The Clever Sillies

Simon Sheppard on how the brainiacs have run amok

Published in Heritage and Destiny issue 91, July-Aug. 2019

It is lamentable, is it not, how lacking in common sense some people are. It is doubly troubling when obviously intelligent people seem completely devoid of it. A university friend once said to me, “The most important thing I learned at university is how stupid intelligent people can be.” This is indeed a valuable lesson. Just because someone is brainy doesn’t mean they are sensible: humans’ capacity for rationalisation and self-delusion is immense.

Back in olden days of course, this wasn’t much of a problem. There would have been a few teachers and scribes but most men lived by their hands, their effort, and their practical ability. Women were too busy doing household laundry (it takes a week without electricity, I know this personally) and outpacing the infant mortality rate to contribute much else. In any case, no-one imagined that women could compete with men in the sort of work men did.

Those few teachers and scribes lived lives of relative ease while men with little or no practical ability, being unable to make and repair things, became the raw labour needed to build, grow and harvest. They quickly found their place.

Not so now. The marvellous discoveries and inventions of Western civilisation we now enjoy have caused a huge shift. Millions of people have been elevated to passive, cerebral lifestyles which were formerly the preserve of a select few. Born of European man’s problem-solving abilities came engines, electricity, washing machines and countless other labour-saving devices which have divorced most from regular physical effort. The brainiacs have been freed to run amok.

Gone are the days of the rare and cherished old Professor, a brilliant scholar but unable to mend a fuse. Now there are armies of Sociology, Women’s Studies and similar graduates churned out on the academic treadmill, earning revenue for the institution all the while. Academia has become an industry, though it is heavily subsidised by grants and disbursements. Those grants greatly influence what research is done. To say that this situation is fertile ground for distorted conjecture is an understatement. All manner of strange ideas are abroad.

A regular habit nowadays is ‘virtue signalling,’ which you may have heard of. In psychology I think it is pretty much accepted that things like art are really a form of male sexual display. By his portrait or sculpture the artist says: ‘This is what I have created, I am a high class mate.’ The male seeks to acquire high status because if he does he can attract high status mates. This isn’t stressed in orthodox psychology of course, because it is pretty much obvious that Western man takes this to its highest form. In Western civilisation, sexual drives are sublimated – not just substituted (like in sport) but sublimated, taken to a higher level – to produce the highest art and science.

‘Virtue signalling’ is the female equivalent. The female advertises that she is caring: ‘I am a kind, virtuous person and a suitable mate to care for you and our offspring.’ Virtue signalling is low in cost to the female, since she rarely has to follow what she advocates with action.

Then, in an evolutionary development following the enormous growth of the cerebral, leisured class, we have now a sort of masculine version of virtue signalling, called ‘showcasing intelligence.’ This is the notion of the ‘clever silly’ or alternatively (my term) ‘idiot academic.’ Here it is not a caring, virtuous nature which is advertised, but intelligence. The clever silly is advertising his fitness: ‘I am a clever person who is capable by my cleverness of providing for you and our offspring.’

The clever silly displays his intelligence by advancing a novel theory which is likely counter-intuitive and often, impossible to disprove. He showcases his intelligence by presenting a new and original argument, however counter-factual and implausible it may seem at the time. “There is no such thing as race” was an early example.

Clever silly ideas can be compared to synthesising a complex molecule. The substance is easily obtained from natural sources, so there is no commercial interest in building up the molecule from scratch, a process which can take days and involve a great deal of difficulty. The synthesis is done as an academic exercise, and the chemist who first succeeds will have his reputation enhanced, simply for accomplishing a novel and intricate task.

Being the originator of a clever silly idea risks mockery and loss of reputation. However if the thesis being proposed is in accord with a favoured agenda or narrative, others will join in and spread the idea. Soon followers appear who are eager to share in the showcasing, and who can now do so with less risk. If the media graces the idea with media coverage, the concept is promoted to wider society and, if criticism of it is suppressed, it can even become accepted as established.

Which is where we are now. Unfortunately the people with power – those with control over the minds of the masses, which is the same thing – thrive on creating problems. By promoting and constantly reinforcing clever silly ideas, contemporary society has become detached from reality. That is mass psychosis. By degrees, clever silliness has progressed to rank insanity. This is how we have reached the point where a labourer on a building site makes more sense than our intelligentsia.

Many people have clever brains but idiot instincts; then the former rationalises the latter


Charlton, B. (2009) Clever Sillies: Why the high IQ lack common sense. Medical Hypotheses 73: 867-870.

Dutton, E., van der Linden, D. (2015) Who are the ‘Clever Sillies’? The intelligence, personality, and motives of clever silly originators and those who follow them. Intelligence 49: 57-65.

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