Review: The Curse of the High IQ by Aaron Clarey

Aaron Clarey certainly has a tendency to argue based on his personal experience. However, there are limitations to that approach. I don’t think this has ever been clearer than in his book “The Curse of the High IQ.” The thesis of this book is that the world is a shitty place if you’re smart. There is a very strong and, quite frankly, pretty off-putting antagonistic vibe all throughout it.

Without wanting to toot my horn too much, I have to point out that I, just like Aaron Clarey, have a high IQ. I have faced plenty of the bullshit he describes in his book. Some of my problems, however, were due to my own making. Of course, mediocre people don’t like to be reminded of their own shortcomings. What is worse, if you are by far the smartest guy in the room, you tend to get cocky. What helped ground me, though, was to seek out an environment where that wouldn’t be the case anymore. For me, that change came when I attended an elite university. Of course, not everyone was brilliant there. On average, though, people were pretty damn smart as well as hard-working. Collaborating with smart people will seriously change how you view the world. You will no longer think that you’re head and shoulders above the rest. Instead, you’ll realize that you simply were the biggest fish in a small pond before, and now you’re in a different pond. You still have an IQ of 130+, but so do half of the people in your class, maybe even all of them, depending on the subject. Compare that to going to a state university where 50% of incoming students struggle with basic arithmetic!

Aaron Clarey points out the difficulties of finding a peer group if you’re really smart. He describes his difficulties with Meet-Ups, and his disappointment that very few people were interested in discussing Austrian Economics. There is a glaring omission, though: if you’re really smart, you normally don’t just dabble. Instead, you’ll get your smart peer group at work or a related professional setting. You may not want to hang out with those people in your spare time, smoking cigars, drinking whiskey, and playing poker, but if you put your IQ to good use and get a decent job, you will get all the mental stimulation you need. Sure, there will be a bit of bullshit to deal with, but it’s a far cry from what you have to endure in a regular job. To get back to Austrian Economics: Aaron Clarey may have an interest in this field, but I don’t think someone who has deeply studied this subject, for instance during a PhD program, would be too interested discussing this field with an amateur. I’m well-familiar with this phenomenon. There are a few subjects I have studied at considerable depth, but if you’re not at my level, I don’t think I would bother engaging you in a deep conversation about it. (Yes, I have attended Meet-Ups myself, and I found them severely lacking as the people there were, for the very most part, complete amateurs.) Similarly, if you know more about it than me, you may not care about what I have to say on it. In fact, the more you study a subject, the more specialized you will become, and the fewer people there will be to discuss it. Thus, I am not quite sure about the kind of conversational partners Aaron Clarey thinks he is missing. In my experience, thoroughly studying a textbook on X is enough to realize that at least half the people who claim to be specialists in X are hacks. If you don’t believe me, then take whatever subject you are knowledgeable about, go to the corresponding Reddit forum, and shudder at the ignorance you’ll have to face there.

I think the biggest issue is that Aaron Clarey is too obsessed with pushing back against society, when, in reality, there are plenty of people who can help you out, even if they may not be at your intellectual level. For instance, I really disliked my primary and secondary schooling, but in high school, I had teachers who tried working within the system and make my life a bit easier. For instance, I had an English teacher (we’re talking about a country where English is taught as a second language) who once took me aside and said that, based on my performance, there is nothing he can teach me, and said I could do whatever I want in class, as long as I don’t disturb the other students. Thus, I gained a few more productive hours a week. I still did the assignments, but they were trivial for me. My maths teacher, seeing that I was way above the rest, gave me separate assignment that went far beyond the curriculum — I did part of those during English lessons. But, sure, if you’re an asshole, you’ll get plenty of push-back. I got plenty myself, and it took me around two decades to learn my lesson.

Then there is the issue with work. Just like with school, you may have incompetent bosses or co-workers, but it won’t be the case that they are all, or almost all, incompetents, unlike what Aaron Clarey claims. Sure, you may be able to do a day’s work in two hours and slack off for the rest of the day, but what if you just slacked off for two just hours and spent the other four hours productively? Work on something, don’t be confrontational, and once you’re done, show it to your manager. I was once involved in a project where, based on my initiative, I was able to automate a few hours a day, day after day, of a small group of highly-specialized engineers. The result wasn’t that I got into trouble, or that my manager was fretting about having to fire half of those engineers. No, instead, they were happy that my work allowed them to spend their time in a more productive manner, so it resulted in a positive snow-balling effect. I think most people have a bunch of projects in a drawer they would like to devote some time to eventually. If there is anything to learn from that, it’s that for highly-skilled people there is always work left to do. I’m not just talking about STEM-degree holders. The same is true for skilled tradesmen. If you’re really good at your job, you may even have to turn down work. For instance, I know a highly-skilled tradesman who is so specialized and so good at his job that he has customers who are willing to wait for two years (!) for their turn.

So, you can either be a productive member of society, or you decide to go your own way and get pissed off because nobody wants to discuss Mises, Keynes or Hayek with you in your little corner of the world. If that’s so important to you, then go out into the big wide world and meet those people. Sure, to quote Aaron Clarey, there is plenty of “inferior scum” out there, but you can still make a difference. If you’re smart and driven, you will find it impossible to live a normal life. I agree that pastimes like watching sports may not be fulfilling for you, but this doesn’t mean that you can’t find your niche and arrange yourself with the world. I think a good indication of the confusion in Aaron Clarey’s “The Curse of the High IQ” is when he talks badly about the people of Wyoming. He likes the landscape, but not the people. Well, then pick what you want! You can’t have it all, and if you like a scenic environment and love your hikes, you may have to live with the fact that you’re just not going to bump into a critical mass of heterodox economists in your small town. Despite the difficulties you may face growing up in an antagonistic environment, life really opens up for high-IQ people and you will get plenty of opportunities. You don’t have to take them, but then you shouldn’t sit around, complaining how unfair life is.

Lastly, even though such comments are cheap shots, I have to point out that “The Course of the High IQ” has been poorly edited. You will come across glaring grammatical mistakes, some as shocking as confusing “your” and “you’re”, and quite a few typos. I’m referring to an early version of the paperback. It is possible that those mistakes have been fixed since the initial release.

“The Curse of the High IQ” is the first book of Aaron Clarey I have read that I cannot recommend. His experience is just too different from mine. What is worse, I consider a lot of his advice for high IQ people to be severely misguided. Yes, having a high IQ can be a burden. If you take Aaron Clarey’s advice on the matter, though, it will likely only become an even bigger burden for you.

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25 thoughts on “Review: The Curse of the High IQ by Aaron Clarey

  1. I love being the smartest guy in the room. Im fact im so smart I always aim to be next to the smartest guy in the room. Get it?

    Thus Im constantly outsmarting ppl on the internet and winning debates. How can high iq be a curse? Well if you hate winning I guess it is. Sure there is the risk of depression and staying childless, but there are workarounds because of the money you make.

    And worrying about grammer wow. Grammar nazi much? As if being a regular nazi wasnt enough.

    I agree that high iq ppl should work as much as they can and dutifully pay taxes so they can be a hero. Slacking off is not allowed for ppl like me, unfortunately even if I want to laze around. It is our duty to be heroic and solve problems for others. I never take vacations, nor watch netflix.

  2. Btw theres a huge flaw in austrian economics. They dont understand banking. Neither do others, but it is more egregious an error for austrians because they like to point out errors in others. I hope nobody gets fooled by these incompetents.

    Btw chinas management of its banks is interesting. Its very communistic.

      1. Alas, only the gifted can figure out this secret in plain sight. It surprised me that high school economic textbooks got this all wrong. I can tell you but it will most likely just frustrate you. Especially since you called me a troll (usually done to me by low iq fascists) So I will tell you in a riddle, dont hate me if you cant solve it, why should I share my nobel prize? Besides im busy. Fighting fascism, becoming a billionaire, winning nobles as a hobby. Its hard work.

        The riddle goes like this. What do banks do. Two or three simple functions, thus an optical illusion is created,only the gifted like me see through it. We look at it from a system perspective instead of an individual bank and acquire different results. 10 banks*illusion!=system perspective outcome on 10 banks. Even if its correct for a single bank, arguably not even then, its not right for the system. Hint: make a flowchart. Its actually quite funny when you get it. You will get different equations and acquire the holy grail.

        Im not telling you to give you the holy grail, im 100% certain you cant figure this out. Austrian economics like others dont get the big picture. Im just expressing how smart I am by creating this unsolvable riddle for you.

        It is the key to unleashing 5% growth rates in developed economies by central planners and the cause of secular stagnation. When was the last time western countries had a normal 3%+ growth? 1% is obviously not normal and it has to do with the banks.

  3. “You may not want to hang out with those people in your spare time, smoking cigars, drinking whiskey, and playing poker, but if you put your IQ to good use and get a decent job, you will get all the mental stimulation you need. ”

    –> Why in hell is it a problem to smoke cigars, drink whiskey and play poker (OK, from time to time of course, alcohol and tobacco are shit) even when you have a high IQ? It seems Aaron Clarey has a bit of a shitty personality and is a bit dysfunctional when surrounded by people. He finds an excuse in his high IQ. I say he’s a bit of dick sometimes.

    You know what I don’t like about this High-IQ-book and Bachelor-bla-bla-something?
    It’s way too long. Like… way too fucking long relative to the message it wants to bring across:
    -High IQ means you are an outlier and have fewer people to chose from when forming your social circle.
    -Try to find meaning in life by using the internet to meet with people like you.

    Now why the fuck do we need to read a 250 (?) page book on such things? Ah well, it doesn’t sell that well to just write a blog entry online like you do.

    “the more you study a subject, the more specialized you will become, and the fewer people there will be to discuss it”
    –> You know… that’s the kind of statements where I’m like “duh… no shit…”.
    This is grandmother wisdom. And if you’re a bit of a street-smart guy (and had a cool grandmother like me^^) then you know this upfront and bloated books like Aaron Clarey’s are just a waste of money.

    1. I didn’t mean to be a dick in the last paragraph. It’s more like that I prefer a short and crisp to-the-point blog entry like you write them rather than unnecessarily long books which intend to bring across a message that can be put into a few bullet points.

  4. Aaron, where can I find a good IQ-test to check out my IQ?

    I studied a STEM topic, started coding when I was 9yrs old and can relate to a lot of the things Aaron Clarey writes in his book. Don’t know my IQ, because I never cared about it.

  5. How smart is this guy btw? I knew from private reading that Kolmogorov led a normal and productive life.

    But, sure, I guess Mr.Clarey is a much more intelligent figure in recent history.

    ” Compare that to going to a state university where 50% of incoming students struggle with basic arithmetic!”
    Do you mean state university in Germany? How could that be? I heard that German high school curriculum is pretty challenging. Stuffs like Linear Algebra or Calculus are already taught in the last 2 years of high school.

    1. I was referring to state universities in the US. I’ve read pretty damning assessments of the state university system of California, for instance. The German curriculum has been massively dumbed down over the last 10 to 15 years. Bavaria still has a relatively rigid curriculum. In other regions, such as Berlin or Hamburg, high school education is a complete joke. While students are still expected to know calculus, in practice this can mean that they have done little more than keying a function into a graphical calculator, which does all the work for the student. (I have bumped into genuine dumb-asses at German universities.)

      1. “While students are still expected to know calculus, in practice this can mean that they have done little more than keying a function into a graphical calculator”
        Chuckle, you are right. Associating too strongly a function (elementary in this case) to its graphical representation will hinder your ability to comprehend this notion in higher courses. There, barely any “function” has a graph to begin with.

      2. Aaron, are you saying that in Berlin/Hamburg they don’t know how to manually do “Differenzialrechnung”? (i.e. manually calculate tangents and steepness and all that stuff)? In Bavaria that accounted for like one third of the Abitur in maths, the two others being stochastic and advanced geometry.
        Graphical calculators were forbidden in 2009 by the way.

  6. “I was referring to state universities in the US.”
    Yeah, that’s what I suspect when I read your comment. A few guys who specialize in Math in my country told me that German high school curriculum is roughly at the same level of what they have, minus the excessive training for competitions. So I assume a good German high schooler should pump an American high school curriculum to dust.

    1. “So I assume a good German high schooler should pump an American high school curriculum to dust.”

      But wouldn’t that mean that there like a huge gap then between high school and university in the US?
      Like, how do US students keep up when they come out of high school and go to University?
      I’m curious.

      1. In my view it is largely bimodal. On one end you have a small number extremely well-prepared students who went to selective high schools, either private or public. An example of the latter is Stuyvesant High School. However, at the other end, you have people who read at the level of a fourth-grader and struggle with basic arithmetic.

  7. “But wouldn’t that mean that there like a huge gap then between high school and university in the US?”
    That depends. There are APs and IBs programs here. Those who take them back in high school are more prepared for college-leveled courses. But when it comes to Math, I have take my heads off to kids who study in HUS:,_Hanoi_University_of_Science

    By the age of 18, they have all come into contact with graduate level Math courses. One guy I messaged with has studied in his spare time general topology and homological algebra. That’s when you know your Math ability is only average at best, below average at worse. Even those guys admit they are only good. There is a large gap between “being good” and “being like Grothendieck of sort” in the Math world.

    1. “the two others being stochastic and advanced geometry.”
      Stochastic geometry? That’s interesting. I see that technology has changed significantly high school mathematic education. When I left high school a decade ago, Probability was only studied in college. Now, it was delegated to 11th grade program. In more advanced curriculum, you even find subjects of discrete Math being taught along with more traditional contents.

      1. Yes, sorry for the confusion. I indeed meant stochastics. Thanks Aaron.

  8. Is this Bayern Arbitur?

    I have had a look at some of the test samples. Interesting, notations for functions are modernized to be closer to Analysis. Overall, I think the questions are involved with much less petty tricks than exams in my country. It certainly doesn’t make students lose track of what is essential and what is not. When I was young, I was constantly in fear because questions in exams never appear to be the same as those found in standard textbooks. You can diligently solve the whole book and may not pass the exam with good grades due to these trickier questions.

    Here is entrance exam in my country last year:

    1. Yes, that is the Bavarian Abitur. It seemed a lot more straightforward than the examination I sat. I also recall more obtuse questions which you could well call trick questions, for which the German term “Einserfrage” exists, literally: “A-grade question”. If you didn’t do well on it, it would be very difficult to get an A. It used to be really difficult to get an A in mathematics (I got an A+). These days, that is surely a lot easier. For one, a lot of material has been removed. When I left high school, I had learned, for instance, more of Linear Algebra was covered in an introductory course in that subject I had to take years later outside of Germany to formally fulfill admissions criteria for a Master’s degree.

      1. Isidia & Aaron – what’s your take on multiple choice questions?

        I have encountered very hard ones and very easy ones.
        The nastier ones was when you get a topic and then you need to chose “true/false” for four statements which relate to the topic.
        You can get maximum 2 points per “topic”. (The questions are independent). If you chose 2 wrong statements you get zero points. Meaning you can have half of the test solved right and you still get zero points overall.

        Dang… A+. Well done, Aaron. I think I got a 12 out of 15 at the Grundkurs in 2009.
        But I jammed in the whole stochastics part in two long days at the Staatsbibliothek together with a few Red Bulls. Our teacher was crap and I just worked myself through last year’s exams until I got it. Needless to say that the nights after I was dreaming of blue and red balls which were taken out of baskets and so on^^ But it worked. Also, I knew that one topic (I think it was “errors”) would take me like 2-3 days to learn, but never accounted for more than 4-8 points ( out of I think 120) of the whole exam, so I left it out. Saved me some time for the geometry part where I gladly saw most girls fail, because they couldn’t rotate a pyramid in their head. Talking about why women can’t park cars hahahahaa

      2. That women have a worse spatial reasoning ability is supported by science. I recall a lot of girls struggling immensely with cube nets even. My impression was that they were simply missing that part of the brain. To some degree, they could alleviate that by memorization, but that won’t get you very far in analytic geometry.

        I think multiple choice questions can work well if they are well-designed. Personally, I’d only support MC questions that are in principle as difficult as regular questions, i.e. you have to do the work. Those can even be tougher than regular questions because you won’t get partial credit for incomplete answers. The worst are MCQs where you can guess the answer by excluding the obviously bogus answers. I also dislike MCQs where you can quickly work backward from the provided answer choices. (That seems to be a big part of the entrance exams of the Indian Institutes of Technology.)

  9. @Sleazy,
    You are right, Bavarian Arbitur was more difficult back then. Here are two past papers in 1990 and 1980:

    Interesting, in German, you still call Calculus “Infinitesimalrechnung”. I guess it is equivalent to “Calcul Infinitesimale” in French. A bit archaic in my humble opinion since modern analysis is no longer based on the infinitesimals.

    “I also recall more obtuse questions which you could well call trick questions, for which the German term “Einserfrage” exists, literally: “A-grade question”. If you didn’t do well on it, it would be very difficult to get an A.”
    Nope, trick questions that I refer to in my earlier post are logarithmic equalities, trigonometric equalities, algebraic inequalities and functional equations. The inequality part has been hugely popular in my country for decades. Just find a book like that of Cirtoaje for reference. It can be called a huge subfield in its own right.
    Anyhow, you guys already have a section on probability (Wahrscheinlichkeitsrechnung). That was 10 years ahead of us. 🙂

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