A long time ago, Dean Keith Simonton published an important paper on Intelligence and Personal Influence in Groups, which shows why it is that all of society seems to be dominated by the discourse of somewhat intelligent but never all-that-brilliant people.
His central insight is that there exists a “range of comprehension” for a given level of intelligence. This is the range of less intelligent people who can still understand the reasoning of someone at the top of that range, and who are therefore susceptible to being persuaded by it.
A near-genius with IQ 160 will be able to argue persuasively to his quite intelligent colleagues of IQ 140, but for the 50% of everyone with IQ 100, what he says will seem baffling. Because very few people are in the IQ 140–160 range, having IQ 160 is not very socially advantageous. If your goal is to make friends and influence people, it’s better to be substantially stupider.
This and other theoretical considerations lead Simonton to propose this chart of social influence (“potential adherents”) as a function of IQ:
Those who are of merely average intelligence don’t have much social influence at all. They find their intellectual superiors far more persuasive than their peers, at least to a point. Those who are very intelligent suffer from much the same disadvantage, because they are comprehensible only to a fairly small pool of slightly less intelligent people at the extreme right end of the curve.
Ours is therefore an IQ 120 midwit society; it could not be any other way. Those with the most influence have an upper comprehensive range extending to about IQ 140. They are still capable of internalising and mostly comprehending the criticism of the smartest professors.
In the other direction, they look on the vast population of the unintelligent with a muted frustration, because their powers to persuade those with an IQ much below 100 are as weak as the power of their IQ 145 superiors is to persuade them.
Since our midwit rulers are cognitively better endowed than probably 90% of the whole population, it’s easy for them to overlook the rare 10% of people who are smarter than they are. Accordingly, they throw all of their opponents into the same basket of intellectual deplorables, and commit themselves to unceasing wars against “disinformation,” to devising various social manipulation schemes and to banning the political opposition.
It follows that the ideas which dominate our world are not necessarily the best or the most rational approaches to things. They are rather those ideas which appeal to people whose intelligence is above average if less-than-phenomenal, and whose other personality traits optimise their institutional influence. They have the brains of upper middle-class professionals, and they’re also much more extroverted, conscientious and conformist than the broader population.
In academia, where they dominate like nowhere else, we see a range of learned pathologies — not only a deep faith in irrational hygiene procedures like perpetual vaccination and masking, but a whole world of bizarre ideologies pertaining to human gender and biology, the environment and society.
Something has obviously gone very wrong with these kinds of people, but — and this is the crucial point — those things which have gone wrong with them are calibrated precisely to that midwit peak. However irrational the ideas current in this sphere, their appeal will increase with intelligence up to a point that is very nearly out of sight from us, because people of outlier high intelligence are extremely rare and their influence is negligible.
This is the result of a well-known phenomenon that people find those with IQs more than about 20 points higher hard to understand.
So if in the TV age the people elect a leader with an IQ of 125 (say, George Bush), with whom they are comfortable, then that leader will not hire staffers or advisors with IQs over about 145 because they will make him or her uncomfortable. Since the 1960s, the bright fringe have become frozen out of more and more areas. Yes, our leadership really is becoming more incompetent.
Now social media has accelerated the trend, as more policy is open to more discussion by a wider range of people. To say nothing of the numbers. Consider an IQ curve. In the right hand side, each drop of 10 points means the less smart greatly outnumber the smarter.
On top of that, the genetic component of average IQs has been dropping at about 1 to 1.5 IQ points per decade since 1880, and even the Flynn effect (which was about the non-genetic components of intelligence, such as learning to take IQ tests better) has now reversed.
On current trends, we are entering a technologically stagnant age of authoritarianism, run by a moderately dopey ruling class.
hat-tip David Archibald