrassed, like a normal person, but some people somehow think they can keep up the bluff by pulling out academic credentials. "You may have an encyclopedia showing that China has actual paper currency, but I have a PhD in economics! And I graduated at the top of my class!"

These people are confused about how credentials work. In the real world, we show our GPA, test scores, and degrees to get into a school or a job, and those set up the expectation that we'll do a good job or succeed in the program. But then we actually have to do the job, or the coursework. Once you have fucked up and covered the $100 million genomics lab in burnt peanut butter or something, nobody is going to care about how many letters you have after your name. They are just going to assume you got them by fraud.


You think they would have caught this earlier.

This is exactly the same in everyday life. No matter how many credentials you have showing you were smart in the past, if you are insisting that adamantium is an element on the periodic table or explaining that cats have six legs, you are being visibly and provably stupid in the present. Even if you can convince people you once taught Stephen Hawking everything he knows, they are just going to shake their head sadly and wonder what tragic accident took away your mental faculties since then.

Brag About Personality Test Results

The average human being isn't flexible enough to fellate themselves. That's why we have personality tests. Myers-Briggs personality test results are horoscopes for people who think they are too smart to fall for horoscopes. The actual test just gives you a set of 4 letters, but additional layers of the system give each type an insultingly flattering label like, "The Mastermind," or "The Champion."

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This could be you!

That's an improvement on traditional horoscopes, where you could end up being a "Cancer," if you're not lucky. But no, every Myers-Briggs personality type sounds awesome and special, which is probably totally unrelated to how popular the Myers-Briggs personality test is.

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Notice nobody ever tells you that seeing a butterfly in an inkblot means you're a misunderstood genius.

Even though every personality type description focuses on how awesome you are, some have special focus on how smart you are, such as the INTJ type:

Often intellectual, they enjoy analysis and complex problem-solving, and are much less comfortable with the illogical and unpredictable nature of other people and their emotions. They may not want to bother with people who they do not perceive to be their intellectual equals. ...the INTJ often has a unique ability to foresee logical outcomes.

This is even more convenient than taking the SAT to show how smart you are because, let's face it, answering personality test questions is not rocket science. You don't need to have a speck of knowledge in any field or discipline, you just need to be able to answer questions while pretending you are Data or Spock from Star Trek.

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"Well, I DO 'easily see the general principle behind specific occurrences'. I bet no one else answered yes to that!"

Aside from the fact that most psychologists feel the test has "the intellectual content of a fortune cookie," you run into the same problems as with academic credentials. Nothing from outside is going to make you look smart if you can't actually be smart in front of people.

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Stack The Deck

If you're insecure about your smartness, then there's nothing more scary than the thought that someone will ask you a question you can't answer. Your nightmares consist of you stuttering, "The number of electoral votes in Michigan? It's... well... uh..." and a blurry, looming crowd saying in slow motion, "I thought you were supposed to be smart..." while you fall backwards into a bottomless pit and wake up screaming.

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It's 17, sleep tight!

These nightmares lead people to do foolish, obnoxious things in an attempt to beat their imagined persecutors to the punch, like prepare the information beforehand and supply it before they're even asked, which you probably know is really, really annoying.

If you've ever been ambushed out of nowhere by someone telling you the number of electoral votes Michigan has, this is probably why. Or if someone has hijacked your conversation about this weekend's movies to enlighten you about how the inner world of women was a running theme in many of Ingmar Bergman's films.

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"Hey, Alan, sorry to interrupt your conference call, but did you know that Nietzsche's statements about the death of God are widely misunderstood?"

Some of their favorite subjects are conspiracy stories and "secrets" that most people won't normally know, usually because they are made-up. Because when you pull a, "Did you know ..." on somebody, nothing's more deflating than "yes," so obscure and non-mainstream is the way to go.

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"Hey, Alan, I just read The Bell Curve and apparently science proves black people are genetically less intelligent."

So you'll get a kid that's just read Atlas Shrugged and thinks they've stumbled on a "I bet you never thought of this" goldmine of ideas to dump on people and dazzle them, not realizing those ideas are on the fringe not because they are obscure but because most people think they are lame. So his idea of impressing someone at a party is to recite a Cliff's Notes version of the book, seeing his ability to remember key quotes and details as evidence that he really gets it (while nobody else does), and not as a sign that he read the book 2 days ago (while nobody else did).

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"Oh, PLEASE. You're completely misinformed about what happens in Chapter 8, Part 1. That clearly takes place in Chapter 8, Part 2."

But you can't stack the deck forever. Someone's eventually going to bring up a book you didn't read two days ago, or possibly at all. But if you're not smart about that particular thing, is it really that big a deal? Can't you just go, "I guess I'm not an expert in politics," and laugh it off, instead of developing stupid nightmares?

Adopt And Publicize "Nerdy" Interests

At least some of these things, like academic credentials, might be somewhat related to intelligence. Completely unrelated? Hobbies.

Maybe it's movies or pop culture that's taught us that the smartest people are always really interested in math, science, or philosophy, but that's confusing interests with professions. Sure, a lot of brilliant people go into the fields of mathematics or science, but their favorite hobby might be something lowbrow, like go-kart racing or beer brewing or Ultimate Frisbee.

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Or belly dancing, why not.

They might study quantum physics or Kant's theories of perception for a living, but they might be equally excited to talk about going camping for the weekend, or something funny their cat did.

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"We made them take this picture. Then they clawed my eyes out."

If there's someone who's anxiously pushing the conversation toward "intellectual" subjects all the time and seems disgusted at talking about the trivialities of common life, they're less likely to be a brilliant thinker who is beyond childish thoughts and more likely to be someone insecure about their image.

Even more off base are people who notice that smart people tend to be nerdy, and nerdy people tend to like sci-fi and fantasy, and thus play up their love of Star Trek or Joss Whedon or whatever, hoping some of the nerd vibe will rub off on them and add a vague sense of smartness to their image, as if that works.

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Seriously, look at these middle-aged losers hanging out at a Star Trek convention. They didn't even dress up.

I'm not saying most fans of these things are doing that. If they're talking about what a great show it is, that's one thing. If they're saying, "I'm such a huge nerd because..." and list those shows along with how much they like math or something, that might be a warning sign.

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Complain About Dumb People

"But isn't that what you're doing in this very column?" you might ask. "IRONY." Actually, there's a difference. I'm complaining about people that try too hard to look smart. They might be dumb or they might actually be pretty smart, that's not the problem.

The problem is that it's way too important to them to prove they're smart, or what they consider to be "smart." And one way they do it is to really go overboard making fun of the "stupid." There are threads and blogs all over the internet complaining about what a society of morons we live in and ripping into buffoons who ask such laughably dumbass questions as, "Is the flu going around?" What a dumb question! She's lucky she didn't get SLAPPED RIGHT IN THE FACE!

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"And THAT'S for asking if we have any NyQuil, you dumb broad!"

Which kind of brings to mind glass houses when another entry shows this blogger might not be that bright herself.

People also get the "too stupid to live" treatment for doing such things as having a funny accent, or mispronouncing a word that's hard to pronounce, or calling customer service to ask the kind of question customer service is there to answer. "Can you BELIEVE she wanted to know what our HOURS were?"

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"9 TO 5 EASTERN STANDARD TIME, CLOSED SUNDAYS! I HOPE YOU'RE HAPPY, BITCH!"

Or sometimes instead of an anecdote, they just rip into society in general for being vacuous and enjoying such inane tripe as Justin Bieber or Twilight or whatever it's cool to look down on lately, or overexaggerate how influential Donald Trump or Sarah Palin are so they can feel like they are one of the few elites who haven't fallen into the same trap as the rest of dumb America.

But like I said before, there's not such a clean division between "the smart" and "the dumb," since intelligence is so multidimensional. There's a more obvious division between people who can look at their own flaws and people who can only look at others'. Ironically, the latter group, whether smart or dumb to begin with, are never going to get any smarter.

I'm sure this doesn't come as as a surprise to anyone except those wanna-be intellectuals, but people who aren't that smart, yet are honest and easy to get along with, are infinitely more likeable and respected than people who may be smart, but keep annoying the hell out of everyone trying to show it. People do not think less of you for not knowing everything. So maybe sometimes it's a good idea to put away your notecards and see if someone else can tell you something new that you don't know.


For example, did you happen to know that whales are not in fact fish, but mamm- Oh. You did? Dammit.

Check out more from Christina in 6 Ways World of Warcraft is Worse Than Real Life and The 8 Least-Threatening Comic Book Villains.

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