I love history for a variety of reasons. One of those that I rarely discuss is that so many of the accounts of human history reveals such vast amounts of stupidity. I do my best to keep contempt and misanthropy at bay when I stumble across yet another historical blunder while investigating some event or important person.
Long ago, I also figured out that the majority of the stories on the daily newscasts are accounts of stupidity in some form or another. Again, I find myself actively working to keep contempt for humanity at bay and to try exercising compassion for the victims and perpetrators of stupidity.
I’ve also noticed that history and news accounts are filled with stories about people who were simply ignorant. Can stupidity be equated with ignorance? There is a fuzzy border between the two concepts.
An example of ignorance could be when an employee unknowingly handles a chemical liquid without realizing the chemical is highly toxic and carcinogenic. Stupidity happens when the employee finds out that the liquid is extremely dangerous, but he continues to handle it without the precautions of wearing protective gear. Willful ignorance is displayed when the employee’s supervisor knows about the hazards of the material, but says nothing to her employees so she can save money by not supplying protective gear. When these factors combine in any way, unpleasant, unfortunate events become very likely.
Ignorance can be easily overcome by becoming educated. I’m not so sure about stupidity. Ignorance is often compared to darkness, and knowledge is frequently compared to light. If one’s darkness is illuminated and knowledge results, yet the previous ignorant behavior continues, stupidity results.
Some psychologists have also found that there are those among us who consistantly choose to act in maladaptive ways. We consciously know that we act in our own and society’s worst interests. Often it is because we choose to not adapt to new information and changing circumstances around us.
“Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”–Martin Luther King, Jr.
The misogynist displays this characteristic when he finds out that women are every bit as capable of learning and acting as are men. He continues to denigrate women and may even patronize or insult women to their faces. This is also seen in regards to the social problems regarding relations between majority factions and minority groups. We might label this thinking and behavior as willful ignorance or even stupidity.
“The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt.”–Bertrand Russell
Isn’t it refreshing to come across stupid people? Really? Don’t we derive a sense of superiority and Schadenfreude about such encounters? Don’t we secretly or not so secretly just love it when somebody goofs up and appears to be so stupid?
“It is so pleasant to come across people more stupid than ourselves. We love them at once for being so.”–Jerome K. Jerome
Stupidity might often be amusing and merely personal, but when our leaders and pundits goof, we often get some huge, stupid problems.
“If Stupidity got us into this mess, then why can’t it get us out?”–Will Rogers
Nothing good comes from involving ourselves in quarrels, disputes, and wars. But we willfully ignore our past mistakes and find almost any excuse to insult, maim, and kill one another. This is where stupidity is no longer, cute, amusing nor pretends to be virtuous.
So many of our disagreements happen because of our willful stupidity. Many of us do not want to understand nor feel empathy with others. We believe and fear that understanding might cause guilt, anxiety, and endanger an existing belief or strong opinion. We’re correct in that belief. People who confront their cherished views of the world and of people who are different from them do not wish to extinguish their beliefs. It’s easier to advocate that other people must change. But to admit to the need to change oneself and then to actually change one’s own words and actions is unsettling and difficult.
That’s why people condemn those who change their points of view and opinions. The wise ones are accused of wafflling and losing faith. Seeing stupidity for what it is and having the courage to change one’s mind is seen as heresy by most “true believers”. It’s a risky proposition to possibly lose the esteem of colleagues, friends, family or society. It’s easier, and more socially acceptable to just maintain the same course.
That’s why we see so little progress in the abolition of the world’s evils. Prejudice of all sorts can be explained and validated by beliefs and belief systems. The act of harming people and our environment can be similarly rationalized. It all seems to be so much easier.
Stupidity is more humorous, acceptable, headstrong, stubborn, righteous, and comforting than wisdom. That’s why stupidity is socially acceptable. That’s why I like this quotation from Benjamin Franklin, “We are all born ignorant, but one must work hard to remain stupid.”
History shows solid proof of stupidity.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes Heraclitus of Ephesus, “Stupidity is better kept a secret than displayed.”