I read Foucault. I once slept with someone just because they had a PhD. I would sneer at people who put apostrophes in the wrong place or used "momentarily" in the wrong way. I thought getting a scholarship to Oxford improved me in some hard-to-define but deeply significant way.

This is what happens when you're brought up to think that being clever is not just the most important thing but really the only important thing. In order to be loved I needed to be academically "bright". (I'm about to turn 50 and I'm still sore about not being allowed to read Enid Blyton).

I just accepted without thinking (See? I'm not so smart) that being clever was the way you judged a person's value. This seemed so obvious to me it was not even noteworthy; just a self-evident truth. I was so wrong. In fact, I now realise I was an intellectual bully.

Okay guys, I can see you rolling your eyes. (I'll say it for you: PC gone mad!) but newsflash: there is a new kind of bullying. Well, actually it's been around since the year dot, but it's just being recognised. It's called "intellectual bullying" and yes, it's really a thing. Turns out: brainy people can still be dickheads.


Writing in Psychology Today, psychologist Leon Seltzer argues that there is such a thing as intellectual bullying - lording one's intellectual superiority over others.

Dr Seltzer says this frequently sarcastic form of bullying has received far less recognition than other forms: "What seems to fall in between the cracks are bullies who torment students who are "less smart". He says individuals within society are placed into an "intellectual hierarchy" determined by the numbers and letters that come in the form of students' grades. The problem arises ... when individuals at the top of this hierarchy are [wrongfully] permitted to belittle students at the bottom. This construct creates ... intellectual bullying, the emotional and psychological harassment one imposes on another based on his/her intellectual understanding. Intellectual bullying is no different than physical bullying as it [can eventuate in] a devastating, long-term effect on [one's sense of self-worth].

Meanwhile, the intellectual bully themselves will be likely to grow up to exhibit narcissistic behaviour, Dr Seltzer predicts.

To accept his idea, that it is not okay to judge someone for having a lower IQ, has far-reaching implications. It's hard not to condemn our entire so-called meritocracy-like culture. Because it isn't much of a meritocracy at all.

Our whole school system seems to be based on the idea that it's okay to shame someone for not being as "brainy" as others, in a narrow sense. Isn't that what National Standards are designed to do? If you don't believe me, take a look at how dyslexic kids fare at school. Some of the most engaging and interesting people I know are dyslexic (the late writer A.A. Gill for one) but good luck with trying to top the league tables.

Our whole school system seems to be based on the idea that it's okay to shame someone for not being as 'brainy' as others, in a narrow sense. Isn't that what National Standards are designed to do?

I hope in time we will stop idealising intellectual prowess and start valuing a plethora of other qualities: empathy, connection, what used to be called street smarts.

Worshipping IQ was surely adaptive in previous eras, but now that we have computers and artificial intelligence and algorithms, I'm not so sure being a human calculator matters so much. In a world facing challenges like climate change, qualities such as creativity and the emotional intelligence to persuade people to collaborate - look at the Paris accord - may matter more. Although we know this, nothing much has changed on a granular level. We still measure and judge and worship the people we deem to have the most machine-like brains. We still evaluate people as though they were a consumer product with more or less attractive features - a good brain or good-looking or good at sport - rather than a human being whose greatest drive is to connect. But accepting we all deserve love, just for being ourselves, is the hardest thing to learn and you can't get a degree in that. (I gave my therapist a book and in it I wrote: "This is to say thank you for all the things you have taught me that I couldn't learn in books.") I've been trying to think of some things that have value but have nothing to do with your IQ.

There are lots. Singing, topiary, being really good at sex. Being able to make something edible out of a soy-based product. Being able to train a dog not to chase dotterels, being a driver that lets people in. Being kind.


This week my 9-year-old son gave away some of his Skylanders collection to another kid who loved them but couldn't afford any. I was as proud of that as if he had scored top in a maths test.

Maybe the truly brainiest thing you can learn is that what really matters is simply not being a twat. But in a society that values achievement and acquiring, don't expect to get any kudos for that.