The Idiot Complex
How do smart people start believing in fundamentally stupid ideas?
Three years ago, I penned Inauthentic Selves, one of the first investigations into the funding of transgender issues and the colonization of grassroots gay organizations that such funding caused. I was motivated, in part, to find out where the money had come from to back the people who had filled my head with lies - I was angry, for I had believed something deeply stupid and fundamentally counter-productive to my beliefs, because I was told well, it was the smart and right thing to do.
Money is certainly one of the most powerful things on Earth. Could billions being poured into the idea the sky is green really convince anyone that the sky is green, though? Of course, if you paid me a million dollars, I would swear up and down the sky is green - a million dollars is a lot of money for a schmoe like me. Think of the student loan debt I could pay off with that.
But that doesn’t explain everything. You can pay me a trillion dollars to say the sky is green - you can set up organizations, pay for placement in media, etcetera, and because it is a fundamentally stupid and easily disprovable idea, no one will listen. I mean who would believe that?
After all, you can look at the sky and see it’s clearly blue. Even if I tell you that well, it’s actually green, and some greens are actually blues and my god it’s a huge circle and I’m an idiot. Who could believe such a stupid, obviously disprovable thing? Next you’ll be telling me some men are really women if they say they are women, because we’ve redefined women and some men are actually women because um, oh my god it’s a huge circle and I’m an idiot….
Wait, that’s a thing people actually believe. Or at least pretend to. And well, most of them aren’t being paid to pretend to. Well, certainly not directly: obviously, belief in such things appears to be a condition of modern corporate life, so indirectly, you are paid to believe total nonsense.
But I digress. See, while the vast majority are nodding along, or perhaps have not thought about the issue in depth, they are rats to the Pied Pipers that are the true believers. Having once been a true believer, or at least thinking I was, I’ve devoted a lot of thought into quite why these ideas take hold in the chattering classes.
This means I’ve coined a neologism. I call it the ‘Idiot Complex’.
What is the ‘Idiot Complex’? Simply put, the greatest fear of the meritocratic minded middle class is being an idiot. Or really, being thought of as an idiot. The latter is worse than the other; a middle class moron is self-assured as long as his peers do not think he is a moron. President Bush is a war criminal, but in the middle-class environment I marinated in as a teenager, the worst thing that was lobbed at him was that he was stupid. His gaffes, they were the worst. Bush was thought of as a idiot, and that’s worse than actually being an idiot, or doing idiotic things or being responsible for the death of hundreds of thousands of people. Perception matters more than reality.
Hence the ‘Idiot Complex’. The worst thing to be is to be thought of as an idiot, and many middle-class meritocratic ‘I’m going to Harvard’ Lisa Simpson-types that dominate discourse today, they have a complex about being an idiot.
Lisa demands validation of her intelligence. The endless discoursing Lisas of today also demand validation of their intelligence, because that way, they can fend off the Idiot Complex.
The Idiot Complex creates perverse outcomes. Take a college lecture. The professor will stand at the podium and pronounce with mirth, that there are no ‘stupid questions’. Someone, perhaps a Lisa, perhaps an observant, embracing-their-idiotic-tendencies smartass like yours truly will ask a question. The professor will then go ‘Except that question. That’s a stupid question’.
You see, that’s not really about affirming to the class that there are no stupid questions. It’s about triggering the Idiot Complex, making an example in front of the class, and discouraging questions. No one wants to be thought of as an Idiot. And, of course, the professor is an authority figure. They then get to dispense knowledge unimpeded by ‘stupid questions’. Everyone in that class is so frightened of having a stupid question that they don’t ask any questions. Now imagine a thousand pantomimes similar to this, all designed intentionally or otherwise, to trigger the Idiot Complex, and you see, the Complex discourages the asking of any questions, ever.
Because it’s not always ‘stupid questions’, it’s branding you a racist idiot, or a white supremacist idiot, or a sea lioning idiot, or a transphobic idiot, but the intention is always there: you are asking questions of me and my beliefs not out of genuine investigative interest, but because you are stupid, and I am smart and I believe these things and only a stupid person would disagree with me, because I am smart and I know The Correct Way Of Thinking.
The second part, particularly in an educational environment, and even more particularly with younger people, is peers. See, peers might have learned from an authority figure like that professor, or a Facebook group with perceived authority figures, something truly moronic. Like I don’t know, anti-vaxx nonsense or that men are women on their say so or the Holodomor didn’t happen or any of the numerous silly conspiracy theories you can find on The Metaverse. They then proudly pronounce this to their peers.
In a college context, which I am deeply familiar with, there is nothing more intimidating than running into someone who’s convinced they know more than you, as a freshman, anyway (by the time you’re a senior, you stop giving a shit). You, a youthful freshman, are being lectured by some asshole who read the first thirty pages of Rawls, or Butler, or Foucault and is convinced they’re now a Master Of The Universe. You probably weren’t exposed the first thirty pages of whatever in high school, and now you feel like an idiot. Feeling like an idiot? Oh, that’s bad. But worse is this person thinking you’re an idiot! They’re clearly very smart, because they’re talking about things you’ve no clue about! After all, you not only haven’t read the first thirty pages of Rawls or Butler or Foucault, you can’t be bothered- or even worse… you tried and didn’t understand it.
This person might think you’re an idiot! Oh my God! Worst! Thing! Ever! Call the Dumbass County Sheriff’s Department, an inmate of their county has escaped and enrolled in a state college!
Or even imagine this in a corporate workshop context. Your boss paid for The Master Of The Universe to dispense their knowledge upon you. If you start asking questions, your boss might not be happy. You could be branded an idiot, or a troublemaker.
So you nod your head. And you agree. And this person thinks you are very smart, because you all believe the same thing. They may have just said that because Butler jerked herself off over the meaning of various semiotics for five billion pages of pedantic nonsense that men are women, or that the Pfizer jab will put a microchip in your butt, or the Earth is flat or any number of dumbass, stupid things that only an idiot would believe, right? Except you’re believing them.
So you nod. And all the smart people are saying the same thing, and you want to be smart too, so you start agreeing. And the you start agreeing with these lunatic lines of thinking, and because everyone agrees, they become mainstream. It’s all a big game of chicken where instead of driving off a cliff, you’re going to be the first person to ask a question.
And the thousands of pantomimes play out like this. Over and over and over and over. All re-enacting an endless theatrical production where everyone is determined to not be thought of as an idiot. The Idiot Complex is quite the pandemic, and it’s not one you can wear a mask and stay at home to escape. Vaccinations can be hard to come by - and eradicating an infection social suicide.
It’s sort of a weird form of abuse, coercion, and middle-class idiocy.
This abuse ultimately takes two forms:
A) The Idiot Complex.
B) Coercion via slur.
A) is the easiest and the most pervasive. B) is when someone finally loses the game of chicken and asks a question.
So, you’ve lost the game of chicken and asked a question or said something like ‘Lesbians don’t have penises’ or ‘the Pfizer vaccine does not contain microchips’ or ‘the sky is blue’ or ‘America was founded in 1776’, or any of a number of perfectly factual statements. You, my friend, have risked the social death that accompanies turning off the music to this game of idiot musical chairs, and a horde of Lisas, denied their validation of their intelligence have swarmed you to call you a moron. But, perhaps, you’ve had an independent thought. You call them stupid. You double down. Lesbians clearly do not have pensies, the sky is blue, and the Earth is round.
Oh my God, now you’ve done it! You’ve refused to validate! Sound the alarm.
Now you’re a white supremacist transphobic flatphobic and god knows what else idiot. Only someone both evil and stupid could say what you’re saying. You’re the worst person ever. How dare you. You made them question what they believe, they didn’t like it, and so, you’re everything that they actually are.
See, the thing about these ideas is that they’re recycled. They’re old hat. They pretend to be novel, the right side of history, but they recycle old prejudices. They’re a way for smart, middle-class people to feel better than those bigots around them, while still maintaining those prejudices. How else do we get posters proclaiming that ‘work ethic’ and ‘being on time’ are white culture, foreign to black people, or telling homosexuals that they should ‘investigate their genital preferences’? At their heart, the daft beliefs many ‘smart’ people hold, are fundamentally conservative. The law can change, but law changes mean absolutely nothing if the culture remains fundamentally the same. The old bigotries simply reinvent themselves to produce their desired outcomes. See: Jim Crow, mass incarceration, conversion therapy, ‘transgender children’, ‘women should only pee in the home’, ‘gender neutral toilets’. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Not only by holding these beliefs have you avoided being considered an idiot - the great middle class fear, but you also get to comfortably be a bigot too. That’s the second greatest sin - to be considered an outmoded bigot, and the only other thing worse than that in the middle-class marinade is being an idiot. Part of the anger is because by challenging these fundamentally stupid ideas, you’re also taking away the ability from the discourse Lisas to be as bigoted as they want, within their own middle-class framework of acceptability. Putting, for example, a sentence like ‘Lesbians should learn to examine their genital preferences’ into the plain English of ‘Lesbians should stop being lesbians and suck my manly dick’, reveals the bigotry they’re indulging in. And they’re smart, and they’re not bigoted, so we get to see our Lisas engage in projection of titanic proportions when you call time on the game of chicken.
Now, you have two options. You can leave independent thought behind and continue nodding along with the cult you’ve just realized you were in, or you can receive your scarlet letter. Most people pick the former - they swear they’ve learned something new, need education, and will ‘do better’. After all, the cult gave you lots of things, like telling you were smart, and good, and on the right side of history. You want to be all of those things.
The latter, of course, is a much harder road. Now you’re thought of as an idiot, you’re socially ostracized. People will try and get you fired. It’s all very ‘unfortunate’, or ‘deserved’ or ‘people who question my beliefs deserve to have pornography spammed in their tweets responding to children illustrating scenes from their latest children’s book’ and so on.
In the circles of the upper middle class, the chatterers, and the blue ticks - generally educated, liberal circles, the greatest sin these days is to be thought of as an idiot. But perhaps the worst one is making someone else feel like an idiot.