Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Bright Guy Disease

Recent exchanges reminded me of this essay I wrote a few years ago. It's in my book, Chaos for Breakfast, was published in several newsletters, including the Mensa Bulletin, and translated into Dutch for the Mensa organization in Holland. It's my take on what psychologists call Narcissistic Personality Disorder. ~Bob

Avoiding Bright Guy Disease

Is it just me, or is “Bright-Guy Disease” (BGD) on the rise? Oh, you may call it by a different name, but we’ve all had co-workers, board members or bosses with it.

“Bright-Guy Disease” is my name for the condition that too-often afflicts very smart people, who have usually been very successful. Because of their intellect, they’ve frequently had to deal with folks who aren’t as sharp as they are. Since they are so successful, at some point they subconsciously conclude that everybody else (with few exceptions) is dumber then they are.

If they have an idea, it has to be a great idea, because they are so much smarter then you. If you disagree with their idea, you must be not just refuted, but crushed, because disagreeing not only proves how stupid you are, but means you fail to recognize their brilliance.

If you have an idea, it must be dumb, because if it was a good idea, they would have thought of it first. After all, they are so much smarter then you.

In my experience, “Bright-Guy Disease” most often affects men, perhaps because the glass ceiling has kept women from equal levels of success, perhaps because girls are socialized to be cooperative, while boys are socialized to be competitive. As though to make up for this, the few cases I’ve observed in women seem to be particularly virulent.

What are the symptoms?

Fellows with BGD talk more then they listen—a LOT more. Larry King says he never learned anything while he was talking. But the BGD-victims don’t need to learn anything—they already know it all.

BGD sufferers will frequently be angry and will often shout to make a point. This is perfectly justified to correct your error, just as you would feel justified in shouting to keep a small, not-to-intelligent child from putting his hand in the fire.

People with BGD conclude they are experts in many fields, since they’ve been successful in one. They know more about the law then any attorney, more about medicine then any doctor, and certainly more about association management then you do.

They will also not hesitate to bend the facts to fit their worldview—since they are always right, facts are things that simply must be made to agree with them. Should the facts ever indisputably prove they are wrong, they will simply move on and stop discussing the issue—but they will remember who proved them wrong.

Unfortunately, victims of BGD are always the last to recognize the symptoms. If you think you might be suffering from BGD, ask yourself three questions:

Do I respect the people around me for their knowledge, experience and intellect? Everyone knows more than you do about something. Anyone can have an idea that is better then yours. One of the best advisors I’ve had in association management was a part-time janitor, Bob Murray, well past retirement age, who simply had great insights into the way the office was working and staff interactions.

When was the last time I changed my point of view because of someone else’s opinion? If you can’t recall, it may be because you have BGD.

Do I find myself angry a lot of the time with people who disagree with me? Sure, we all get angry over integrity or performance issues, but divergent points of view are valuable.

Coping with BGD

Just recognizing the problem will help keep you out of the line of fire. Confrontation with BGD victims is to be avoided, hard as that may be. They will simply increase the level of their rhetoric until you are beaten down. And they can be vindictive if you cross them.

They enjoy confrontation and arguments because they need to prove, daily, how much smarter they are then you. (Update--today they spend a lot of time commenting on blogs, trying to put you down to reassure themselves of how smart and valuable they are.)

Keep in mind that, while some folks are awed by their intellect and success, many others will recognize them for what they are, so you will have allies. But don’t lose your cool and get into a battle with them—it seldom helps. (Been there, did that, still bleeding.)

Instead, give them enough rope to hang themselves. If their idea is really wrong, the longer they expound on it, the more people will realize it, without help from you.

Approach them obliquely. Phrases like, “You’re absolutely right, I’m just worried about X.” Or, “I agree, and hope that X doesn’t derail the plan.” X, of course, is some inconvenient fact that doesn’t fit their idea. People with BGD will often slowly change points of view, or modify ideas to fit the facts, maintaining that was their position all along. The strategy is to guide them to the correct path while letting them claim credit for being there all along.

Of course, if all else fails, you can take the approach once taken by an attorney speaking to a fellow lawyer with BGD.

First Attorney: “You know, Darrell, between us we know everything there is to know.”

BGD Attorney: “How’s that, George?”

First Attorney: “Well, Darrell, you know everything there is to know in the whole world except that you’re a jerk—and I know that you’re a jerk!”

But this might not be the best approach with your boss!

14 comments:

  1. For a moment there, I thought you where describing Mr. Obama ... but he's not smart just Narcissistic.
    Did you go to a Tea Party today? We did. Check today's post if interested.

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  2. Good food for thought, Bob.

    Henry

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  3. DAR
    What a curious and unfortunate notion. To actually convince yourself and try to convince others that being "bright" is a bad thing and something to be compared to a "disease." To be so opposed to reason and the human intellect that you actually despise it.

    And after all the build up in your little story what are we left for a finale? A simple grade school insult, "you're a jerk!"

    Sorry I'm "bright" Bob. Not sure what can be done about it. Maybe if I listen to Limbaugh more? Attend a Glen Beck meeting? That seems to work for a lot of people.

    Anyway, I don't think I have called you dumb, and I certainly haven't referred to myself as smart (although thanks for the sideways compliment). I'm just an Arkansas goat farmer with a high school education and I dropped by to see if any on the far right would have the courage or capability of defending their beliefs in an honest, cogent, way.

    So far, it ain't looking good.

    Darrel.
    --------------------
    Incidentally, you probably know this already but the idea that conservatives are generally stupid goes way back. I don't know if it's true (I am not sure what is wrong with them) but one philosopher pointed out this tendency about 150 years ago. Course, if you attended one of the teabag parties today you got to see this first hand:

    "I never meant to say that the Conservatives are generally stupid. I meant to say that stupid people are generally Conservative. I believe that is so obviously and universally admitted a principle that I hardly think any gentleman will deny it.”
    --John Stuart Mill, letter to the Conservative MP, Sir John Pakington (March 1866)

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  4. Exactly, Darrel. You have "Bright Guy Disease." That is, you are bright, so you have decided that anyone who doesn't think like you is stupid. And that you know everything about everything, more so than people who have studied it. for example, you know more about economics than a professor who has published books and has a PhD.

    You are a classic case. As I mentioned, both the US & the Dutch Mensa published that article, but, hey, you are smarter then them because you are smarter than anyone, so you found no value in the piece. As I said in the article, folks with it can't see it in themselves.

    Thanks for proving my case. ~Bob

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  5. @Darrel: "Sorry I'm 'bright' Bob. Not sure what can be done about it. Maybe if I listen to Limbaugh more? Attend a Glen Beck meeting? That seems to work for a lot of people."

    "Bright" means never having to say you're sorry, Darrel.

    BTW, you probably meant to say "attend a Glenn Beck meeting". That might work for you, but I doubt anything could.

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  6. Lot's of people I know have this disorder. I hear it's terminal. :)

    I was one of those Janet Napolitano issued an alert about...you know...those middle-class American folks who attended a tea party today because we can't think of any other way to let the current administration know we've had enough. I resent being lumped in with those who really pose a threat to our country, simply because I joined fellow Americans and expressed my dismay with our government and their greed. We should all boycott NBC for their disrespectful treatment of people they interviewed and their malicious reporting of the event. Our Tea Party in Nashville started with rules of decorum, making it perfectly clear what would and would not be tolerated. The crowd was peaceful, pleasant and the whole experience exhilarated me because I finally felt like I did something positive.

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  7. That's interesting Darrel. I think you are right that many conservatives are dumb, but what about all the dumb liberals? How do you explain them?

    Just trying out your method, Bob. How'd I do? I think I could use a little coaching.

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  8. Well done, I spent the day with a BGD sufferer, then came home and read this--- about wet my kilt.

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  9. DAR
    Bob continues to substitute insults for reasoned argument. There is a difference. Let me take a few minutes to unpack his response which is just a string of fallacies.

    ****
    TartanMarine said...
    Exactly, Darrel. You have "Bright Guy Disease.">>

    DAR
    It's just bizarre that after having called me a liar and a cockroach you reach into your bag of insults and hit upon the idea of:

    "hey, I'll accuse him of being intelligent, and then I'll call it a disease. That'll get him good."

    Oh that intelligence would be a contagious disease and you could come down with a serious infection! But unfortunately, this is not how things work.

    Aside from the fact that this is all a distraction from your inability to actually respond to my points, let me also add that it's not nice to make fun of someone with a disease.

    BOB:
    That is, you are bright, so you have decided that anyone who doesn't think like you is stupid.>>

    DAR
    I never said this nor do I believe it. You are producing this from your bottom. Do you find it useful to make things up and then pretend to knock them down? This is known as the strawman fallacy. You can learn about this here:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Straw_man

    BOB:
    And that you know everything about everything, more so than people who have studied it.>>

    DAR
    I have never said this, nor do I believe it. Why don't you try being honest and address my actual comments rather than making up beliefs I do not have and comments I have never made?

    BOB:
    ...for example, you know more about economics than a professor who has published books and has a PhD.>>

    DAR
    I never said this nor do I believe it. My comments regarding Sowell's article were specific and directed at TWO sentences. I kept it very simple and reference my claims carefully. You have addressed not one word of it but have said you consider it a rebuttal to mention that he "writes books," has "degrees," and many people think he "thinks pretty well."

    This response is so silly, and pathetic, it is almost not possible to make fun of it. Let me try this. If Obama made some comment, two sentences worth, and you researched a response to it and showed the comment was misleading because he left out some important information, would you consider it persuasive rebuttal if I responded by listing his degrees (Harvard professor), noted that he wrote books and people thought he "thinks pretty well?"

    I certainly hope not!

    Think about it Bob. THINK.

    BOB:
    You are a classic case.>>

    DAR
    A classic case of being, according to you a "bright guy." Ouch, stop, it hurts.

    BOB:
    As I mentioned, both the US & the Dutch Mensa published that article,...>>

    DAR
    It would not be possible for me to care less about your claim because I know that claims are not necessarily true or false due to them coming from some "authority." This is another fallacy you really ought to give up leaning on. You can learn about this here:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Appeal_to_authority

    Incidentally, I knew a member of Mensa who thought the moon landing was faked. I know a person locally with a Ph.D. who is a borderline imbecile. Sometimes people can be very smart in one area, and profoundly lacking in common sense many other areas. My comments about Sowell's article were very specific and rather mundane. He is a political ideologue and he spins things. This should not come as a surprise.

    BOB:
    ...but, hey, you are smarter then them because you are smarter than anyone,...>>

    DAR
    I have never claimed this nor to I believe it. Strawman fallacy.

    BOB:
    ...so you found no value in the piece.>>

    DAR
    I never claimed this nor to I believe it. Strawman fallacy.

    BOB:
    As I said in the article, folks with it can't see it in themselves.>>

    DAR
    Saying things in articles doesn't make them so. Perhaps I can help you learn this fact.

    BOB
    Thanks for proving my case. ~Bob>>

    DAR
    It's not clear that you remotely understand what is involved in "proving" a case.

    Hopefully you haven't caught NSBGD!

    (Not So Bright Guy Disease)

    I hear it's very common in some circles.

    Darrel.
    --------------------
    "In my life, I have prayed but one prayer: "Oh Lord, make my enemies ridiculous." And God granted it." -–Voltaire

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  10. I could have sworn you were describing a friend of mine. Except he's not successful.

    Hilarious piece. And you're right: those who have BGD don't realize it. Not even if someone makes fun of them for it. Nor do they actually read anything beyond what they want to tear apart, like the fact that this was published in professional journals like the _Mensa Bulletin_.

    I don't think they're the ones that suffer from the disease, though. That would be those of us that have to be anywhere around them in person. At least on a blog, I can just scroll past his comments.

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  11. Well, I apologize Darrel. I’m going to leave you alone and not respond to you any more. When you said you were bright, I took you at your word. But clearly that didn’t include being bright enough to discern the difference between being intelligent—which is generally a good thing—and being bright, but having narcissistic personality disorder, which I call “Bright Guy Disease” and you apparently think is a badge of honor. So I don’t want to provoke you any more. You are a tad fine-tuned, lad.

    And, in fact, I learn from the net, that, assuming I have the right Darrel, you have done us all a great favor. If you’re the right Darrel, you recently, voluntarily left the people’s socialist paradise of Canada, where the government takes care of you from cradle to grave, and trudged down to the states to become—at great personal sacrifice—a US Citizen to help us poor, benighted folks run our country. Welcome. After Canada took in the scum of the US during the Vietnam War, and sent us her best men to serve in the US Military (one of whom earned the Medal of Honor—that’s our V.C. Darrel), we would be churlish indeed not to welcome you to our midst, especially when he knows so much better than those of us who were born here how we should run the country.

    We think you’ll like it here, Darrel, what with the restrictions on Freedom of Speech in Canada—witness the recent charges against your fellow Canadian ex-pat Mark Steyn for daring to write the truth about Islamists. Welcome to your new country. Good luck fixing all the terrible flaws you have discovered in us, your fellow citizens. Be careful, though. If you succeed in fixing our health care system, where will the Canadians go for care? I understand Canada spends about a billion US a year sending folks here that their system can’t care for.

    I must say, I’m confused, though. Since Canadians are so much more civilized and advanced than we brutes here, when do you expect them to elect, in your charming phrase, a “man with a tan” as PM?

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  12. A response to three comments:

    TheBigHenry said...
    BTW, you probably meant to say "attend a Glenn Beck meeting".>>

    DAR
    Good job! You're exactly right. I stand corrected. I am so glad you are scouring my posts to see if you can find mistakes. I will certainly acknowledge them when you point them out. This is admittedly a small one, I left an "n" out of a persons name. It's a small step but you are off to a very good start. Keep it up. I'm being serious.

    ****
    April 15, 2009 10:40 PM
    Ginger Simpson said...
    Our Tea Party in Nashville started with rules of decorum,... The crowd was peaceful, pleasant and the whole experience exhilarated me because I finally felt like I did something positive.>>

    DAR
    I am glad you went to the Fox News Tea party event, had a positive experience, and were able to protest the tax cut Obama gave you. Protest and dissent is a high form of patriotism and should anyone try and ever stop you from exercising this right you can know that an organization I support with be there to defend your rights as they have so many times in the past. The ACLU.


    ****
    April 15, 2009 11:43 PM
    Michelle said...
    I think you are right that many conservatives are dumb, but what about all the dumb liberals? How do you explain them?>>

    DAR
    You are so right. Human ignorance hardly stops at any party line. It is ubiquitous and I fight it as best I can where ever it lurks. Everyone should. It's a civil duty. If you read the comment I quoted carefully you will notice it doesn't say conservative have the marked cornered, it simply says: "stupid people are generally Conservative." There are lots of dumb liberals too. But I think liberalism has a slight advantage here, being, by definition more open to correction. Note a standard definition:

    liberal: Favoring proposals for reform, open to new ideas for progress, and tolerant of the ideas and behavior of others; broad-minded --American Heritage Dictionary

    D.
    -------------------
    The conservative icon William F. Buckley defined conservatism this way his book "Up from Liberalism,"

    “Conservatism is the tacit acknowledgment that all that is finally important in human experience is behind us; that the crucial explorations have been undertaken, and that it is given to man to know what are the great truths that emerged from them. Whatever is to come cannot outweigh the importance to man of what has gone before.”

    To this, George McGovern observed:

    "The business of conservatives is, in other words, to cling tightly to the past, and although such a stance can be admirable, a stale and musty doctrine is of little use at a time when the nation needs not to fear the future but to seek out ways to improve it.” --George McGovern

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  13. DAR
    So we see Bob choosing again to not respond to a single point, or answer a single question but instead to only continue on with insults and fallacies. This is unfortunate. And now by noting I am from Canada he is excited to explore an entirely new area for him to act like a fool and heap juvenile personal abuse.

    ****
    TartanMarine said...
    Well, I apologize Darrel. I’m going to leave you alone and not respond to you any more.>>

    DAR
    We'll see if that one is true. You call me a coward and tell me to have the "courage to stand up for my beliefs" and when I do, you run away. Interesting.

    BOB:
    When you said you were bright, I took you at your word.>>

    DAR
    When did I say I was bright? Citation please. I think you are confused, this was your claim. I am not interested in who's bright and who's not. I am interested in finding a forthright and honest conservative who will stand up for what they believe and defend/explain their positions with something other than knee jerk cliches and misinformation. Do you know anyone up to such a task Bob? I see them on the TV sometimes but I have yet to interact with one firsthand. And that's a shame. I am sure they exist. I have tended more conservative on several issues over the years and would be open to changing on other issues but I struggle to find people who aren't disingenuous narrow minded windbags who don't know a reasoned position from a hole in the ground.

    BOB:
    But clearly that didn’t include being bright enough to discern the difference between being intelligent—which is generally a good thing—and being bright,>>

    DAR
    I am glad you think intelligence is "generally a good thing." That's a start. "Bright" and "intelligent" are synonyms by the way.

    BOB:
    So I don’t want to provoke you any more. You are a tad fine-tuned, lad.>>

    DAR
    Guilty as charged. Accuracy and details are important to me. I tuned a nice Steinway for GHW Bush last week actually. I like him more now than I used to. I was against his war against Saddam but now I think I was wrong and he did the right thing.

    Do you ever change your mind and learn new things or is that just something you will never be interested in?

    BOB:
    Welcome.>>

    DAR
    Thanks. My mother is American, my father is Canadian. I've been here since 1987 and have lived 21 years in Canada and 21 years in the US. With lots of relatives and friends on both sides I have a good deal of first hand experience with what it is like to live in both countries. I am here because of the weather but America has certainly been good to me.

    Some intellectually curious people might use this as an opportunity to gain information about what such an experience is like. Others might just use it as an opportunity to hyperventilate, make a fool of themselves and continue to throw childish insults based upon their own personal lack of knowledge.

    Can you raise the bar a little or is this the only way you operate?

    BOB:
    "...with the restrictions on Freedom of Speech in Canada...">>

    DAR
    This from a person who has to approve messages before they are posted.

    I experienced a lot of things in Canada but never a restriction on my speech. It really doesn't come up. Other than a vocal holocaust denier in right-wing Alberta having some trouble I had never even heard of such a restriction. So, much ado about nothing.

    BOB:
    If you succeed in fixing our health care system, where will the Canadians go for care?>>

    DAR
    They did get away with underfunding their system for years. There are common sense reasons for this which you may be able to grasp. Partly because they were able to still receive far better results with far less money than the US (and still do).

    If you are up to learning something new I recommend you educate yourself on this issue a little. It's a bit of a specialty of mine. You might start with this mythbusting article I posted in our freethinker forum:

    http://fayfreethinkers.com/forums/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=3693&start=0&hilit=canada+health+care

    It's quite good. You might learn something new.

    If you think the way the US provides medical services to it's citizens is anything but an international disgrace then you might see this too:

    60 Minutes: Charity Trying To Make Up For Failing U.S. Health Care System

    http://crooksandliars.com/2008/03/03/60-minutes-charity-trying-to-make-up-for-failing-us-health-care-system/

    People of the world watch in amazement and shake their heads.

    BOB:
    ...when do you expect them [Canada] to elect, ...a “man with a tan” as PM?>>

    DAR
    I went to school with some native Indians but there is not a large black population in Canada. I suspect Canada wasn't so much into the slavery thing. Racism isn't quite the issue it is here either.

    Darrel.
    -------------------
    "Did you know that Canada ranks above the United States in virtually every measure of health--including outcomes for heart disease, cancer and diabetes? Worldwide, Canada ranks ninth compared to 17th for the United States. To make the issue even more confusing, the US spends 13.7 percent of its gross domestic product on health, while Canada only spends 8.7 percent. And despite spending 13.7 percent of GDP on health care, 15.6 percent of the American population is uninsured -- more than 45 million people."
    --Northwest Arkansas Times, pg. 8D, 7/3/05

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  14. Heroditus Huxley said...
    Nor do they actually read anything beyond what they want to tear apart, like the fact that this was published in professional journals like the _Mensa Bulletin_>>

    DAR
    You already admitted my only point regarding the Sowell article:

    "Sowell does sometimes let his own outrage come through in his word choice, and doesn't always make sure to include all information."

    I was curious enough to do a little investigating to see if he was holding back information in his first comments, which then might mislead people. Turns out he was. I responded to this and skimmed the rest. It's not that it's not full of howlers. For instance, would he really want to defend this claim he makes on page one?

    "gun control" laws do not control guns."

    Is it really out of the realm of possibility that because something appears in the "Mensa Bulletin" it couldn't contain some misleading information? Really? You're smarter than that Holly, as evidenced by your comment quoted above.

    D.

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