Smart vs. Clever

1) He’s very smart, but he’s also very stupid.

2) He’s very clever, but he’s also very stupid.

I contend that statement 1 can be interpreted in a way that makes sense. Statement 2, by contrast, makes no sense at all.

Am I right? It probably depends on what connotations you attach to the words “clever” and “smart.”

I equate “smart” with the kind of person who’d score high on an IQ test, and I equate “clever” with the cunning Odysseus. Now, “cunning” has a connotation of deceitfulness. Temporarily step aside from your moral predilections, and you see that the clever person has an understanding of the human mind that the smart person does not. We know geniuses who can’t relate to people. This person is incapable of deception because he can’t get inside another’s mind and figure out how that other person would react. The clever person understands people and knows how to get them to do what he wants.

Can the clever person be stupid? Yes, perhaps. Let’s remember the example of the fox who fell into the well. He tricked the goat into getting him back out, leaving the goat stuck in the well.

The clever person may be tremendously wrong, but he can sway others more easily, and is flexible enough to recover from his mistakes. A smart person relies on his abstractions to get through the world, while the clever person relies on also understanding people. We deal with people in the world, not abstractions.

The lesson? Clever people are more dangerous than those that are merely smart.

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