Politics, Community & Society > Applied Stupidity

Applied Stupidity

By GREG MAFFETT
Published: May 14, 2011

Per Dean Wormer of Animal House fame "Fat, Drunk and Stupid is no way to go through life."

I tend to disagree. When you get to the root of the problem, you can see that the triumvirate works nicely together.

If you are stupid, overeating is a very good thing to do. The health dis-benefits of overeating are well known. Joint problems, heart problems, immobility, etc. In nature the fat and lame can't keep up with the herd when there is danger. They get culled from the herd.

Therein lies the basic problem facing humanity. The fat and lame are not being culled from the herd. However, if they all decided to get falling down drunk and stay passed out on the floor, that would be a huge boon to society as a whole. Drunk is a perfectly good way for the fat and stupid to pass their days. I'm not talking tipsy, I'm talked hammered into a near coma. I think you will see that this is not as tongue in cheek as you might think. The quality of out lives and possibly the future of our race is at stake here. Drastic measures are appropriate.

The best piece of scholarly work I've seen on stupidity comes from the Italian economist Carlo Cipolla. His five basic laws of stupidity will be discussed herein. His first Law is this

ALWAYS AND INEVITABLY PEOPLE UNDERESTIMATE THE NUMBER OF STUPID PEOPLE IN CIRCULATION.

On the one hand, he may simply be referring a basic flaw in human nature, that of an optimistic disposition. From a psychological perspective, it is probably healthier to believe we live in a sane, rational world. The alternative quickly leads to dark thoughts of suicide. However, the reality is that stupidity is rampant. At best 1-2% of the people I see boarding commercial aircraft behave in a way that is intelligent, given the goal of cooperating to get the plane off on time. I see 70 year olds who can not lift even 20 pounds drag a 30 pound roller bag on board and then stand there puzzled when they can't stow the bag overhead, meanwhile blocking 100 people in line behind them. Similar events occur in traffic where people block me at intersections by failing to make a right on red. Basically what stupid people do is waste your time and cost you money in some way.

In fact that is a pretty good working definition of stupidity. People who cost you time or money while either wasting their own lives or costing themselves a loss of money or other goods. They are bad for you and themselves.

His Second Law

THE PROBABILITY THAT A PERSON IS STUPID IS INDEPENDENT OF ANY OTHER CHARACTERISTIC OF THE PERSON.

Here he is being somewhat charitable. As he presents it, stupidity cuts across all races and all strata of society. In that context, I agree. He looked at all workers at a university-Blue Collar, White Collar, Students, Administrators and Professors and he noted just as much stupidity at each of the Spectrum. As a Professor, I can't help but agree with him. Salary is no deliminator for stupidity.

But I do quibble a bit regarding the ability to ID stupid people on site. Going back to the idea that being fat is stupid, you should see a higher incidence of stupid among fat people. In my experience that has been the case. Also I've found that women who have "given up" on their personal appearance tend to be stupid. Given that women tend to be rewarded in society for appearance, choosing to show up on the streets or the classroom wearing the worst possible outfit is to me a very solid indicator that stupid is about to occur in the vicinity of that individual. I get maybe 1 student in 100 that matches that profile and then they inevitably display volumes of stupidity in the classroom.

The third law is the definition I alluded to earlier

A STUPID PERSON IS ONE WHO CAUSES LOSSES TO ANOTHER PERSON OR GROUP OF PERSONS WHILE AT THE SAME TIME CAUSING A LOSS OR AT BEST NO GAIN TO THEMSELVES.

Actually that is a great definition. He puts together a four quadrant chart where at the top right you have intelligent people who help themselves and society as a whole. At the bottom left you have stupid who hurt themselves and others. At the top left you get the "helpless" people, the martyrs who help others while hurting themselves. Finally at the lower right you get the bandits who steal from others to help themselves. Obviously we'd all like to live among the Intelligent folks, but even the helpless and the bandits are better than the Stupid. The Helpless and the Bandits are rational, you can defend against them knowing what they will do. The Stupid are inherently irrational and as such there is no defense.

One of my work examples are the students who come to class and focus on trivia. "Professor! The slide in the book has a comma and the slide on the screen has a period!!!!!!! What is it?" The answer is of course obvious from context to the rest of the class. But the stupid person can't parse the sentence and can't let it go. So now they waste everyone's time insisting on an answer that anyone with an ounce of understanding of English composition could figure out. After doing this enough times, their team and their classmates turn on them and they are ostracized, making it that much harder to get through a team based class.

If you can get a stupid person to move to any other quadrant, it is a huge leap. You can argue self interest and try to turn them into a bandit, or team interest and get them into martyr mode. Best case you get both, but that is a leap to get people to move this far, especially given Cipolla's premise that stupid isn't learned, it is given birth to.

His fourth law is that

NON STUPID PEOPLE ALWAYS UNDERESTIMATE THE DAMAGING POWER OF STUPID PEOPLE.

By and large, I think he is right. The majority of intelligent people just work around stupid people and avoid them as much as possible to minimize the effects. But they are out there.

In surfing, the term for stupid people is "kooks". They will surf their board right at your head while you are paddling out. They are a risk to everyone in the water.

Likewise my stupid co-teachers are brutal on everyone. Students hate being there, none of the other professors want to work with them and the administration has no use for them. But tenure being what it is, the organization promulgates stupidity every time it puts these people in front of a classroom, to the detriment of all.

While the majority of non-stupid people don't grasp the damaging power of the stupid, I'm fully aware. I live alone mostly on this account. Once I close my front door, I'm not going to have to deal with any stupid unless some stupid crashes a car or aircraft into my house.

His final law is then

A STUPID PERSON IS THE MOST DANGEROUS TYPE OF PERSON.

With the corollary that stupids are even more dangerous than bandits. I have to agree here also. Today there was a news report of Bulgarian who decapitated a Briton on an island in the Mediterranean. Had this Briton ran into a bandit with a knife, she would have been robbed and let go. Say she is out a 100 Euros and the bandit is ahead 100 and down the road somewhere. Instead she is dead and the stupid is in jail, where he will cost all of society to house and feed him.

Cipolla goes on to argue that if you track history, you see this trend. Upcoming societies have the highest proportion of intelligent people. The stupids stay constant, but over time the leaders are the bandits and the mass of the population turns into martyrs. From there, the collapse of society is the almost guaranteed as there is nothing to offset the power of the stupids.

Which brings me back to my original quote from Dean Wormer. I offer this as my personal challenge to those few Itelligent people out trying to stem the tide of stupidity. Get out there and start buying as many drinks as you can for fat guys and unkempt women.

Our future is in your hands.

Any Comments?


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