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Meme analysis anthology: understand enlightenment by understanding the midwit

meme midwit enlightenment

To understand enlightenment, you must first understand the midwit.

The midwit meme or bell curve meme is the most important meme of this generation. It has been out in the wild for over 5 years (give or take, we’ll cover that in the history section) and continues to be regularly used across literally all aspects of our lives: from relationships to life advice to productivity to everything in between.

My thesis for why it’s proving to be so lindy and versatile is because it concisely articulates the path to enlightement.


If you’re already familiar with the midwit meme, feel free to skip this section. But for some quick background context, the midwit meme refers to a type of meme format that looks like this

midwit meme template

The general pattern that it follows is beginners and experts share a love of simplicity that infuriates the midwit. For example, the person at the low end of the IQ curve, call them the beginner, will say something that seems simple or obvious, like “you only need a to-do list”.

Then the midwit or the person in the middle of the spectrum will attempt at overcomplicating, overoptimizing, or overanalyzing the situation. To continue with this example, they may say “NOOO, you need to use five different productivity apps, each segmented by categories, a calendar for mapping events, an app for high priority items, an app for…..”

Then the master or the person at the high end of the bellcurve will agree with the beginner, in this case “you only need a to-do list”.

Some examples in the wild

midwit example 1

midwit example 2

The general intutition is that midwits think that, despite only having above-average intelligence, they are far superior and posess much higher intelligence than they actually do. And so they dangerously assume that they can overoptimize, overanalyze, and in general beat the system at their own peril.

I will avoid the history and background of this meme, but you can refer to its origins here.

Why this meme is important

I think that this meme concisely summarizes the idea of enlightenment in a way that is applicable to all aspects of our lives.

The modern age has led to an increasing amount of utilitarianism, people want to maximize producivity, minimize time-wasted, maximize wealth, power, and influence. Everything has turned into a math equation that people are desperately trying to optimize: maximize outcomes and minimize inputs. Unfortunately, there are no shortcuts to understanding the human condition and self-actualizing. Nothing beats hard-earned experience. One thing that I don’t think people realize is just how lindy all of the age-old truisms are about life.

Stuff like “work hard”, “do what you love”, “journey before destination”. Have you ever stopped to ask yourself why this advice still holds today? Why after millennia of human stories and experience, do we still find the same values in stories? Why do we still bond over relationships? Why do we find shared understanding in our struggles? In a world where technology shapes society and technology is rapidly evolving, why does mastery seem so simple and elegant? It’s because although technology rapidly evolves, and society develops as a result, the human condition remains the same. Reality’s backdrop may change, but the fabric of reality has and will always remain the same.

The midwit wants the easy way out. They want to overoptimize, they want to overcomplicate, they want find a shortcut through technique and terminology. The midwit is trying to squeeze every last drop of lemon juice from their lemons instead of planting more lemons like the master. The midwit is shortsighted and operates in a scarcity mindset. The midwit dangerously assumes they are better than those that came before them. The midwit seeks complexity and abhors simplicity. The midwit thinks they can shoulder past the giants that came before them, that they can overcompensate.

Although the midwit thinks they have found a global optima, the midwit is in fact trapped in saddle point, in a local optimum. The midwit wants the shortcut to the top but there is no shortcut to self-actualizing.

There is no shortcut to enlightenment. Enlightenment is not about some translucent higher-order state understood via words or shielded by some secret we must discover. Enlightenment is about understanding the human condition through experience. It’s about living and internalizing the advice that you constantly hear. The midwit may use fancy terms, they may memorize, but the enlightened understand. The value in age-old truisms is not the words or the quotes themselves, it’s the deep intuitition that comes with understanding their depths and nuances. The words are the architects that sketch the model and show you what to follow, but the experiences are the foundations that give life and depth to the model.

In a world where everybody wants answers, everybody wants to succeed, everybody wants to win, the midwit is the most dangerous state to be because they genuinely believe they are getting ahead when they are not. They genuinely believe they are smarter, more efficient, more productive, more insightful than everyone else.

Have you asked yourself why the master is often humble? Humility is the backbone of competence because humility is awareness of your limits. And a master knows their limits because the master knows that being ignorant of your limits is dangerous.

The master is humble but the master also understands the power of simplicity. Simplicity is antifragile. Simplicity is powerful but the master fully appreciates it because they understand complexity. The beginner gravitates to the simple because they don’t know any better. The master chooses the simple because they know the limits of the complex. The failure mode of the midwit is not to gravitate towards the complex, you must first try the complex to appreciate the simple. The failure of the midwit is to assume that the complex is superior to the simple. The danger is not in the midwit’s ignorance, it’s in their lack of knowledge or awareness of their ignorance.

All of this is not to directly call out people in particular. There are no midwits per se. The midwit is inside all of us, lurking, trying to persuade us to take short-cuts through words and techniques instead of experiences.

We must resist the temptation to give in, and call them out when they try arrogantly judge, condemn, and spread the poison of mediocrity and complexity.

We are all capable of becoming the master, the first hill we must climb is the basics, but the second and far harder hill to climb is the force of the midwit inside of us.

Beware of the midwit lurking inside of you.

Beware of their forces: being openly judgemental, hostile, bitter, arrogant, assuming, complex for the sake of complex, shortsighted, shallow, resistant to change, closed minded.

The midwit condems others in order to feel smart at the price of their own peril.

Beware of the midwit anon.