The other day, I ran across a blog post from an author who was castigating American women for “whining” about rape and sexual harassment. The author’s excuse was that he had recently read about an Afghan woman who, in some sense, has it worse than “anything American women encounter”. And his reasoning — if one might call it “reasoning” — was that, since the Afghan woman is being treated worse than American women, American women have no right to complain.
In the small town in which I grew up, we had what were called “village idiots”. Those were folks who, for whatever reason, were not likely to benefit from efforts to inform or instruct them. Most of them were nice enough people. It’s just that they could not learn or think as well as the rest of us. In my small town, you typically knew enough about each other that you did not need to guess who the village idiots were. Unfortunately, it’s not that way on the internet. On the internet, you sometimes need to guess.
Especially if you’ve only read one post by him or her. So, you’re not always sure that someone is incapable of benefiting from constructive criticism. Yet, I’m pretty sure the author of that Afghan piece is a village idiot. Anyone who reasons as he did, has all but got to be one. Correcting him isn’t likely to have any effect. He doesn’t need criticism — he needs care-taking.
I remember one village idiot from my home town who was my age. He wanted nothing more in life than a motor scooter. But his parents refused to give him one — knowing he was incapable of handling one. Still, he begged and begged. Finally, after he was 30 or something, his parents finally broke down and gave him a motor scooter. But — in order to keep him out of trouble — they forbid him to take the scooter onto the city streets. He was only to ride in his own, large backyard.
In the backyard was a clothes line. The idiot got on his scooter, raced straight for the clothes line at the far end of the yard, failed to duck, and decapitated himself.
I was put in mind of that poor idiot when I read the post alleging American women have it too good to complain about rape and sexual harassment. It seemed to me the author of that post no more knows how to handle reasoning than that village idiot in my small home town knew how to handle a clothesline.
Yet, I wonder if I could be wrong.
It seems it is routine for otherwise intelligent people to indulge themselves in nuggets of utter stupidity. For instance, there are people who stupidly deny evolution but who are otherwise intelligent people. So is the “idiot” I ran across the other day — the idiot who believes American women have it too good to complain about rape and sexual harassment — a thorough-going idiot or just a part-time idiot?
In my hometown, you knew who the true idiots were because you had years of experience with them. You also knew that nearly anyone can have an idiotic opinion now and then: After all, humans are notably poor at reasoning logically*. But you could sort out the full-time idiots from the part-time idiots because you knew folks so intimately. Over the net, you often don’t know people well enough to know whether or not any particular idiotic idea they harbor is actually the norm for them.
All of which now brings me to the question of whether there is an opinion so stupid that one would necessarily need to be a complete and utter idiot to believe it? That is, an opinion so stupid that even a mere part-time idiot could not seriously hold it.
If so, what is that opinion?
(I am tempted — but only tempted — to say that opinion is that American women have no right to complain about rape and sexual harassment because Afghan women have it worse.)
I find it interesting to take the question seriously. At least, for the moment. I doubt there really is any opinion — no matter how stupid — that is so stupid only a thorough-going idiot could harbor it. Instead, I think that otherwise intelligent people can hold even the world’s most stupid opinions.
And if that is true — if even the most stupid opinions can be held by reasonably intelligent people — what does that bode? What does it imply?
*There are scientists who argue that reasoning in humans did not evolve as a means to arrive at true conclusions, but rather evolved as a means to win arguments. Hence, the many cognitive biases and errors that humans are prone to indulge in when reasoning. Also hence, the tendency of even the best of us to have idiotic ideas now and then.