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One of the psychometric mysteries is why high IQ people tend to be liberal, even though a lot of liberal ideas are clearly nonsense. Eminent scientist and intelligence blogger Bruce Charlton has proposed that many high IQ people are clever sillies, meaning they use abstract novel problem solving to solve problems that are better solved with common sense, and as a consequence, come up with ideas like liberalism that seem silly to many people.

I think there are four main reasons why intelligent people tend to be liberal (or tend not to be conservative):

1) High IQ people are less criminal. It’s long been accepted that criminals score about 10 points lower than non-criminals, even when reared in the same home. I think the negative correlation between IQ and conservatism (and thus positive correlation between IQ and liberalism) is largely just an extension of the negative correlation between IQ and crime. I’m not saying that conservatives are criminal, but they often are more criminal than liberals. For example, conservatives are more likely to support war, and war involves killing people (a criminal type behavior). Rich conservatives also don’t feel they should pay their “fair share” in taxes which is arguably theft (another criminal type behavior). Just the act of getting rich sometimes involves behavior that some people would consider borderline criminal; hence the saying “behind every great fortune lies a great crime”, and thus the conservative worship of wealth (which I’m more guilty of than anyone, even though I’m not a conservative or a liberal) is to some extent a worship of crime (though intelligent crime). As to why IQ is negatively related to crime, I elaborated on the causal mechanism in one of my earliest blog posts. So just as an IQ 90 might look at an IQ 115 as a “clever silly” for paying for an expensive sweater when he could have just shop-lifted it, an IQ 115 might look at an IQ 130 as a “clever silly” for voting for politicians that promise to raise his taxes.

2) A second major reason why intelligent people tend to be liberal (related a bit to the first reason), is that conservatism is the default position. As Charlton once wrote on this blog “conservatism is natural and spontaneous”. I agree with this; conservatism is natural because conservatism is all about our most primitive self-serving impulses: tribalism, family and children, greed etc. Evolution has predisposed us to feel emotions that enhance our genetic fitness, and these are the conservative emotions, so conservatives are disgusted by immigration because it threatens their gene pool. They worship wealth because historically, the ability to acquire resources enhanced the survival of one’s self, one’s family, and one’s tribe. They are disgusted by feminism because feminist daughters threaten their genetic fitness by being too focused on career to give them grand-kids. Similarly, they are disgusted by gays because openly gay sons also don’t give them any grand-kids. So evolution has programmed us to feel conservative emotions, and thus only people who are intelligent enough to think critically about their evolutionary programming and rebel against it, tend to have the option of being liberal.

3) A third major reason why intelligent people tend to be liberal is that intelligence is the mental ability to adapt and liberalism is all about change. By contrast, those who are not intelligent enough to adapt to a changing society or just new ideas, may fear it, and thus prefer conservatism which seeks to preserve tradition.

4) A final reason why intelligent people tend to be liberal is that liberalism is more complex and ambiguous. By contrast conservatism seeks simple solutions and simple dichotomies like good vs evil, us vs. them. However just because liberalism is more intellectually demanding than conservatism does not make it more correct. I find a lot of smart people really are “clever sillies” in that they embrace theories and ideas that are unnecessarily complex and this is probably a major problem in the IQ 120-140 range that so many of our elites are drawn from. Such people are smart enough to think of complex answers to questions, but they’re not smart enough to understand why the complex solution is wrong. They suffer from bounded cognition, because they haven’t internalized Occam’s razor.

However I suspect clever silliness completely vanishes at extremely high IQ levels. The only person I’ve ever known with a genuine IQ above 180 (one in 30 million level), embraced simple elegant explanations of the world, and communicated with great clarity, succinctness and precision, not the pretentious long-windedness of the clever sillies. I never did ask him if he was a liberal or a conservative. We had far more important issues to discuss.