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I don't do many reviews anymore, mostly because they take a lot of time to write but rarely result in very much interest. However, once in a very great while, a book or album or film comes along that is actually worth reviewing in some detail. Our friend Aaron Clarey, who you and I know as Captain Capitalism, is very much one of those noteworthy exceptions.
I have had the pleasure of reading several of the books that Aaron has written, starting with Behind the Housing Crash and continuing on with Worthless, which I consider to be one of the most important books that any eighteen-year-old can ever read. Indeed, these days I find myself wishing, often, that my little sister had read it at that age; perhaps she might have made some better decisions about college and what followed.
Aaron's latest work is quite a departure from his past efforts. Unlike his first book, this is not a personal account of a historical event. Unlike Worthless, this is not a guide of any kind. Unlike Bachelor Pad Economics or The Black Man's Guide Out of Poverty, this is not a reference guide that can help you make better life choices. Unlike Enjoy the Decline or Top Shelf, this is not a "best of" collection of blog posts.
This is, instead, a cold-eyed, and in places cold-hearted, attempt by a highly intelligent man to explain how and why society uses and abuses people like him.
Make no mistake- despite the often biting sarcasm and wit present in the prose, this is not a happy book. You will not feel better after reading it.
But perhaps you won't feel quite so alone either.
If you are of unusually high intelligence- two or more standard deviations above average, which is to say an IQ of 130 or higher- then you have undoubtedly found that the world you live in appears to be quite hostile to you. The vast majority of people in it are not there to help you. Your abilities, skills, talents, and interests are shared by a very small number of people- and the more intelligent you are, the smaller that circle becomes. As Aaron amusingly puts it, you are as incomprehensible to those people who watch "stickball" and play "sportsball" as feet are to a fish.
Aaron goes into considerable and painful detail about the ways in which the great game of life is rigged against you. He begins with an exposition of the ways in which society has become an "Idiocracy", at least from the perspective of the highly intelligent. Continuing on with school at every level and moving into college, he lays out with clear and cold prose the countless and terrible ways in which you will find yourself suffocated and drowned by those around you.
Even after escaping that particular kind of Hell, you will find yourself working in a job that you most likely can do with your eyes closed, while earning a pay cheque whose value shrinks even as your need for it grows. You will almost surely find yourself working, at one point or another, for a boss that you don't respect or admire, and whose job you could easily do along with your own.
Turning then to social life, dating, and marriage, Aaron's writing becomes even more bleak. Having (rightly) painted the school system as basically 12-16 years of enforced incarceration, and having stripped working life down to its soul-deadening reality, he turns now to the area of life that matters the most to anyone: other people. As he notes repeatedly throughout the book, the fact remains that other people are the single most important aspect of life. Without people to love and care for, and who love and care for you in return, life itself is without meaning, empty, devoid of all hope.
But for the highly intelligent, our own natural abilities often work against us- and leave us more alone than ever. Our ability to relate to other people is often compromised by our inability to deal with the mundane realities of their existence.
Being a man who lives by his own exertions, and therefore being of a methodical cast of mind, Aaron is not content to merely analyse the problems before him and others like him. He also proposes a number of solutions. You may not like those solutions, but they are there nonetheless. Aaron's usual refreshing ability to distill both problem and solution to their very essence is on full display in the last chapter of the book, and for this alone I would recommend its purchase.
There are several valid criticisms that can be made of this work. The biggest is the slipshod editing, which my former Reaxxion colleague and editor Matt Forney has rightly criticised. There are a number of minor but quite irritating errors of spelling, grammar, formatting, and punctuation scattered throughout the book. While I do not quite agree with Matt's rather severe reaction to these flaws, they are jarring to any reader who appreciates high-quality prose.
Matt is also correct to criticise the errors of fact and logic scattered throughout the book. These errors are Aaron's, and it is upon him to take responsibility for them.
These issues do not take away from the fact that Aaron has created a powerful and thought-provoking precis analysis of the problems and obstacles faced by those of us who are at least somewhat more intelligent than the average. If you are a part of his target audience and you read his book, you will often find yourself thoughtfully nodding along to what you read, muttering, "it's like this guy is standing right next to me!!!". (This is especially true if you're reading the book on the train going into work, of course.)
There are two particular categories of high-IQ individuals for whom Aaron's book will hit home particularly hard.
The first is high-IQ women. These women have a far more difficult burden to bear than their more average sisters. The reality is that men prefer to enter into long-term relationships with women who are less intelligent than we are, especially if their domestic skills and overall personalities make up for their lack of sparkling wit or knowledge of quantum physics. (Actually, the only thing I can think of that would be worse than dating a female quantum physicist, would be dating a socialite addicted to shopping.)
Such women are going to have a much, much harder time finding ways to balance out their careers with love and family. It will ultimately end up being one or the other- and all too often, it is the career that wins out, because finding a man to settle down with turns out to be simply far too difficult.
The second group is deep introverts- and unlike high-IQ women, Aaron does not explicitly address this group in the book. However, I, and probably most of the readers of this blog, fall deep into that somewhat neglected group. And it is here that Aaron's book offers a very great deal of value.
For the high-IQ deep introvert, the problems that Aaron describes are amplified many times over. Whereas high-IQ extroverts can use their natural social charisma and affinity for other people to enrich their lives with close friendships and romantic relationships, extreme introverts have no such refuge. For us, other people are the problem, and only a very small and very special group of true exceptions are ever allowed to get close to us. As Aaron repeatedly points out, these people are far more important than anything else in our lives, and he repeatedly exhorts us to recognise their value.
And whereas for high-IQ extroverts, romantic relationships are still very much within the realms of possibility, high-IQ introverts all too often find ourselves locked out of that market by our own natural needs for solitude and privacy. Those of us who are brutally honest with ourselves and others will readily concede that we deliberately keep away from other people; yet that same sense of honesty demands that we state clearly that we prefer it that way.
Ultimately, what Aaron has written is a compelling, highly readable, though flawed, analysis of what it means to be a highly intelligent individual in a society that is increasingly populated by and designed for the average, the mediocre, and the substandard. It is by no means a happy book, but it is one that he can be proud of, and one that I happily recommend to readers, introverted or otherwise.
Didacts Verdict: 4.0/5, a highly engaging and quite readable, if poorly edited and sometimes factually suspect, analysis of the realities of high intelligence in modern society.
Buy/download Curse of the High IQ here.