UnSmarty Pants

I’m not very smart.  However, people seem to think I’m really smart.  They’re wrong; I’m dumber than garlic-flavored mouthwash.  So I apparently have everyone fooled, and that’s partially on purpose.  I’m very smart when it comes to pretending I’m not stupid.

“Smart” is probably one of the three most common descriptors applied to me, along with “funny” and “smells like an old hockey bag.”   It still comes as a surprise to me every time because I sure don’t feel smart.  Granted, I’ve never been anyone but me, so maybe other people are dumber than I am, but I can objectively demonstrate I am not smart:

  1. If I’m so smart, why am I not an incredibly rich businessman?

In the 25-plus years I have been capable of earning a wage, other people have used their smarts to get very wealthy.  I love money, and I want to be rich like you wouldn’t believe, so if I was smart the logical outcome would be for me to have applied my intelligence to become rich.  But I have failed.  You might say “Well, maybe you’re lazy,” but lazy’s just a kind of stupid.

  1. If I’m so smart, why am I a terrible chess player?  Playing chess well is pretty closely related to intelligence but I suck at it, even thought I’ve tried.

Every six months or so I’ll realize my phone doesn’t have a chess app on it, I’ll download one, and lose every game to the AI on the lowest difficulty setting.  I never get better.  I’ve read stuff online on how to play better chess and none of it works.  I am probably the worst chess player in the entire world who actually knows all the rules.

(Rick is on the left.)
  1. If I’m so smart, why are there so many things I can’t understand?

A while back I was watching some show like CSI or something, and they talked about DNA matches, and it occurred to me that I just took it for granted that DNA was a thing, but I didn’t get how it worked.  I know almost every cell (not red blood cells) has my DNA in it, and all the DNA is the same.  But if it’s all the same, why do I have different cells?  How does a liver cell know to be a liver cell, while a nerve cell knows to be a nerve cell?  If they have the same blueprint why aren’t they the same?

So I went to a message board, The Straight Dope, and asked “Hey, can you explain this to me in layman’s terms?”  And all the answers were like this:

“Blurg gabble blurf RNA blah blah blah proteins bargle bargle nucleus mumbo jumbo heebie jeebie and then there’s nucleotides.”


People were making a good faith effort to help me understand, and I was honestly trying to understand, and they may as well have been speaking in Martian.  To a hamster.  I did not understand, and still don’t understand, how DNA knows whether to create more liver or more nerves.  But there’s people in biology classes all over the world who get this stuff just fine.

I can think of a thousand other examples (I spent years in French immersion and never really understood it) but suffice to say that I am dumb.  However, people mistakenly think I am smart, because I have cultivated that impression.  It is very advantageous to be thought smart.  If people think you are smarter than you really are, your career will benefit, people will be more forgiving of your mistakes, people will admire you more, and you’ll get your way more often.  So for your benefit, I will now explain how to look smarter than you really are.

Get your brains ready!

  1. Don’t talk too much.  A critical part of making people think you’re smart is not providing them with incontrovertible evidence that you’re a moron.  One stupid remark will erase a month’s worth of smart ones.

I always try to be the one who talks last.  If you and two other people are discussing smart people things, like tax policy, don’t lead it off.  Let the other two nincompoops have their discussion, figure out where it’s going and what they’re forgetting or misunderstanding, and conclude the conversation by enlightening them with a few concluding comments.  Just the fact that you waited to be heard seems smart, and you can wrap it up with one fact you stole from Maclean’s and look like the woman or man who has brought order to chaos.  They led you to the water through conversation but you’re the one who gets to drink from the oasis of smart.

2. Try to restrict your comments to things you understand.  Even if you are an imbecile, you probably know a lot about two or three particular subjects.  Although I have a small brain, I know a lot about baseball, and more about economics than most people.   Almost any subject, especially of a political nature, can be expressed using an economic argument or can be made light of by some baseball anecdote I know.  All I have to do is crack out a few half-remembered phrases I learned in 1992 and everyone thinks I’m some sort of genius even though I’m just repeating things of which I understand about as much as a mynah bird would if the bird had sat in on the same classes.

3. Don’t argue with people’s opinions. People don’t change their opinions and the more irrational the opinion the harder they’ll hold on to it even if you prove they’re wrong.  For most people, a big part of their perception of your intelligence is how much you agree with them. “Smart” equals “Thinks the way I do” most of the time.   Always sound like you’re agreeing with people, unless they’re advocating genocide or veganism or something else really horrible.

4. Be a nice person.   This is generally good advice anyway but I’ve noticed people will often conclude that someone is “a stupid asshole” when the person is in fact just an asshole and not necessarily stupid.  “Smart” and “Stupid” are such loaded words, and so vitally important in our judgment of people’s worth, that they often get mixed up with the concepts of “I like this person” or “I don’t like this person.”  People find it harder to admire your intelligence if you are a jerk, so don’t be a jerk.

5.  Have smart-people stuff lying around.    If someone walks into your cubicle and sees that on lunch you were reading “People,” they may assume you’re a doofus.  Instead, have smarty-pants magazines like “The Economist” or “The New York Review of Books” lying around your cube, house, and what have you.  You needn’t read them; when no one is looking, go back to reading comic books.  This also works for novels.  If people see you reading “Twilight” they will think less of you, even if it’s their favourite book, they just won’t admit it.  But if they see you possess novels by Umberto Eco, Salman Rushdie, or James Joyce, they’ll assume you’re some kind of literary Yoda, even if you’ve never read the novels and use them as beer coasters.   (The big hardcover editions are also good for holding up a bowl of chips.) You should also ensure you’ve got a dictionary, an atlas, and a random selection of nonfiction books that don’t have dust covers, with titles like “A History of 19th Century Bavarian Locomotives.”  No smartass would be complete without them.

Anyway, these hints should help you in seeming smarter than you are, unless you’re too stupid to follow my advice.

Discussion question: What’s the one thing you know most about, which you can use to sound smart?

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