Am I Stupid?
It’s popular these days to proclaim one’s snarky dislike of “stupid people”. You’ve probably seen the posts on Facebook. I have several friends who regularly post comments about how much they hate stupid people. The problem, I think, is that they don’t really mean “stupid” (adj. ignorant, mentally stunted, unable to learn new things). What they really mean, in this context, is people who do/believe things differently than they do. For example (to make up something at random): “Today my boss put ketchup on his eggs. I think ketchup on eggs is disgusting. Boy is my boss stupid. I hate stupid people.” Another example: “Such-and-such political candidate stands for such-and-such issue. I am against that issue, therefore the candidate is stupid. I hate stupid people, and the stupid people who vote for them.”
Implicit in this attitude is the unstated (and amusingly, preposterously arrogant) implication that none of my beliefs/opinions/predilections are stupid, but all opposing beliefs/opinions/predilections are, simply because they are different than mine. In other words, the arbiter of validity has ceased to be any objective, external measurement. If it feels right to me, then it is good and smart. If anyone disagrees, then they are obviously stupid, and I hate them.
This, methinks, is stupid. In the literal sense.
I am willing to go one further. I don’t hate stupid people. I actually like stupid people, especially when they recognize they’re own stupidity. Children, for instance, are sort of stupid. I tell my kids this all the time. Stupid is not (as the schools tell them) a bad word. It is a state of ignorance based on lack of experience. When another child tells my son that kissing girls is gross (my son quite sensibly does not agree) I remind him that such a statement can be dismissed because it is demonstrably stupid– it is an example of the thoughtless group-think spawned by a community of shared ignorance. We don’t call other kids stupid (of course) but we do recognize that a lot of what they say is, perfectly understandably (and sometimes amusingly), pretty stupid.
The beauty of stupidity in children, however, is that it is loosely held, and temporary. When a child is confronted with facts that defy their group-think, they absorb the new facts without a ripple. Being wrong does not challenge their self worth (despite what the progressive thinkers of the educational establishment apparently think). Little kids know, by virtue of a certain enviable childlike lucidity, that they are functionally ignorant. That’s why they ask so damn many questions. Every moment of their life is an expression of “I don’t know anything, but I want to, so tell me some stuff.”
Most adults don’t do that. They are ashamed to acknowledge what they don’t know. This is forgivable. What is not forgivable (in my never-to-be-humble opinion) is the stubborn defense of their own ignorance. This, methinks, is where stupidity becomes, connotatively, stupid. Most adults, I think, don’t want to continue to expand their knowledge and philosophies. They insulate themselves with friends and media that bolster their current opinions, and defend the bulwarks of those opinions with the insistence that those who disagree can be dismissed as fools.
I do this myself, I admit. I am trying to make myself more aware of it, though. I am slowly realizing that people can hold entirely different opinions than me and still be smart and thoughtful. That doesn’t mean that they are right (necessarily), but it does mean that I cannot afford to dismiss their arguments out-of-hand as stupid.
Let’s take the Green Movement, for instance. I have opinions about it. I have come to believe that there is far less evidence in support of man-made global warming (or “climate change”, as it now prefers to be called) than there is for it. I won’t go into specifics. The point is this: I have come to this opinion because I have read books by intelligent scientists and thinkers on both sides of the issue. This, one would think, gives me a balanced perspective from which to make an informed decision. After all, who would suggest that a fair murder trial should only include the testimony of the prosecution? And yet, in terms of the “intelligent” debate about climate change, it is considered foolish and anti-scientific to even consider the opposing position. Those who argue the most vocally in support of drastic regulatory changes to “save the planet” would consider it utterly anathema even to briefly consider the arguments against their position, and regularly dismiss as “stupid science haters” those who do.
That is not science, it is ideology. And as any true scientist will tell you, ideology not only has no place in science, it is utterly counter-productive to it.
This is true in nearly every area of study and experience. How many lifelong conservatives are willing to read the works of liberal thinkers in order to sharpen and/or challenge their own beliefs? How many atheists regularly subject their ideology to the works of renowned religious thinkers (and by that I do not mean Rick Warren or Joel Osteen)? When was the last time that you (or I) listened with complete intellectual honesty to someone whose core beliefs were utterly contrary to our own?
I haven’t done it anywhere near enough. But I plan to. I don’t want to cling to beliefs and opinions stubbornly, stupidly, just because I have decided that they define me. I don’t want to be stupid. I want to be willing to consider the all-too-real possibility that I could be wrong.
After all, despite what modern culture teaches us, none of us can possibly be right about everything. By definition, we are all stupid in some respects.
So I’d love to hear from you: where might you possibly be stupid? What belief that you hold dear might be completely wrong? What opinion might be the one that you someday find out was totally off-the-mark? It’s a worthwhile question, isn’t it?
I’ll go first. I might be wrong about climate change. I don’t know everything about it. I could be wrong about my belief in what absolute truth is (although I do reject the popular idea that there cannot be such a thing as absolute truth). My religious beliefs, in all their various shades and tones, may be incorrect. After all, belief isn’t certainty– it can’t be, otherwise it isn’t belief at all but demonstrable fact, and facts, in more areas than we are wont to admit, are very few and far between. I could be mistaken about human nature (generally bent and destructive), my political leanings (conservative), modern country music (fit only for farm animals and lobotomy patients), and sushi (like Kim Kardashian, popular for being popular).
I don’t think I am wrong about any of those things, of course, but I am willing to consider it, and considering it means, first and foremost, not dismissing as stupid those who think differently than me about them. It’s a hard thing to do, especially since the media makes it very cool to dismiss those of certain ideologies as abject idiots (imagine wearing a Sarah Palin tee shirt to your next social function) but I submit that widespread cultural stupidity is still stupidity, even if it is cool, easy, and comfortable.
Here’s a challenge to prove your willingness to be wrong. I’ll steal it from the movie “Fight Club”. This week, go out and start an argument. Pick any topic you feel strongly about– politics, climate change, religion, music, anything. Start an argument with someone who disagrees with you completely. And lose. Listen to their opinion, absorb it, and let them walk away thinking they’ve won.
If you (or I) can do that, then maybe, just maybe, we are on our way to not being stupid.
And if you do it, PLEASE tell me (and the rest of my readers) about it. Comments below. Don’t disappoint us. Onward.