Read a book! Smart people live longer

January 13, 2016 Originally published on SFGate

Sort of obvious, right? Not exactly breaking news? Makes perfect sense, this new report from the World Health Organization?

Of course it does. If you’re intelligent, you can already deduce why the above headline is true, and it has less to do with smart people having some sort of mysterious genetic advantage – though that appears to be at least partly the case, as well – and more to do with higher intelligence translating directly to, well, better life choices, more skillful self-care, improved deftness at survival, at not being crushed by the ever-present specter of doom.

Common sense, right? You already know that the more educated and well-traveled you are, the better your discernment, your critical thinking skills, your ability to relish (as opposed to frantically arm yourself against) the feral complexity of the world. Fear does not claw at your heart like a wrathful beaver. You do not buy more bullets after the latest gun massacre. You are not one of the miserable throngs who keep letting Adam Sandler make his execrable movies.

Just the opposite, in fact. You’re far more likely to eat better, quit smoking sooner, have fewer children, take better care of your body, not set things on fire in your living room. Of course, it’s also true that the smarter you are, the better your job prospects, which translates into better health care, savvier family planning, more socially liberal beliefs, and so on.

Shop here. Live longer

Shop here. Live longer

But there’s an odd catch, a strange hiccup in the WHO’s report (which is based, by the way, on an 80-year-old IQ test in Scotland, so caveat emptor) that goes a bit beyond the tidy pleasure of knowing that, if you’re reading this right now – hell, if you’re reading anything containing polysyllabic words and curious discussions of science – your odds of out-living most Trump supporters, NRA devotees and Oregon militiamen are substantially higher.

It’s this: the study exists in a bit of a vacuum. It’s preaching to the choir. It does no one any real good.

Look at it this way: Who’s reading about this study, other than smart people? Who besides the already-intelligent understands how to slot this oddball data into their worldview? An interest in science presupposes intelligence. An interest in deep reading presupposes you’re already generally less paranoid. Knowledge of the WHO assumes some understanding of global health concerns as they relate to human progress. In short: It’s just smart talking back to itself. It’s a nifty bit of IQ masturbation.

Ergo, the bad news: America’s vast armies of the lesser educated, the fearful and furious, the fundamentalist and the “not smart” will not, can not even locate – much less use – this information. It’s nowhere on their radar, because their radar has such little sweep. It’s just another example of the perverse maxim that says the people who need to hear a certain bit of wisdom or could benefit from a discovery the most, often have the least access to it.

Is that an elitist thing to suggest? Does it matter?

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Mark Morford

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