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The Midwit Trap
How to be brilliant and alone.
The “midwit” feedback loop makes a lot of sense:
Common sense and intuition are replaced with a more "objective" explanation (which often happens to nicely excuse our character defects).
Despite their emotional cost, we buy and consume those explanations in exchange for a little boost in status (actually, did you know…).
The "normies" (anyone not in the know) push back on our weird ideas, which just affirms that the world is too dumb to understand us and compounds a sense of rejection.
Rinse and repeat until we completely distrust our instincts and the world.
I'm very familiar with this strange feedback loop. It’s the “midwit” trap, which is the inspiration for these funny memes:
A clear example of this thinking is… a lot of Malcolm Gladwell‘s schtick. For example, he opens a segment by saying, “You think people smile when they’re happy? No, no, no. Actually, your intuition is…. wrong.” *theme music plays*
We get a nice dopamine kick for feeling like we know something others don’t (and I’m not immune). Gladwell has mastered the art of packaging information that's both counterintuitive and extremely attention-grabbing.
These rabbit holes are everywhere. They range from Andrew Tate fans to a guy who recounts a John Oliver segment to you, word for word, with an IPA in his hand (this obviously happened to me). There are many others: Red pill. Pop-sci. Social engineers. Pick up artists. Hustle culture. Manifestation. Outrage news. Astrology. Bitcoin.
Most of us have secretly dipped our toe in one of these pools.
For me, it all started before TikTok was even a thing when my very angry, bald, chain-smoking philosophy professor introduced me to the world’s most brilliant midwit, Friedrich Nietzsche.
On the first day of class, he said, “There’s always some emo kid in the back of the class who thinks Nietzsche would’ve been on his side. He would not have been on your side, dude.”
That was all part of the appeal.
My man Nietzsche once said he could write more in a sentence than most philosophers could write in a whole book. He even randomly Capitalized words for more PUNCH.
“I Am Not a Man, I Am Dynamite!” – Friedrich Nietzsche
What was especially badass about that line was that it was true. If reading him doesn’t make you feel stupid, you’re not understanding what he’s saying. And mostly, I didn’t.
But it all had a mystique about it that was very attractive for a 20-something young man who would very much like to be perceived as clever.
As you may know, Nietzsche proclaimed the "death of God." By God, he was talking about the force of motivation that unites a large group of people (namely, Europe) who otherwise have nothing in common.
“God is dead…. And we have killed him…. What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us?”
Nietzsche said the death of God would cause depression, world war, and what he named "nihilism." Good prediction, if you know about what happened in the 20th century.
This nicely dovetailed to my personal "death of God" as I left behind my little Christian community and entered the secular world of philosophical study. And I was ready for some answers to make me feel better. Well, better than other people, at least.
Neitzsche's answer to the death of God problem was that we had to become "supermen” — our own gods. We each had to “make our own morals.”
“Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?”
Again, as a young man with a lot of… "chutzpah" and desire for higher status (which is the crucial step 2 in the midwit trap, recall), I very much liked this idea. Nietzsche was like the professional wrestler of philosophy.
However, as some of you are already foreseeing, "making your own morals" is about as possible as playing a violin in the cold vacuum of space.
We all worship something, whether we acknowledge it or not. I’m not talking about a formal doctrine of beliefs, but whatever we most deeply value. That’s your religion, whatever it happens to be.
As Bob Dylan said, “You gotta serve somebody.” If you’re going by default, it’s probably something like avoiding pain, power, money, fame, or pleasure. And it’s also probably embodied by at least one of these midwit influencers.
As a college student, I became more and more isolated from my friends, family, and community as I pursued this philosophical "correctness" with religious fervor. I was on that sigma grindset, and it wasn’t really working out for me. The harder you try to will your own ethics by your hustle alone, a greater and greater disconnect manifests between the mind and the body.
It’s probably not a coincidence that Nietzsche was so terribly ill that he could only sit down to write for about 30 minutes a day. He needed to rest and recover for the other 23 and 1/2 hours. The last decade of his life was spent in total insanity. This sounds to me like a man battling reality… and losing. To make it worse for me, Neitzsche’s IQ is roughly double mine — so if he couldn’t do it… what chance do I possibly have of becoming the “Ubermensch?”
By getting rid of the God I grew up with, I hadn't actually become non-religious. I had just unknowingly replaced the old mysterious God of churches with a shadowy boardroom of who I imagined were the smartest men in the world — a round table of Neitzsches.
Practically, I just picked the most "objective" higher power I could think of and then, without realizing it, tried to "please" those gods with all of my behaviors. Like a good follower of the rationality gods, I didn't believe in horoscopes or anything "woo," I followed the most prestigious scholars and read all the most smarty pants books.
I know this might sound a little extreme, but people fall into internet rabbit holes all the time and believe their insider knowledge is “objectively true” and everyone else is an “NPC.”
On the extremes, this stuff sucks the humanity out of you.
It’s easy to talk yourself out of “illogical” positive emotions like joy and laughter, but there is no way to out-think pain and disgust. Those emotions happen to you, like it or not.
So, the deeper you go down your rabbit hole, the more you’re left with only the inescapable negative emotions.
If our outlook makes us see humanity as a "cancer on the planet,” for example (which is not uncommon, in case you didn’t realize), then maybe consider that the story is what is wrong, not all of humanity.
But, of course, the deeper problem is that "rational" people, by a central tenet of the dogma, cannot see reality as narrative. But, unfortunately, it is. So, my “rational materialism” narrative was invisible to me, and I was even more like a religious zealot about it. The irony of this, of course, was completely lost on me.
Looking back, I should go easy on myself. Really, what keeps us in these loops is fundamentally fear. Fear of being wrong. Fear of being ordinary. Fear of being lost in the mindless crowd.
The deepest tenet of the modern man is fear of reality.
For a belief system that claims to be most scientific, it certainly breeds close-mindedness.
While swirling in this invisible narrative, we sense something is broken. Unwilling to accept defeat, we assume something is wrong with the human hardware (AKA reality). It couldn’t possibly be our outlook… no, no, no. It's a chemical imbalance. ADHD. Social media. The modern world. Capitalism. Socialism. The woke brigade. Fox News. Plastic straws. Paper straws.
The real problem is a broken narrative that makes us increasingly hostile toward the world the more we commit ourselves to the narrative. The "rightness" we think we have gives us a certain sense of status, so we cling to it bitterly as we sink into the abyss.
That loop is killer.
We can’t return to the mindless crowds, as the adherents of these various pseudo-faiths fear more than death.
The only way out is through — embracing reality in all its strangeness.
If naive acceptance of the religion you were born into is step one, trauma and cynicism are step two, then a humble, wise, and authentic connection to a higher power is step three. Or at least, that’s just one man’s experience of trying to face reality a little more each day.
I’m not good at it yet.
These half-religions invade our entire being, turning us awkward, disconnected, chronically online, unable to dance, self-obsessed, and cramming our heads with weird ideas that alienate us from others. That takes time to recover from.
Literal 4chan “incels” are just one (arguably) extreme version of something we’re all dealing with. Midwit traps are set for us everywhere, in our phones and in our TVs. They don’t have a political party.
They just want your attention and devotion. They are lesser gods.
In case you didn’t notice, we still live in a landscape of gods and demons; they’ve just gotten very good at making us forget that.
I've finally found a shorthand: any narrative that suggests you can escape all narratives to "see the truth" is an unhelpful illusion. We are not floating heads. We are mind, body, spirit.
While all this talk of myth and embodiment may seem strange and arbitrary, this essay isn’t trying to be another midwit trap. It's all just to hopefully take your overly analytical modern mind and redirect it back DOWN into its origins so you can let go, trust deeper knowing, see narrative, have some kind of faith, and rely less on the material world's suggestion that you are nothing but a bag of chemicals.
In short, it’s this meme:
Thanks for reading,