Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Stupidity: The Documentary

There are only two things which are infinite: the Universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former. - Albert Einstein

I stumbled upon this documentary recently and,despite all the negative reviews, I watched it anyway. I'm glad that I did. The movie has a lot of flaws, it spends too much time being what it is railing against. But the interviews with people like Bill Maher and Noam Chomsky make it a worthwhile use of time.

For a long time I've suspected that I do not have a sense of humor. I just don't find dumb to be funny. There are so many movies around that are just utterly ridiculous that I started suspecting there was something wrong with me --- that my sense of humor is seriously flawed. But I realized that I do laugh at a lot of things, just not stupid stuff. Now I know why.

Stupidity, according to the documentary, is “in”. People give a lot of justifications for that and those alone are fascinating. People say they act stupid because they don't want other people to think they are “too smart” or “too arrogant”. Leaving aside the codependence evidenced by these comments it is difficult to imagine that taking pride in being intelligent or educated would be perceived as a negative. Another oft-repeated comment was that they just don't want to have to think, they want to be entertained and have fun and that anything that challenges the mind is too much work.

There is a fair amount of time spent in the film exploring the origins of words like “idiot”, “moron”, “imbecile”, etc. Because I studied psychology back in the days when those were not obsolete terms I was aware of their origins in the classification of mental retardation --- a long, long time ago. But the filmmakers were quick to point out that when we talk about stupidity today, we re not talking about those people who are genuinely intellectually challenged. It would be cruel and unfair to call a person with limited intellectual capacities stupid.

Rather, the new definition of stupid applies to people who act stupid. People who are not intellectually limited, who may be educated, who certainly have the ability to function intelligently but make the choice to act stupid. In other words, if you act stupid, you are stupid. You are also probably popular --- at least with other stupid people.

The question is, why? One of the most interesting observations comes from environmentalist David Suzuki. He says that we need look no further than the way many people talk about calls to protect the environment and about global warming. Acting conservatively and environmentally should be a natural, responsible choice. Whether global warming is a real threat or not, nothing is to be lost by living an environmentally-conscious life and much is to be gained. Yet many people flaunt their disregard for those ideas in both their talk and practices. Why?

Suzuki says that it is a strange quirk of human psychology that we tend to rebel hardest against what we fear most. The more threatened we feel by something, the more we can tend to behave in rebellion to it. It is denial, plain and simple. Makes sense to me.

I have been reading Bruce Fein's Constitutional Peril in which he builds a frightening case for how, through foolishness and neglect, Americans are allowing the government (this was written during the previous administration) to erode the very principles on which our country is founded. In it he makes the observation that many people will believe and defend a lie rather than consider the fact that those in charge may be liars. The idea that a leader is a bad guy is something so scary to many people that they can't even let themselves consider its possibility.

We are so mired in sensationalism. Over the last couple of days I have been flabbergasted by the news coverage of Michael Jackson's death. All I have to say bout that is, gee, too bad. But, people, listen: WE ARE GETTING OUT OF IRAQ!!!! After six deplorable years, we are getting out --- who cares about a dead pop star?

Well, obviously, I'm stupid for asking that question.

I read the other day that our country spent $100 million dollars to investigate President Clinton's blow job, and only $14 million to investigate how a small group of uneducated terrorists managed to hijack 4 airplanes, destroy billions of dollars worth of property and kill 3000 people. That's how our priorities work. Stupidity has become our national mindset. How's that for stupid?

Thanks for reading.


  1. Stupidity, especially stupidity worn as some kind of badge of honor, infuriates me.

    I believe everything is cyclical, and I hope and pray that the last few years saw the peak of the cycle of embracing stupidity as a virtue and that maybe we're headed back toward embracing intelligence with the same fervor. It won't happen overnight, sadly.

  2. Actually, the quote should more accurately say..."The stupid will always be with us..."

  3. Oh, I agree. As long as the media promotes stupid entertainment, people will mimic it. Remember what our mothers said, "Monkey see, monkey do."


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