Abuse, Bad Ideas, Cultural Traits, Culture, Human Nature, Humanism, Obligations to Society, Oppression, Society, Tara Lynn, Village Idiots

In Defense of Stupid People

(About a 5 minute read)

There was a report a few weeks ago that over 60% of all Americans believe they are above average in intelligence.  I think it’s understandable that more people believe they are smarter than average than actually are.  You could write volumes about how our culture — and possibly most cultures — places great value on being intelligent.

But perhaps Americans carry that a bit too far. It’s not just that we look down on stupid people.  I hear people here say things that strike me as implying stupid people a fair game.  Fair game for any con that will work to exploit them.  Certainly, we don’t have any widespread notions that intelligent people have an actual obligation or duty to look out after stupid people.

They more or less accepted relationship between smart and dumb in this country is much more predator and prey than that.

Do stupid people deserve being looked down on and even being thought of as fair game?

I suppose how one answers that might depend on what one believes about why people can be stupid.  The last time I took a look at that, the scientists were divided on how much stupidity was a matter of our genes and how much it was a matter of our environment, including what we ourselves could do to change it.

Maybe we can do something to improve our intelligence, maybe we can’t, then.  But even if we can — but fail to do so — are we to be looked down upon?

Stupidity is not the same thing as willful stupidity.  Willful stupidity is when a smart person accepts or asserts a stupid belief — a belief they are too smart not to know is stupid — and stubbornly cling to it no matter how thoroughly it’s pointed out to them that the belief is stupid.

Perhaps people are justified to hold willfully stupid people in contempt, but are we justified to hold merely stupid people in contempt simply for being stupid?

I used to think there was something magical about intelligence that made smart people more likely to be kinder, more moral, more considerate, etc. than dumber people.  But during my marriage to my abusive second wife, my opinion on that began to change.

She was often maliciously cruel — most likely because of a personality disorder resulting from childhood sexual abuse — but she was also brilliant.  The sort of person who, when bored, would naturally turn to entertaining herself by working out calculus problems in her head.

I’m no longer blind to the fact that intelligent people can be heinous.

I suspect much of the general attitude towards stupid people comes not for any rational reason for it that’s based on logic and evidence, but rather is merely based on the emotional revulsion so many of us seem to feel when in their company.  But isn’t holding someone in contempt or worse in the absence of any sound reasons for doing so itself a species of stupidity?

I suspect we must be fairly smart not to be foolishly governed by our negative emotions.  I have a friend who can become physically sick to his stomach when in the presence of stupid people. But he is also highly intelligent,  and would be the first to tell you that it would be unfair of him to look down on stupid people just because they can make him want to vomit.

The questions get more difficult when a stupid person does something to injure us.  When that happens, it is so easy for us to not only hold the person in contempt, but to also feel anger towards them.  A car that cuts us off in traffic, or a man who votes for a politician we see as an existential threat to our nation, can enrage us to the point we dehumanize them.  But is our response to them fully justified?

I think it’s understandable to feel anger towards them.  My problem with our all-too-often response to them is that irrational contempt and/or dehumanization never seem justified to me.

Nothing seems to rile many Americans more than the suggestion we might have obligations to society beyond a bare minimum — a minimum that seems to shrink constantly.  In that extremist view, we are not only so unlike most peoples on earth, we are also perhaps both short-sighted fools and indecent.

Fools because we are social animals whose evolutionary success always depended on our ability to cooperate and care for each other.  Moreover, it seems questionable whether a society or nation that pits its strongest against its weakest can endure, let alone endure as a place one might want to live.

But indecent too.  For what society but an indecent one picks on and bullies its weakest members?

Of course, I do not mean to imply by anything I’ve said here that stupid people who are also malicious, cruel, abusive, violent, etc should be exempt from criticism.  In my view, they should be treated just as we would anyone else with those tendencies.  Here, I am confining my remarks to people who are merely stupid.

Decades ago, I had a secretary, an exceptional young woman named Tara. Tara had an extraordinary story and I have blogged about her here.  In the time I knew her, she never once called someone stupid.  Instead, she would describe them as being stupid, thus implying a number of things, including that they were not to be condemned as simply a stupid person.

Ironically, Tara herself might have been considered stupid by some strict folks.  She had only one interest in life.  People.  Not celebrities, either.  Only the people she knew.  Her lack of interest in anything else might have condemned her in some eyes.  Yet I found her to be both kind and wise.

How one feels and behaves towards stupid people is, of course, one’s own decision. I myself wish they were treated better and — by far and away most of all — that the ugly notion they are fair game for anyone to exploit at will were forever abolished from our culture.

15 thoughts on “In Defense of Stupid People”

  1. Perfect analysis of types of stupid people namely Stupidity in general,super intelligent stupidity,wilful stupidity,dangerous stupidity etc.I agree with you and we all should be sympathetic to the stupid people because we ourselves sometimes behave stupidly thinking that we are intelligent.Albert Einstein’s quote is apt….”Two things are infinite.The universe and human stupidity;I’m not sure about the universe”

  2. I’ve never looked at stupid people as fair game for exploitation — it even sounds a little odd when you say it, like “geez, who would think of that?” — but I have no, absolutely no, use for them. I have always felt that stupidity is a form of laziness or selfishness, that stupid people could stop being so damn stupid if they would make a fucking effort. They strike me as people who have decided that it’s other people’s job to keep to world running right and meet their needs and they can get away with sitting back and saying something spectacularly dense every so often so that other people don’t ask anything of them. I’m related to a bunch of lamebrains and halfwits on my mother’s side (which is of course the side I don’t speak to) who used to think it was funny and weird that I read books, and had a way of saying or doing something brainless and ignorant and then letting a sneaking, smug expression come over their faces. DOn’t tell me they weren’t glorying in being stupid and enjoying wallowing in ignorance and ill-supported beliefs. The world would not miss them one tiny bit.

  3. I have trouble with grouping people as “intelligent” or “stupid.” As stated in the previous comment, there are an infinite number of ways and types of intelligence and stupidity. I deal with people all the time, and I would agree with Tara that people do stupid things (the people themselves are not stupid). As far as intelligent people, they are definitely not immune from doing stupid things. For instance, many of the people that I dispense drug addiction recovery meds to are people that otherwise show traits of intelligence.

    1. Like you, I’ve seen stupid people take rude pride in thinking they just one-upped someone smarter than them. I don’t know what makes people do that, other than they are just stupid, but it certainly is obnoxious.

      But here we disagree. I’ve known too many people who were most likely my intellectual inferiors, but who were also average or even quite decent people. Maybe that’s just my luck, though.

      Thanks for commenting. Much appreciated.

    2. Carla, I agree with Tara too, but unlike her (and perhaps you), I tend to keep a mental scale of how frequently people do or don’t do stupid things. Towards one in people do often do something stupid, towards the other end, they rarely do.

      Thanks for the comments! 🙂

  4. My thoughts on the foregoing post about stupidity are parallel to those offered by the following:

    From letters from prison by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, German Theologian, executed by hanging for his opposition to Adolf Hitler.

    “One may protest against evil; it can be exposed and, if need be, prevented by use of force. Evil always carries within itself the germ of its own subversion in that it leaves behind in human beings at least a sense of unease. Against stupidity we are defenseless. Neither protests nor the use of force accomplish anything here; reasons fall on deaf ears; facts that contradict one’s prejudgment simply need not be believed–in such moments the stupid person even becomes critical–and when facts are irrefutable they are just pushed aside as inconsequential, as incidental. In all this the stupid person, in contrast to the malicious one, is utterly self-satisfied and, being easily irritated, becomes dangerous by going on the attack. For that reason, greater caution is called for when dealing with a stupid person than with a malicious one. Never again will we try to persuade the stupid person with reasons, for it is senseless and dangerous.
    If we want to know how to get the better of stupidity, we must seek to understand its nature. This much is certain, that it is in essence not an intellectual defect but a human one. There are human beings who are of remarkably agile intellect yet stupid, and others who are intellectually quite dull yet anything but stupid. We discover this to our surprise in particular situations. The impression one gains is not so much that stupidity is a congenital defect but that, under certain circumstances, people are made stupid or that they allow this to happen to them. We note further that people who have isolated themselves from others or who live in solitude manifest this defect less frequently than individuals or groups of people inclined or condemned to sociability. And so it would seem that stupidity is perhaps less a psychological than a sociological problem. It is a particular form of the impact of historical circumstances on human beings, a psychological concomitant of certain external conditions. Upon closer observation, it becomes apparent that every strong upsurge of power in the public sphere be it of a political or a religious nature infects a large part of humankind with stupidity. It would even seem that this is virtually a sociological-psychological law. The power of one needs the stupidity of the other. The process at work here is not that particular human capacities, for instance, the intellect, suddenly atrophy or fail. Instead, it seems that under the overwhelming impact of rising power, humans are deprived of their inner independence and, more or less consciously, give up establishing an autonomous position toward the emerging circumstances. The fact that the stupid person is often stubborn must not blind us to the fact that he is not independent. In conversation with him, One virtually feels that one is dealing not at all with him as a person, but with slogans, catchwords, and the like that have taken possession of him. He is under a spell, blinded, misused, and abused in his very being. Having thus become a mindless tool, the stupid person will also be capable of any evil and at the same time incapable of seeing that it is evil. This is where the danger of diabolical misuse lurks, for it is this that can once and for all destroy human beings.
    Yet at this very point it becomes quite clear that only an act of liberation, not instruction, can overcome stupidity. Here we must come to terms with the fact that in most cases a genuine internal liberation becomes possible only when external liberation has preceded it. Until then we must abandon all attempts to convince the stupid person. This state of affairs explains why in such circumstances our attempts to know what “the people” really think are in vain and why, under these circumstances, this question is so irrelevant for the person who is thinking and acting responsibly. The word of the Bible that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom declares that the internal liberation of human beings to live the responsible life before God is the only genuine way to overcome stupidity.
    But these thoughts about stupidity also offer consolation in that they utterly forbid us to consider the majority of people to be stupid in every circumstance. It really will depend on whether those in power expect more from peoples’ stupidity than from their inner independence and wisdom.”

    1. Hi Galtz! I’m quite a fan of Bonhoeffer, and in your quote of him here, he is at his brilliant best. I think though that we must not confuse what he means by “stupid” and what I mean by “stupid”. The two are very different things.

      Bonhoeffer seems to me to mean by “stupid” what in my post I called “Willfully stupid”. And he seems to mean by “dull” what I called “stupid”. If that’s true, then he and I are in near complete agreement.

      Thank you so much for posting that! It almost made my day, the brilliance of his analysis.

      1. We currently are in the throes of having both kinds functioning and fully operational. I also understand the difference. To quote someone in recent memory, “Stupid is as stupid does.”
        We have a cloudy calculus. I’m fond of Bonhoeffer’s last sentence.

  5. Smiles Paul, I am reminded of Richard Dawkins Advice to a Woman Pondering whether
    or not she should have an Abortion with a Down’s Syndrome Child if that issue comes.

    “Abort it and try again. It would be immoral to bring it into the world if you have the choice.”

    Not understanding that just one smile can and will change An Entire or Half a Person’s Life.

    In other words, I agree with you that ‘Intellectual Pursuits’ are limited and Standard IQ is no
    Substitute or Measure for the Most Important Kinds of Intelligences and i emphasis Kind as
    Emotional Intelligences Develop Hand and Feet in Dance and Song of Physical Intelligences too that are integral to Emotional Regulation and Sensory Integration too as far as a Human Being even having the most Basic Intelligences for Survival of Being Comfortable in their own skins as these Emotional and Physical Intelligences have and always will be the most Important Kinds of Intelligences for any Social Animal that and who requires Cooperation from the Other Members of the Species to Even Survive and yes of course Reproduce at Base Level of Being.

    So, in short; Sitting Still, overall, is one of the Greatest Functional Disabilities and a rather
    New one in terms of fixated in front of Screens Most of the Day. The Effects of that
    are far ranging and Perhaps the best one of all for all of Nature is a Decrease in
    Reproduction in Raping the Resources of Home Earth, Taking so much more
    than Giving as Now the ‘Technologically Advanced’ Youth in Japan are no
    longer even interested in Having Sex in Growing Numbers for the
    Most Basic intelligence of all to even Survive at all as “Clean up
    Crews” in Japan are a growing business Scraping the
    Remains of Elders out of Apartments with
    no Real Social Connections at all yes
    A Greatest Functional Disability
    And ignorance is that of
    Emotional and Physical
    Intelligences now as Tool of Standard
    IQ or Human we come to be what as we feed ourselves as next.
    The Terminator Series of Movies and the Matrix Movies are still
    Outstanding Metaphors for this Increasing Reality of Cultures now.
    (So-called Advanced Human ‘IQ Cultures’; Ha; the Rest of Nature Dances Sings, Thanks)

  6. I have to agree. I always feel bad for stupid people when smart people talk shit on them. Being stupid is like being a color. It’s not a sin, it’s just a trait. Being smart isn’t all it’s cracked up to be anyway.

    1. Agreed! My second wife was brilliant — but maliciously abusive. She taught me better than anyone else had that intelligence is not the primary trait so many of us imagine it to be. In fact, it can be used to great evil ends. Kindness matters more to me now.

      Welcome to the blog! I hope to see you again.

I'd love to hear from you. Comments make my day. Stand and deliver your thoughts and feelings or die!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s