From Hobson's Choice
Stupidity is a form of madness: it occurs when a person allows intellectual resources to lie fallow. In order to be stupid, one has to know better. Forgetfulness, ignorance, or uncertainty are all components of bad decisions, but they aren't stupidity, and their consequences are normally far less destructive. Stupidity and its motivations are crucial to understanding the tragic dimension of human existence. Stupidity is also a basic component of evil.
Behaviorist Explanations of Stupidity
In terms of social behavior, it makes sense that stupid behavior might evolve out of successive games of "Chicken (game)." Like the callow motorist racing towards his antagonist, he has it in his interests to convince the other that he's insane; that death has no meaning to him, or perhaps that swerving is impossible. This might include such bold tactics as removing the steering wheel and dangling it out of the window
As an individual, it is very hard to appear to be something you are not; it is nearly always easier to become the thing itself. In groups, it is ultimately impossible. Thomas Friedman, for example, cannot tell his readers, "My friends, the entire human race is opposed to this invasion of Iraq because it will seek to set up the US government as a unilateral arbiter of world power; and so my strategy will be to set up and isolate the most vocal foreign government as uniquely perverse. I will pretend that it is France that is somehow disrupting our efforts, not the six billion humans who live neither in the USA nor Iraq..." If he did, Dominque de Villepin (the Foreign Minister of France) would just laugh at everything he said. No, Friedman and his fellow advocates of imperialism must pretend they really believe this, and cultivate a climate of mass hysteria—group stupidity, in fact, in which absurd conclusions and ridiculous non-facts dominate the discourse.
The will to conquer and dominate other nations requires not just a proclivity to evil; it requires a refusal to accept the facts. Empires collapse, and any empire we create will collapse too. Even if we aren't exposed to retaliation, as the ancient Athenians were for their empire, we still will have to face cosmic economic and political dislocation. Spain was never invaded by hordes of angry Incas or Aztecs; but 350 years after the gold stopped flowing from the New World, Spain was—institutionally—a basket case. If we conquer the Persian Gulf to harvest its oil and extort rents from the human race for it, we will not be able to stand forever against international resentment. And even during the period of history when we can, the vast majority of Usonians will never benefit from these rents. They will remain in the hands of the victorious class.
Stupidity is closely tied to evil. Evil behavior is that which destroys the basis for life, which destroys comity within and amongst communities, fellowship between friends, safety and health, the cleanliness of our air and our water, the integrity of our institutions—or, of course, which murders and extorts. An individual who plunders and sacks in a wild land may come out ahead; a dictator with a hierarchy of terror and bribery can often last until he dies in his bed, or (with some petty embarrassment) flees to opulent exile in Paraguay. But when a republic indulges in this behavior, stupidity is in the air. For humans to collaborate in evil is a truly bizarre activity; it requires a stupendous amount of faith in the nonexistent.
Books on Stupidity
- Desiderius Erasmus, In Praise of Folly, Yale University Press; 2nd edition (2003)
- Edmund Bergler, Md, The Talent for Stupidity: The Psychology of the Bungler, the Incompetent and the Ineffectual], International Universities Press (1998)
- Matthijs Van Boxsel, Arnold Pomerans (Translator), Erica Pomerans (Translator), The Encyclopedia of Stupidity, Reaktion Books; New Ed edition (2004)
- Avital Ronell, Stupidity, University of Illinois Press (2002)
James R MacLean (03:48, 15 October 2007 (PDT))