Smart people

I had this conversation the other day with a colleague of mine (who’s also a writer, short stories, as if genre really matters, though it does to her because she works firmly in the tradition), and she proudly declared that intelligence is no longer the “most attractive” quality in a man to her. By “intelligence,” I hope you understand I mean “very intelligent,” and by “very intelligent,” I mean really fucking smart, well-read, articulate etc etc etc. But I think you all know what I mean.

To contextualize: I’d just returned from &NOW and was telling her how smart people there were. Not to de-emphasize my own smartness but simply to praise others. Being in a bombed-out midwestern town, one forgets.

In an attempt to tease out exactly what she meant, I came to learn that it was not “intelligence” per se that she found problematic but the unwaning privilege of the floor and arrogance that “intelligence” often demands. Now, she argues characteristics such as “kindness” and “caring” are more important to her. That, and of course, attractiveness. Before, all this things could be ignored for intelligence. Genius, if you will.

But there’s the thing, yeah?, as writers, we do value intelligence. We value smartness productivity publishing reading writing etc etc etc. Do you value it more than “kindness” or “caring”? What’s important in a friend/partner to you?

13 thoughts on “Smart people

  1. Fortunately, especially if you live in a big city, those qualities don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Although, even here in NYC, anyone I interact with will rarely measure against the intelligence I’ll find in a book. That said, if I had to choose which is more important, I’d say it depends on the context. For instance, if I was lost and on the point of starving in the woods or on some mountain, I’d want someone who was as smart or smarter than me to help get me out of that mess. Then again, that person might kill me in my sleep, in order to save his/herself, because he/she had decided that it was, after all, the “smart” thing to do. Another thing, I’m a firm believer in the theory of multiple intelligences, so kindness and all that entails, namely, empathy, respect, understanding, generosity, etc., cannot really be held in binary opposition to intelligence. Also, in my experience, those who are both verbal-linguistic/logical-mathematically intelligent and interpersonally intelligent (or kind) are less likely to show how really dumb they can be, especially in public.

  2. I’m not saying that “intelligence” and “caring” are mutually exclusive. (I’d argue they’re quite connected, actually.)

    But I think what my friend meant was posturing and arrogance as attractive features, as means of displaying intelligence, which I both understand & appreciate. Posturing & arrogance, I’d argue, at least on the surface do contradict “caring,” though most posturing arrogant people are posturing arrogant people for a reason, and though they have the talk/walk to prove their brilliance, there’s some quite decisively lacking. Or at least, let me speak for myself, when I do that shit, it’s all from insecurity.

  3. if someone is kind & caring it doesn’t matter unless they’re interesting. boring people are boring no matter how nice, confident, and attractive they are

  4. i think about this a lot. a lot a lot. as john said, context is huge. your last paragraph began with, ‘as writers’, but then ends with the question in terms of ‘friend/partner’. so i’m thinking that you’re saying that much of our identity is bound up in the activity of our writing, and so that would influence how we interact with/value others in our day-to-day lives. i would agree in part. but i’ve realized that i connect with different people for different reasons, and that no one person will satisfy all my various inclinations. that said, i would prefer (in a partner) empathy in conjunction with a skewed sensitivity toward the sensation of existence over intelligence, even if possessed of both verbal/logical hemispheres. in terms of friends, an array to satisfy my other needs of connection is necessary. which is kind of ironic to say because i have neither partner nor friends. but in an ideal world i would be surrounded by a rainbow of people who inhabit the various bandwidths of intelligence (used in the larger sense as john did above, in terms of multiple lines of intelligence, where empathy would be one such bandwidth). however, my first inclination toward anyone posturing or exuding arrogance, regardless of their level of conventional intelligence, is to tell them to fuck off. and yet, over the years, i’ve come to see, as you’ve pointed out lily, that in some cases that is spurned by varying levels of insecurity, and in those cases you just have to crack the nut to get the meat.

  5. mike: is there value in boringness? i find myself bored all the time. does that make me boring?

    keith: when you say you think about this a lot, what do you mean? and how? in what ways do you think about this question?

    i ask because i’ve never really thought about it, not consciously at least. it wasn’t until my friend made her grand point about consciously trying to not be attracted to intelligent men that i began considering these things. so honestly, when you think about it, what are your concerns?

    • i hate being bored
      it is my least favorite thing in the entire world
      i used to be bored all the time and i wasn’t entirely happy with my life, so i told myself i was not going to be bored ever again and i have stuck to it except in very few instances.

      i don’t think being bored makes you a boring person, but i think accepting being bored all the time means you lack a desire for something not boring, maybe?

      i should clarify, of course, that somethings that are characteristically considered “boring” i find pretty incredible. for instance, peter gidal’s “room filme” is an almost hour long silent materialist film that is mostly just blackness. it is, ostensibly, “boring,” but i am not bored by it. so perhaps here is the divide?

      when i say boring people are still boring, i think i more accurately mean “people who are uninteresting (to my definition of interesting) are still uninteresting even if they’re hot.” of course, this is irrelevant to me as a voyeur if i am not going to interact with them, but i guess that’s a different issue.

  6. my wife is much smarter than me, a nicer person than me, much more caring, humble, and good looking. she is also the only person i’ve ever had a functional relationship with. i attribute my good fortune to the fact that i had stopped looking for anything in a person, and thus didn’t find the usual limitations people place on themselves. as a result i found someone who i wouldn’t have ever thought to look at in terms of marriage. there are people who have all the qualities you are looking for, but because people tend to try to find things to deter themselves it slips past.

    i don’t know if that answers anything. i think the most important thing is finding someone who takes you for what you are, and supports you. my wife is in most cases my first reader, and even if a piece doesn’t click with her she’s always the first person to push me to keep doing what i’m doing.

  7. i was also going to add, genius i think is something best appreciated from afar: up close all the blemishes become apparent without any of the glory.

    lily, i’ve been enamored by certain people in the past, seeing a particular quality in them shine so brightly, only to discover that i was projecting too much onto them, erroneously believing that the brightness extended to every possible aspect of their personality, and so unfairly put them on a pedastal which no one could remain on for long. and i also began to recognize the multitude of ways in which i could connect with a person and would envision a spherical model in my mind of the different territories for each person in which i could travel with them intellectually, emotionally, spiritually, etc. with each person i was able to access different zones of interaction; and i have come to consider that with every person in our life, we intersect along different planes of commonalities, and it is the specific plane of commonality that we share with another person which defines our relationship with them. and so i needed to stop looking for the platonic half that would complete, fully overlap with my own sphere, thereby resolving the singularity with its non-existent complement. i tried to, and still struggle sometimes, to simply appreciate the region of the sphere that any particular person offered, and to not expect them to fulfill other roles.

    and so in terms of thinking about this a lot, i constantly evaluated and re-evaluated which regions of the sphere were most important to me, which regions did i want to inhabit most often and why. why did i value one region over another, and was that value arbitrary, was it pre-determined by upbringing, or by the particular blue-print physiology of keith, or psychological makeup? which ones were transition phases, and which ones did i want to cultivate for the long term.

    a lot it came down to, and still comes down to, struggling with trying to figure out who i am. my identity crisis for many years was that i didn’t have one, and i didn’t know identity meant. identity seemed so fragile and easily disrupted and to an astonishing degree determined simply by the conditions in which a person found him/herself.

    anyways, i could go on, but i’m not really sure what i’m saying anymore, nor if i answered your question or just confused matters. but basically, i agree wholeheartedly with what ryan said and hope someday to find a similar slice of heaven pie.

  8. ryan: i hear you. my husband is pretty great: smart, funny, kind, generous, etc etc etc. and good for you! sounds like a great relationship for you!

    this conversation is more an exercise, a pondering, than my search for a man. not that anyone has thought it that way.

    keith: i remember when i was nineteen. there was this boy, a musician poet guy, i’d totally romanticized him, thought he was the perfect man: hot, smart, talented, etc. even after he’d tooled me around for a while, i was still convinced that being with him would somehow bring me to some kind of higher enlightenment. even after other people told me he was an ass, i was unwavering. it took me a long time to realize exactly how much i’d projected my own desires onto him. it wasn’t his fault, of course, but i feel the fool for doing it nonetheless.

    genius: one of those words i find vastly problematic, though i’d used it before. there’s too much baggage attached. too much romanticization. too much bs. what i mean to say is, people seem to get away with a lot because of their “genius,” as if “genius” excuses shit behavior. i’m not cool with that, even though i’m often guilty of playing into this elaborate cultural artistic mythology as well. maybe i’ll write a post about this word later. ideas, ideas.

    now, i’m rambling. interesting points. please, keep them coming!

    • genius, definitely, that is a fun messy word, with many implications as you mentioned. i was also obsessed with and plagued by that notion for several years. one of the reasons i admitted myself into a mental institution was because i thought i could access a genius-equivalent state of consciousness by disrupting the structure of my ego within the safety of a controlled environment (of course the other reasons were that i was having a nervous breakdown and was suicidally unstable). surprisingly, even in a mental institution they expect you to act sane. ken wilber’s pre/trans fallacy helped clarify for me the errors of my logic, which carl jung and carlos castaneda had helped to create.

  9. thanks lily, and sorry, i probably got us off track here. i started thinking about your question and what i realized was when i looked for things in people is usually when i ended up finding the opposite of what i wanted, and that goes for friendships i’ve had, too.

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