Robert McAlmon's memoir Being Geniuses Together,about the community of artsy folk in Paris in the 1920's which included Gertrude Steinand Alic B Toklas, Picasso, Pound, Joyce,Hemingway and, yes, Robert McAlmon, never gave me any indication that McAlmon was actually a genius, and it did give me several strong hints that he was not. Then suddenly this morning, it became clear to me how the interaction between McAlmon and the geniuses worked: those of the geniuses who, like for instance Joyce, were not wealthy, got lots of free meals and drinks and "loans" and no doubt many other assorted handouts from rich boy McAlmon, who in turn got to feel like a genius, when in fact he was plainly a bonehead. Much the way writers and painters in ages past, as recently and with as much spine as Kant,flattered princes for a living. (Have you read the dedications to Prussian royalty in Kant's books? Disgusting!)
Stein was the center of this community, and most certainly a genius, and wealthy, and formidable in every which way -- say it with a French accent, please -- but presumably not even she could do everything all by herself. Enter the well-married and deluded McAlmon: ah, how convenient. I don't know why it took me so long to figure that out.
Who need to be constantly reassured that they are smart? Stupid people, of course. Don't you ever -- EVER! -- call me stupid! Who need to be reassured that they are wondrously virile studs? Impotent men.
Although it seems to be the opposite when it comes to looks: supermodels and other stunningly-beautiful people seem so often chronically insecure about their looks -- some actually say things like, My earlobes are hideous. Or, My navel. Honey, put the mirror down, sit down and listen to me: if you have to search yourself all over until you get to your earlobes or your navel before you find something you don't like, you're gorgeous. Just trust me, you are. Try to enjoy it. You're gorgeous, and you probably haven't spent a lot of time carefully looking at average-looking people. People probably generally tend to like you a lot, because, well, c'mon. But if you could stop whining about your tiny, barely-perceptible, probably mostly imaginary appearance problems around the rest of us, who have never looked nearly as good as you and never will, that'd be swell, that'd make you much more likable still. If in addition to realizing that you're beautiful, you could also realize that sometimes you're not as intelligent or witty as people tell you you are, because, well, c'mon -- (McAlmon was once a nude model) -- then you'd be way ahead of the curve. The world would pretty much be yours.
Plainer people, on the other hand, often have the attitude of, I know, I'm ugly. Can we move on? Not like with other things. Impotence must be widespread, judging from the sales of medications for it, but you don't often see a guy come into a bar and say to everyone, Man, I just can't do it at all! I am one limp-dicked loser! Give everybody a round on me! You don't often hear the stupid say, Yes, I'm stupid. Perhaps it's partly that Socratic I-know-that-I-know-nothing paradox. Perhaps it's mostly or entirely that.