Christopher Langan has been called the “smartest man in America,” the “smartest man in the world,” and the “smartest man alive.” In the past twenty years, he has appeared in a range of media, from local news to national magazines, network TV, documentaries, and even internationally on the BBC. His name appears on lists of the smartest people of all time, alongside Albert Einstein, Stephen Hawking, and Johann Goethe. But aside from a handful of self-published books, a few articles in open journals, and winning $250,000 on a game show, Langan has little in the way of intellectual accomplishments. His fame rests almost entirely on his abnormally high scores on IQ tests.
The mythology surrounding Langan started to take shape in the late 1990s. He was featured along with several other members of the Mega Society, an ultra-high IQ organization, in an Esquire article by journalist Mike Sager, establishing a template that others would follow:
By some accounts, Christopher Michael Langan is the smartest man in America.
He is certainly the smartest nightclub bouncer in America, endowed with an IQ that has been measured at 195, give or take a few points, a score that puts him on a par with the likes of Leonardo da Vinci, Ludwig Wittgenstein, and Rene Descartes, three of the brightest minds in human history.
One could argue that the collective fascination with Langan is largely because of, not in spite of, his lack of conventional success. Good Will Hunting, which appeared two years before the Esquire profile, romanticized the notion of the working-class genius, and journalists saw in Langan a real-life example. Despite having an IQ that “exist[s] among us at a rate of roughly one in one hundred million,” Sager writes, Langan made $6,000 a year as a bouncer and shared “a tiny, cluttered one-room cabin overlooking a field of heavy machinery” with “his cat, Ramona, and his 1985 shovelhead Harley-Davidson, parked near the sink in his kitchen.”
Langan was also one of the more memorable characters in Malcolm Gladwell’s 2007 bestseller Outliers. His peculiar life story fit neatly with the premise of the book, which explored the confluence of factors needed for success. Gladwell uses Langan as a case study to demonstrate that intelligence alone is not enough, and that past a certain threshold, the usefulness of a few extra IQ points is marginal. In the third and fourth chapters of Outliers, titled “The Trouble With Geniuses Pt. 1 & 2,” Gladwell contrasts the trajectory of Langan’s life with that of J. Robert Oppenheimer. Both were gifted students who faced crises while in college. Oppenheimer unsuccessfully attempted to poison his tutor and was placed on probation, while Langan was forced to quit school at Reed College following a mishap with his financial aid paperwork. The former would go on to lead the Manhattan Project while the latter spent most of his life tossing drunks out of a bar on Long Island before retiring to a hay farm in Missouri. Gladwell seeks an explanation in the differences between the upbringing of the two, speculating that Langan was hamstrung by childhood abuse and poverty that left him underdeveloped in terms of “practical intelligence.”
When he’s among his fans, the mask of the mild-mannered blue-collar philosopher slips, and underneath is Alex Jones with a thesaurus.
Though his fame peaked around the turn of the twenty-first century with Outliers and appearances on 20/20 and Errol Morris’s First Person interview series, every few years someone will rediscover Langan and rehash the colorful details of his life for a new audience. Invariably, they follow the well-established formula, portraying Langan as a tragic, misunderstood genius. Most recently, Langan sat down with renowned filmmaker Spike Jonze for an interview described as a conversation between two people operating at the intersection of “imagination and reality.” In the resulting video, Jonze listens with rapt attention as Langan waxes philosophical about the nature of God and reality. Langan, now in his sixties, comes across as genial, charismatic, and humble. He talks about recognizing genius even among Missouri dirt farmers, saying, “I admire almost everybody.” But in the Facebook group dedicated to his pet theory, the Cognitive Theoretical Model of the Universe, or CTMU, a different side of Langan emerges.
There’s a palpable bitterness in Langan’s frequent rants against the academic establishment and those he dubs “acadummies.” He sees himself as boxed out by elitist Ivory Tower gatekeeping, arguing that his papers get rejected because of his lack of credentials, rather than the fact that the CTMU isn’t particularly scientific—or original. A metaphysical “theory of everything,” the CTMU could best be described as intelligent design buried beneath an impenetrable word salad made up of neologisms like “syndiffeonesis.” A sample definition:
Telic recursion is a fundamental process that tends to maximize a cosmic self-selection parameter, generalized utility, over a set of possible syntax-state relationships in light of the self-configurative freedom of the universe.
One of Langan’s more fantastical claims is that he can prove the existence of God mathematically. At times, his grandiose delusions reach epic proportions. He’s a 9/11 truther, but with a twist: not only does he believe Bush staged the terrorist attacks, he wrote that the motive was to distract the public from learning the “truth” about the CTMU. In the same post, Langan transitions seamlessly into a white genocide conspiracy theory, arguing that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq set the stage for Obama to import “fake ‘refugees’” to replace America’s white population.
Posts like this one have made Langan something of a cult hero among the alt-right. It’s no surprise: when he’s among his fans, the mask of the mild-mannered blue-collar philosopher slips, and underneath is Alex Jones with a thesaurus. In one typical Facebook post, Langan rails against “asymmetric race-based identity politics” for slamming the “doors of employment” in the face of the “more intelligent people” and denounces “libtards” for “pandering like two-dollar whores to the degenerate tastes, preferences, and delusions of the genetic underclass.” On 4chan’s far-right /pol/ image board, there are nearly 1,700 posts referencing him. “Langanpilled,” a variation of “redpilled,” has become a meme. Users are fond of posting screencaps of his racist tirades, taken from the CTMU Facebook group or from various article-length answers to questions on Quora that he posted prior to being banned from the platform.
The denizens of /pol/ grant Langan the honorary titled of “based” for his screeds against miscegenation and the “dysgenic” effects of the welfare state. In one Facebook post, Langan notes that he made the calculated decision not to have children due to his “intellectual ability to foresee the continuation of [his] own chronic low income status and rising affirmative-action discrimination against [him].” He continues:
Whereas a minority male in my position, but with less impulse control and moral responsibility, might have reproduced under government subsidy regardless of employment status. Meanwhile, not only are “majority” (White) women procreating with minority males, but they are further disadvantaging majority males by aggressively taking a seat on the affirmative action bandwagon.
One of Langan’s most popular posts is an obituary he wrote for Koko, the super-intelligent gorilla who died last year. He suggests that it would be a wiser policy for the United States to accept gorilla refugees rather than Africans:
Koko’s elevated level of thought would have been all but incomprehensible to nearly half the population of Somalia (average IQ 68). Yet the nations of Europe and North America are being flooded with millions of unvetted Somalian refugees who are not (initially) kept in cages despite what appears to be the world’s highest rate of violent crime.
Langan’s commentary was celebrated by the neo-Nazi Daily Stormer website, which speculated that Langan was an avid reader, based on how similar his post was to memes featured on the site in the past. His posts also regularly make the rounds on other neo-Nazi forums like Stormfront and Vanguard News Network. While Langan gets some criticism from his fans on the alt-right for his reluctance to explicitly “name the Jew” in his diatribes, his antisemitism is only thinly veiled. He has referenced well-established dog whistles like “international banksters” and “globalists.” Langan also had some interesting things to say about the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion:
The provenance of “The Protocols of Zion” is widely questioned, and not without reason. However, there is no doubt that it contains a brilliant recipe for the subjugation, destruction, and replacement of Western Civilization, and that this recipe has been scrupulously followed *by someone* (whether by Zionists alone, which has been frequently and strenuously denied, or by a larger group of factions).
For someone like Langan, whose entire identity rests on IQ tests, embracing alt-right ideology is a natural progression. Intelligence testing, or psychometrics, was established in the late nineteenth century primarily to serve the emerging eugenics movement, and a strain of racialism has been present in it ever since. Though the field has largely shifted toward environmental explanations for group disparities in IQ test results, there is still a small but vocal minority of psychologists known as the “hereditarians” who view racial differences as predominantly genetic. The milieu that gave rise to Langan as a semi-celebrity also contributed to the rise of the alt-right. Langan first rose to prominence at the tail end of the controversy surrounding the findings of the 1994 book The Bell Curve by conservative wonk Charles Murray and psychologist Richard Herrnstein, which argued that America was fundamentally a meritocracy, one that would soon come to be dominated a “cognitive elite.” Critics of the book pointed to its disproportionate reliance on hereditarian researchers to support some of its more contentious claims—namely those involving race and IQ.
For someone like Langan, whose entire identity rests on IQ tests, embracing alt-right ideology is a natural progression.
Around the time that Esquire was profiling Langan and the Mega Society—described in the piece as a club that provides “electronic fellowship to an eccentric, far-flung population known as HiQ Society”—another online organization was also using nascent internet technologies to facilitate a meeting of minds: the Human Biodiversity Discussion Group (HBDG). Founded by conservative blogger Steve Sailer, the HBDG was little more than an email list, but many of its members would play a crucial role in rebranding race science as “race realism” or “human biodiversity (HBD)”—including Peter Brimelow and Ron Unz, founders of VDARE and the Unz Review, respectively. Building on the work of Murray and Herrnstein, members of the HBD community revived age-old notions of natural inequality, laying the pseudointellectual foundation for alt-right activists like Richard Spencer. The new race science plays the same basic role as the old, reinforcing traditional hierarchies while generating resentment among those who feel genetically entitled to be on top of them.
The validity of IQ as a construct hinges on its ability to predict success, so when it doesn’t, it presents a puzzle. Someone like Gladwell might find a convenient answer in narratives of childhood hardship, but Langan has his own ideas. If the material benefits of society naturally accrue to the brightest, as Murray and Herrnstein argue, then surely he deserves a place among the “cognitive elite.” But rather than faulting bad luck or an abusive stepfather, Langan echoes the core arguments of The Bell Curve and places the blame on liberal social engineering and “affirmative-action scamming.”
Recalling a time when he and his wife were denied a loan, Langan bemoans how banks have “made life hard for people like us while creating a blizzard of minority house-flippers who laughed all the way to the package store.” He writes:
When my wife and I were denied a home mortgage in NY shortly after the turn of the millennium, the banking establishment was literally throwing money at minorities to “stop redlining” and let “people of color” participate in the American dream. A Black loan applicant didn’t even need a job!
Meanwhile, Gina and I were finally forced to find an owner-financed property far away from NY (where no such thing is available), which we paid off completely in 4 years (so much for the “fiscal responsibility and financial prudence” of the banksters). Bear in mind that I was already being called “the smartest man in the world” when this occurred, so the banks really had no excuse for this kind of injustice.
The more obvious explanation for why the bank turned down his loan application isn’t “reverse discrimination” but the fact that “smartest man in the world” isn’t a job with a salary, and he could never really monetize the title. Had he been born a little later, he might have found a lucrative career as one of the “Renegades of the Intellectual Dark Web” or a regular columnist for Quilette, though maybe there’s still a chance for him to get in on the grift. He’s taken the first step by opening up a Patreon account. For $10 a month, subscribers can access posts like “Clouds Without Angels,” “‘Hate Speech’ as Hate Speech” and “Human Reproduction: Quantity Control Entails Quality Control,” as well as his holiday specials, “Happy Thanksgiving in Fluoridation Nation” and “Christmas Grackles in Fermented Goosebery.”
His fans are clamoring for him to go on the Joe Rogan Experience, or to debate Jordan Peterson. Langan claims he was contacted by an agent from Creative Artists Agency, where Peterson is represented, about setting something up, but nothing ever came of it. He writes that it’s likely “Mr. Peterson is too much of an intellectual big shot” and laments that the youth are likely to “emulate Peterson’s ‘big shot’ behavior.” He suspects that Peterson is just too intimidated: “Why risk a card game with someone who holds all the cards, intellectually speaking, when you can just hide out instead?”