For a large part of my life, I believed that we always have this good versus evil battle. Until I realized that it isn't that simple. Besides good and evil, there is another category. And it is significantly big. So my research led to an article by Carlo Cipolla. In fact, my earlier article was based on that. I also came across the work of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was a German theologian. And based on his theory and other people's work, I have come up with three more laws of stupidity.
One of the quotes of Bonhoeffer, in particular, caught my attention. "Stupidity is a more dangerous enemy of the good than evil." You see, with stupidity, or stupid people for that matter, protesting or reasoning doesn't really work. This is mainly because of their strong prejudice. They simply disbelieve any facts or reasoning we provide. In most cases, they either simply deny the arguments. And if they can't, then they call them trivial exceptions.
And therefore, we can reasonably deduce the sixth law of stupidity...
Stupid people cannot be persuaded with due reasoning or protesting.
Interestingly, Bonhoeffer called stupidity a defect. And he says that people who spend more time in solitude do not manifest this defect frequently compared to those who are often inclined or almost condemned to sociability. This implies that stupidity is perhaps less of a psychological problem and more of a sociological one.
It is surely not a congenital defect. People are often made stupid under certain circumstances. Maybe they allow this to happen to themselves. It is a group phenomenon.
I sincerely believe that if we want to get the better of anything, we must understand its nature. So, if we want to get the better of stupidity, we must seek to understand its nature. And the nature of stupidity has its roots deep in the subconscious. It is largely driven by the fundamental mechanics of our experience.
We are social animals. And this very sociability is also at the base of stupidity. Many heuristics evolved over time for us to be able to navigate the world effectively. One of those heuristics is following the herd. It is arguably the most prominent one, and mostly it does make sense. If the information is lacking, doing what others are doing is probably the best bet. But this doesn't work all the time. In fact, herd behaviour is among the pre-eminent causes of stupidity.
An interesting experiment was done by psychologist Solomon Asch that highlights this human folly. It shows how social pressure can sway a person to adopt positions that go against all the logic.
In the 12 experiments on conformity he conducted, around 75% of the participants conformed to the majority view at least once. It means 75% of the people doing the study were pushed to say an answer which was clearly wrong. And it happened because of peer pressure. Unfortunately, this is how stupidity allows evil to rise up.
But why did the participants conform so easily? When they were interviewed after the experiment, most of them said they did not really believe their conforming answers. And yet they chose to go along with the group for fear of being ridiculed. Some said they really did believe the group's answers were correct.
The point is, it is apparent that people conform for two main reasons. Firstly, because they do want to fit in with the group. And secondly, it is because they do believe that the group is better informed than they are.
And so, here comes the seventh law of stupidity...
Stupidity often arises from the lack of independent thinking, following the herd blindly, or both.
Bonhoeffer was known for his staunch resistance to the Nazi dictatorship, including vocal opposition to Hitler. So, it doesn't surprise me as he says that the power of the one needs the stupidity of many others. So, it is not that intellect suddenly fails. But people are deprived of inner independence, so they give up autonomous positions under the overwhelming impact.
The stupid person is often stubborn. Still, it should not blind us to the fact that the person is not independently thinking anymore.
That helps me draw the eighth law of stupidity...
Stupidity thrives under dictatorship, authoritarian or totalitarian leaderships.
If you have ever interacted or even tried to have a constructive debate with a stupid person, you would know how difficult that conversation can be. It almost feels like we are not talking to the person at all. The person as we know it. It feels like we are talking to a PR person, relationship officer or advertiser of someone else. We always feel that we are dealing with slogans, signs, buzzwords, and not with the real person. As if they are under the spell of someone or something.
Bonhoeffer says that stupid people who are being used like that often-become mindless tools. They become capable of any evil, and at the same time, they become incapable of seeing that it is evil.
The biggest problem of our world today is not artificial intelligence but natural stupidity!
You see the real problem; the biggest problem of our world today is not artificial intelligence but natural stupidity. Our problem is that on one side, we have intelligent people, who are full of doubts, and on the other, we have stupid people full of confidence.
Stupidity is not an intellectual failing, it's a moral failing. And it happens because we believe only in feelings and not in facts or truthfulness. This is similar to someone going for taste over the nutritional value of their food.
Smart people, learn from everything and everyone. Average people learn from their experiences, but stupids already have all the answers. - Socrates
There are so many people I see every day who cannot make a coherent argument. It is one of the painful signs of our dumbed-down mass-producing education system. So instead, they vent emotions. They question others' motives. They make assertions. They use buzzwords and jargon. Anything and everything except reason.
When we see and hear all this, we wonder if there is any antidote? If there is any way to stop this from happening?
Bonhoeffer said, and I certainly agree that action does not spring from thought but from a readiness for responsibility. The ultimate test of a moral society is the kind of world that it leaves to its children.
The ability to think independently is a special and precious competency. And I strongly believe that the future belongs to those who dare to think differently and question the defaults. To those who learn how to solve problems in new ways. Who are comfortable figuring things out and dealing with failure. To those who generalize and then specialize. Who analyze and then synthesize. And to those who master the art of thinking, rethinking, and unlearning.
Stupidity has become a great pandemic where intellect dies every day.
So the question now is, "How are we going to fight this pandemic?"