- Sivanth Adithya.N
Updated: May 11, 2022
I have a friend who likes driving very much. Unfortunately, he is very stupid too. And that is not a wholesome combination.
Generally, people avoid going in his car because of his stupidity and his careless driving. He has had many minor accidents and I've heard that when he hits the other vehicles on the streets because of his negligence, he usually scolds the one he hit and continues his journey in bliss.
Recently, in a very unfortunate situation, I had to travel with him in his car. Knowing his stupidity and ignorant carelessness, I surreptitiously told him to drive slowly saying that I wanted to see the beautiful landscape along the way. He laughed at me, saying that he knew that I'd seen this place countless times, certainly, not a puzzle to crack, it was the road in my neighbourhood! He deduced that I was too afraid of speed and patronisingly advised me to stop being a pusillanimous fellow.
As he drove, I sat in the front seat, flipping through the pages of Harari's book, 'Sapiens' (Latin: "wise"). Suddenly the car crashed into a wall at the turn of the road. I had just begun to angrily open my mouth to lambast him when he erroneously pointed his fingers at the wall saying, "as I was turning the car this damn wall stood there as if it was running towards the car, which is why the car crashed.” I was astonished at the extent of his foolishness. Mark Twain's words went through my head as I stared at him with my mouth open - "He was endowed with a stupidity which by the least little stretch would go around the globe four times and tie.”Then I slowly closed my mouth and looked down at the book in my lap and thought to myself, "Homo stupidicus" would have been a better title for the book.
Later this reminded me of the famous Ténéré Tree. It was regarded as the world's most isolated tree. It stood alone in the middle of the Sahara Desert as the only tree for around 250 miles until one day in 1973 when a drunk Libyan driver knocked it down by his truck. I bet if that driver was my friend, he would still have blamed the tree. Of course, stupidity is not limited to individuals like him. It reigns in groups. Our stupidity intensifies when we are in a group. As we are social animals, we don't want to feel odd or bizarre, so we just do what others are doing to stop being judged as stupid and this generally makes us even more stupid. As Nietzsche wisely wrote, "In individuals, insanity is rare; but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule".
Mao Zedong’s Four Pests campaign is a good illustration of the stupidity of the group. Mao, without consulting experts' opinions (Okay, I don't know whether he went ahead to consult experts, but I bet even if he had consulted, they, at that point, would have told him that his idea was genius) estimated that a sparrow could consume up to 4.5 kilograms of grain per year, and Mao reasoned that if the grain consumed by sparrows per year could be used to feed the people of China, poverty could be drastically reduced. So birds were declared as the public animals of capitalism, who ate the proletariat's hard work, and the government demanded every citizen exterminate sparrows. Thus the zealous Chinese crowd started their revolutionary war on sparrows. "No warrior shall be withdrawn until the battle is won," wrote the Peking People's Daily." All must join the battle ardently and courageously; we must persevere with the doggedness of revolutionaries." They succeeded. But with the sudden elimination of over one billion sparrows, the population of crop-eating vermins exploded and they destroyed crops which eventually became one of the factors that led to the 'Great Chinese Famine' (1959 to 1961), which resulted in an estimated death toll of 15 to 30 million people. Talk about central planning! Reminds me of the famous Mike Tyson line, "Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face", and karma has a really good track record of punching people who come up with such idiotic plans.
Talking about politicians and their stupidity, I think it would be disastrous for the people if their rulers are stupid. It's usually not that disastrous for the rulers themselves because being stupid is like being dead, it's only painful for others. In fact, sometimes stupidity is an advantage for politicians. As Napoleon Bonaparte once said, "In politics, stupidity is not a handicap". Usually, politicians don't lose elections for being too stupid but for being too intelligent. Sometimes the speeches and actions of certain politicians make me wonder how their hands find their mouths to feed themselves. The most obvious example is (surprise, surprise!) Mr Donald Trump who once said, "The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive."
John Marshall, inspired by the famous Occam's razor, came up with the 'Trump’s razor' which states that the stupidest explanation you can think of is always likeliest to be true, to understand Trump's actions when he was the president. This is applicable to most politicians, and frankly, to most humans. A remarkable skill of such politicians is that they possess the prodigious ability to make people stupid with their stupidity! The unfortunate thing about stupid people is that they are very confident. Confidence in a stupid person is like a fully loaded Uzi in the hands of a monkey. Think a minute about the Nazis. A guy got rejected from art school and he then later killed six million people, and there are still people who confidently think that that was a great thing! If Jackass is ever looking for new cast members, these people are perfect auditions! Bertrand Russell, in a 1933 essay about the rise of Nazis in Germany, "The Triumph of Stupidity" wrote — "The fundamental cause of the trouble is that in the modern world the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt."
Unfortunately, history is replete with such stupid people confidently believing in disastrous ideas.
Talking about history, I remember in my History class during a discussion about the stone age, a classmate seriously asked "did food exist back then?", to which another genius replied, "If they didn't have food, they must have led a very hard life". I mentally palmed my face twice upon hearing this. At another rare instance of the display of human genius, another friend earnestly asked the teacher, "Ey miss, was Buddha the president of China?" My disbelief literally broke the nib of my pen upon hearing this particular gem of a genius. This reminded me of a student who once asked me whether Hitler was the King of the Jews. Another creationist friend who hated the theory of Evolution once angrily asked me, "If evolution is true, why are there still monkeys around?", to which, keeping in mind the wisdom of Ricky Gervais, I instantly replied, "If God created us from dust, then why is there still dust around?". It's better not to waste your time answering such absurd questions and instead do something useful, in this case, reading proper books about the theory of Evolution. In fact, most of the time trying to answer such absurd questions is even more stupid than asking such questions.
As Immanuel Kant once rightly said, "If a question is absurd in itself and calls for an answer where none is required, it not only brings shame on the propounder of the question but may betray an incautious listener into absurd answe
rs, thus presenting, as the ancients said, the ludicrous spectacle of one man milking a he-goat and the other holding a sieve underneath". History is replete with stupid, but nevertheless, amusing events. The Great Emu War of Australia is a fine example. In 1932, Australia declared war against around 20,000 emus that were terrorizing the countryside and occupying farmlands which were intended to be given to WWI veterans. But in what went down in history as an instance of the most absurd comicality in military history, the Australian machine guns eventually surrendered before these large and
formidable birds. Remember Australia, remember! In another instance, in 1847, the Scottish surgeon Robert Liston, who is known as 'the fastest knife in the West End, performed an amputation in 25 seconds, operating so quickly that he accidentally amputated his assistant's fingers as well. Both the patient and the assistant later died of sepsis, and a spectator reportedly died of shock, making it the only known operation with a 300% mortality rate! Even though this was
stupid, Liston was no idiot. His rationale made great sense in a pre-anaesthetic era like that when the speed of the surgeon was essential to reduce pain and improve the chance of survival of the patients. But unfortunately, his obsession with speed led him to make many comical mistakes including one in which he cut off a patient's testicles along with the leg that was being amputated. I only hope he spent more than 25 seconds to accurately determine if he was about to take off the correct leg. ("Chop...oops! Wrong one. Cut & Slice, Shit! Wrong side. Sorry, sir.") I think the greatest instance of individual stupidity is this: The Scottish Viking Earl Sigurd Eysteinsson aka Sigurd the Mighty, challenged a local chieftain, Máel Brigte the Bucktoothed, to a battle with 40 men on each side. However, Sigurd cheated and showed up with 80. And thus defeated Máel Brigte's forces. Sigurd killed and decapitated Bucktoothed's head and then strapped it to his saddle for the ride home. During the ride, Buck-Toothed's teeth scraped Sigurd's leg. The wound became infected and he died because of it. So basically Sigurd got killed by the very person he decapitated days before!
Now one may ask what is the problem with stupidity. I think I shall answer it by quoting the wise lines from the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer's 1951 book 'Letters and Papers from Prison — “Stupidity is a more dangerous ene
my of the good than malice. One may protest against evil; it can be exposed and, if need be, prevented by the 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 defenceless. Neither protests nor the use of force accomplishes 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 and 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. Stupidity is worse than evil or insanity. One can make stupid people do evil and insane things. The most dangerous thing about stupid people is that you can't use their self-interest to predict their actions, and their actions usually serve no one’s interests. As there's no sensible reason for their actions, it's difficult, if not impossible, to foresee their actions and take adequate precautions. As Schiller famously wrote in 'The Maid of Orleans, — "Against stupidity the very gods themselves contend in vain". There's actually a lesser known, but brilliant rejoinder to this in Christopher Hitchens' 'God Is Not Great' — "The brilliant Schiller was wrong in his Joan of Arc when he said against stupidity the gods themselves contend in vain. It is actually by means of the gods that we make our stupidity and gulli
bility into something ineffable". I don't know whether God fights or begets stupidity, but stupidity surely resembles God a lot in that it defies any rules or reason.
While discussing human stupidity with a friend, I asked him whether he has lost faith in humanity, he replied, "losing faith in humanity is like losing a Lamborghini... I didn't even have it, to begin with". But I am not that pessimistic and sombre. There is as much entertainment as there is stupidity in history. Show me a stupid person, I'll show you entertainment. History is quite amusing and fascinating. Unfortunately, our education system is more concerned with memorization than with critical thinking. This is because our society is structured in such a way that it values answers more than questions. A society structured in such a way is bo
und to produce an education system which fails to teach critical thinking. This gives students the awful impression that education is a boring game of recalling meaningless, incomprehensible, and useless facts. This stifles their creativity, curiosity, and joy.
Questions demand enquiry, which is hard work. Answers just require memory, which is easy. As the system values answer more, those who just memorise and spout out easy answers are rewarded the most. Intelligent critical thinkers are discouraged and censured for asking hard questions. This is further worsened by social media which works like an echo chamber that reinforces people's beliefs by insulating them from criticisms and counterviews.
Still, I believe that humans are capable of astonishing brilliance. Giving your ears to Beethoven's music or your eyes to Viktor Frankl's writings is enough to give you hope in humanity.
In the seventeenth chapter of the Gospel of Luke, it is written, "The kingdom of God does not come with observation; nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you". We have the kingdom of God within us a
nd we have the means to realise it. We invented mathematics and investigated galaxies, we invented democracy and abolished slavery. The biggest obstacle to progress is our aversion to admitting our failings and follies. This is essentially what Socrates said. We won't progress until we learn to admit that we might be wrong. Our society should be structured to reduce the chance that we might be wrong, and for that, we must admit the importance of questioning. Socrates knew this and he questioned the follies of his society till his death. It's as important to learn how to formulate questions as to learn questions that were previously formulated. For this critical thinking is important. It'll open us to novel possibilities, into new ways of seeing the world. It enlarges our world and humbles us. The smaller your world, the more you overestimate your significance to it, and the more egoistic and stupid you become. To widen the world, we must learn to tolerate the dissatisfaction of unanswerable questions over the satisfaction of unquestionable answers. It is better to be a Socrates dissa
tisfied than a pig satisfied (no offence to pig activists, by the way, if there are any). The more the people learn that lesson, the quicker we'll reach the tipping point which can bring down a massive avalanche of radical transformation. So to conclude briefly — don't be stupid!