Discover more from The Red Queen
It's a midwit world and we're living in it
“There are some ideas so absurd that only an intellectual could believe them.”
― George Orwell
What Orwell really should have said is, “There are some ideas so absurd that only a midwit could believe them.”
By its very definition, IQ (intelligence quotient) is a Gaussian distribution of some measure approximating human intelligence. There are valid concerns about the measure due to the inability to return the same result for the same individual over time. Furthermore, attempts to discredit the IQ test exist out of a backlash against people like Charles Murray suggesting racial differences in average IQ scores. These objections to IQ are valid, but outside the scope of this essay. All that matters here is that human intelligence is variable, and most people are somewhere in the middle.
The brilliant insight of the midwit meme is that it illustrates how beliefs converge between the genius and the idiot, while the midwit — the person of middling intellect — is distracted from the truth by an obsessive focus on minutae. The idiot arrives at the truth through instinct and intuition, the genius through deep understandings of systems and incentive structures, yet the midwit is blinded from the truth by details.
Here is my favourite midwit meme, as it is in some sense, a meta-commentary on the meme itself:
Midwits, naturally, are irritated by this meme. Not only do they hold the beliefs often depicted by the midwit in the meme, but they are annoyed that no one is taking their attention to detail seriously. One of my favourite reactions to the midwit meme is from this Twitter user, illustrating just how blinding the truth is to the midwit:
The midwit is literally unable to understand the meme, because his intellect blinds him from it. He is too smart to dignify the position of the idiot, but not smart enough to grok the position of the genius. He has no choice but to reject it. He is trapped. But why is this? And what are the consequences of it?
Firstly, it is important to understand that most people are midwits, in that they have near-average intelligence. That is the essence of a Gaussian distribution:
In order to understand why the midwit gets trapped by his own intellect, it is important to understand what intelligence is. This is no easy question to answer, and is a question that has eluded psychologists and neuroscientists for decades. Of course, intelligence is an array of things, and people can be high in one form of intelligence and low in others, but here I am talking about a sort of generalized intelligence, which IQ attempts to measure.
Intelligence can best be thought of as the ability to hold multiple concepts consistently and simultaneously from many different domains. At the low end, people are unable to connect information from one field to information in another; they are unable to compile multiple disparate models of information into a coherent structure, or system of information. As a result, these people are confined to relying on their instincts to make decisions based on observable data. They lack the intellectual capacity and bandwidth to process novel information using prior acquired knowledge. The idiot could not articulate why he believes something to be true, but a wise idiot can rely on his instincts nonetheless, and maybe even iteratively improve his instincts over time.
On the high end of the intelligence spectrum is the genius. A genius is often misconstrued as someone who is good at math or hot on the tail of solving the mystery of the physical properties of the universe. In my view, a genius is someone who can coherently compile information from many different domains into a meta-structure of information. The genius’ mind is always at work on this project — constantly adding new information into the system and relentlessly checking for places to update it. Here is where the genius really separates himself from the midwit — to the genius, his project of building a system of information is more important than his ego. The way this manifests most importantly is he is eager to find out where he is wrong, so that he can update not only the domain of information in which he was wrong, but all other domains that might have been affected by the bad information.
The genius, when confronted with new information, does not arrive at an answer for what to do. Rather, the system his mind has built points him in a number of possible directions. New information is, itself, a project. The project is determining what the information means, how the information might be misleading, and most importantly, what it means for the rest of the system to incorporate the information into it. The information, once reconciled, changes the structure of the entire system. This is where the midwit gets left behind.
Midwits are high enough intelligence that they build proto-systems of information. These protosystems are neither coherent nor comprehensive, but the general schema of them is there. The midwit is thus fooled into thinking the information processing he is doing is no different from that of the genius, but in reality, it is nothing alike. The midwit is incapable of drawing on multiple streams of information, from many different domains, to understand the novel information in the broader context of a system. To compensate, the midwit turns inward, focusing with increasing resolution and detail into the confines of the information itself. To the midwit, this is nuance. To the genius, he is missing the forest for the trees. To the idiot, he is gullible.
The midwit does not like to take anything to be true unless he can see hard evidence of it. To put it another way, the midwit despises deductive logic. Because he cannot do it. The trick of taking a series of datapoints and deducing from what hypothetical model those datapoints emerged is reserved for the genius. To the midwit, it looks like sorcery; today generally referred to as a conspiracy theory. The midwit despises the Sherlock Holmes novels because he is incredulous that anyone could ever piece together a mystery based on a series of loosely related clues with incomplete information, as Detective Holmes can. To the midwit, it is nothing more than guesswork and sheer speculation. To the idiot, it is magic, but compelling magic. To the genius, it is just systems thinking.
What does it mean for us to live in a world where most people are midwits? Well, in a democracy I would argue the midwits rule the world. They comprise the majority of the population, and as such, it is to them that our system of governance panders. We have seen this most concretely with the Covid-19 pandemic: public health policy is neither tailored to the idiot nor the genius, but rather to the midwit. The midwit understands why Anthony Fauci lied about masks; moreover, the midwit respects that Anthony Fauci lied about masks. After all, he would have done the same thing.
The idiot knows he has been lied to endlessly about every aspect of the pandemic — from the lethality of Covid, the safety of the vaccines, the efficacy of lockdowns, the necessity of declaring states of emergencies — all of these inform the idiot that something is afoul. The genius knows he has been lied to, and is attempting to understand why. The bigger game that is at play is essential for the genius to incorporate all of these datapoints into a new model of global politics, global public health, and the dealings of elite megalomaniacs. The midwit, sadly, does not see it.
The midwit is still left understanding precisely why the lockdowns were attempted, why the vaccines must be mandated, and why anyone not donning a mask must be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. The midwit literally cannot see it any other way. There is more than enough data for the midwit to pore through to contentedly reassure himself, til the end of time, that his views remain correct. The midwit confidently knows that if there is no smoking gun admission or peer-reviewed paper signed by all the world leaders clearly indicating a global cabal of wealthy elites conspired to enslave us in the public health measures of the Covid pandemic, that any suggestions as such can be dismissed as lunatic conspiracy theory.
The midwit does not possess the intellectual ability to put all the pieces together himself. He assesses one piece at a time, and never connects the dots. He never deduces what larger structure must have given rise to so many disparate pieces of information and policy. He never even tries to put the puzzle pieces together. Instead, he takes the puzzle pieces and inspects them one-by-one with a magnifying glass until he is content that there is nothing left for him to see. And then he concludes that he knows everything there is to know about the puzzle.
If we’re going to get out of this mess, we need to find a way to put the geniuses in charge. Hell, I’d take a society run by idiots over a society run by midwits. In the mean time, look around you. Everything in our society that is deteriorating. Everything that is breaking. All the institutions that are corrupted and irredeemably broken. It is all the work of midwits who are convinced that they know what they are doing, but lack the humility to even consider the fact that they might be wrong.
The midwit’s ego inflates with every puzzle piece he inspects, and never deflates when he learns that he was actually supposed to put the puzzle pieces together. Why? Because to him, putting the puzzle pieces together is a conspiracy theory, and he’d rather not go there. You see, the midwit never contends with the geniuses that arrive at a different conclusion than him. Why would he, when there is no shortage of idiots who hold that same view?
To the midwit, the two are indiscernible; the genius is an idiot for holding views that idiots hold. It does not ever cross his mind that idiots and genius can arrive at the same answer by two very different processes. This makes it trivially easy for the midwit to strawman the genius’ argument — he doesn’t even realize he’s doing it. For the midwit, there is no difference between Bjorn Lomborg and the redneck sitting in the tractor he saw while driving through Wyoming — they both don’t believe climate change is an existential threat to humanity, and therefore they are equal.
It is essential that we idiots and geniuses unite together to wrest power back from the midwits of the world, for it is an existential threat to humanity if we do not.