What Is Stupidity?

We frame stupidity as the lack of intelligence. It’s taken for granted that intelligence is a measurable quality and stupid is just the word for it’s short comings.

Like height is a quality and ‘short’ is a word that describes a lack of it. We don’t think of shortness as a thing someone can have.

But let’s imagine that stupidity is the quantifiable trait and it’s absence is what we refer to as intelligence.

Read that over again to let the idea really sink in.

How would we think differently about someone if we considered them to have a lot of stupidity, rather than thinking of them as missing some intelligence?

A long time ago I framed the difference between smart and dumb people as a response to confusion. Smart people tend to come to confusion with curiosity, with a certain level of enjoyment. Dumb people on the other hand have a fight-or-flight response when they get confused. Fight being when they attack whatever messenger brought this confusion into their life, like judging someone’s character for using words they don’t know instead of asking. And flight being when they retreat to something resembling certainty, latching onto to something that dismisses the confusion.

This leads to a lot of magical thinking and a lot of conspiratorial thinking.

Magical thinking is like a child wondering I have a dad, and my dad has a dad, and my dad’s dad has a dad, how far back can this go? And then buying the explanation when someone says there’s a god who is above the concept of biology and he’s the eternal father of everything. The answer doesn’t explore the question, doesn’t open up new questions, just tries to end them.

Magical thinking isn’t entirely religious either. When people who are all mystic woo woo spiritual say that the first step to knowing anything is admitting you know nothing and then want to dismiss any scientific claim they feel like what they’re doing is saying that world is so big and complex and human understanding is small, biased, and wrong that there’s just no way of knowing anything so they take comfort in not trying.

Relaying on the indestructibility of uncertainty, the certainty of uncertainty if you will, is just as much a way of coping out on difficult questions as saying god did it.

An area where you’ll see a surprising amount of magical thinking is technology. I had a depressingly circular conversation a while ago that started with the notion that once nanotechnology is perfect immortality is possible and my response was that no technology so far has ever become perfect so why would nanotech be any different to which the answer was always but when it is eventually perfect it then immortality. It became a tautology around the notion of perfection and inevitability that allowed the speaker to feel certain when no certainty was available.

If stupidity is to be treated as object then it would be a metaphoric roadblock, keeping people stationary on the path where intellectual growth comes from the notion that it is okay to observe forever, to always wonder. To take notions you consider certain and test them by building on them. And then not getting defensive if they fall out from under you and you have to start over.

 

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Posted in Pragmatism
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