The tragedy of the mid-witted

It is truly remarkable what the moderately intelligent consider to be markers of superior intelligence:

I was a terrific little snob who thought she knew everything, and subsequently, I was about to learn a great deal.

As soon as I started, I realized I had no idea what I was doing. Fortunately, the other cocktail waitresses were quick to make suggestions. My first night on the job, a fellow shot girl offered practical advice. “You have to be a little cold,” she explained. “Make them feel like you’re doing them a favor by letting them buy shots.” But it’s difficult to maintain a Queen of Sheba demeanor while trying to rub globs of green glitter out of your eyes. Instead I became a level of friendly you typically only see at Disneyland, if Disneyland reeked of vomit and spilled appletinis. I doled out shots as people in cartoon costumes offer hugs. The manager would point out that I wasn’t being sexy enough, which was surprising, because I was wearing 6-inch heels and less clothing than I ever had.

It quickly became clear that I was not the first literate person to don a miniskirt. Sometime during that first week, I was hiding in the backroom reading Margaret Atwood. I was sitting on the counter next to baskets of party mix because my feet hurt, which they did for the entirety of my shot-selling career. One cocktail waitress swept in, asked what I thought of Atwood’s novel “Oryx and Crake,” did a tricky little analysis where she compared it to “The Handmaid’s Tale,” mentioned some other female dystopian writers I’d never heard of, and then went out balancing a tray of shots on one hand.

As ridiculous as it sounds, that was the first time I became aware that clever people are buried in every nook and cranny of life. It is astonishing that no one pointed this out to me sooner.

As we often see on this blog, those who possess above-average intelligence and trouble to occasionally read newspapers and magazines tend to genuinely be under the erroneous impression that they possess superlative intelligence. But while having an IQ between one and two standard deviations above the norm is unusual, it is hardly rare, and in historical terms it is distinctly pedestrian.

The astonishing thing about Miss Wright’s confession isn’t that she was clueless and solipsistic little snob, but rather, that she is still appears to believe that she is highly intelligent on the basis of familiarity with the works of a trivial and silly science fiction writer with a poor grasp of history. If she had any brains at all worth noting, then she wouldn’t have needed someone else to point out that clever people are everywhere; in addition to the ease with which this can be observed in the material world, even a basic knowledge of intelligence statistics would indicate that this must be the case.

If this erstwhile pirate wench had simply noted that Mensa, with its 130/132 IQ floor, potentially represents the top 2 percent of the population, she would have known that there are some 6.2 MILLION Americans who are significantly above the “read a book” level that she sets as a significant benchmark.

The difference between the mid-wit and the genuinely intelligent is usually fairly easy to identify. The mid-witted individual tends to compare himself to those below the average and concludes that because he isn’t like them, he must be a genius. The genuinely intelligent individual compares himself to the great minds of the past – with which he is familiar, having experienced many of their works – and concludes that for all his intellectual superiority to the great mass of relative retards presently surrounding him – he is nothing particularly special. The tragedy of the mid-wit is that he lives in a world that simply doesn’t exist and is constructed flimsily out of his unimaginative imagination due to his failure to either observe the real world or think about it. His is is a very plain and simple world, and because he is not only comfortable in it, but important in it, he reacts with fear and hostility when he is forced, for one reason or another, to confront the fact that it does not exist.

Intelligence doesn’t concern name-checking authors nor does it consist of being literate or even well-read. And even if one has been granted unusual cognitive capacity by the grace of God or the roll of the genetic dice, it remains little more than potential until one proves that one can actually do something, preferably something worthwhile, with it. Just as the mere fact of height doesn’t make one a basketball player, the mere fact of high intelligence doesn’t make one a genius, a philosopher, or anything else except a statistical oddity.

Genius is neither a state of being nor the possession of potential, it is the completion of material intellectual accomplishment. Mozart had enormous musical gifts, but even such a prodigy would not have been a genius had he not troubled to take the time and effort required to compose his music. Newton had one of the most astonishing minds ever possessed by homo sapiens sapiens, but he would not have become one of the most awe-inspiring geniuses of history had he never stopped to think about his casual observations of the material world. Genius is not born, it is self-created.

I suggest that before you can reach a place that requires effort, you must first realize that you are not already there.