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Sat Aug 30 18:17:31 SAST 2014

Is the existence of stupid people a comforting myth?

Bruce Gorton | 31 January, 2013 10:07
A brain. File photo.
Image by: Shaun Uthum

Throughout my working life I have worked with people I disagree with, people who I think are wrong on some issues and people who have stubbornly asserted things which have been corrected before.

Yet I have never worked with someone dumber than myself. Even people who have been dead wrong have had something where they are far more intelligent than me.

And that is something that I spent a long time coming to grips with, the fact that people cannot be relied upon even to be wrong.

The idea of a person who is just stupid, who has nothing worthwhile to say or learn from is one of those myths that provides dubious comfort.

We prefer to think of government as being ineffectual rather than driven by different goals to our own – such that we will think of corrupt officials as being incompetent rather than very competent at lining their own pockets.

We tend to think of people who disagree with us as being stupid, rather than considering that they have different information to us and thus reach different conclusions.

We think of evil people in history as being somehow different to ourselves, somehow emotionally deficient without considering what they were saying, and learning to avoid falling into the same traps.

Just like there is no such thing as one kind of intelligence, there is no such thing as one kind of stupid, and all kinds of stupid are present in all people in varying levels, including me.

I think that recognising that has helped me, and certainly made my life a whole lot more and a whole lot less frustrating. Because I see most people as being better than me in some ways, when they do evil things I think, “But you are better than that.”

Because I am no better than them, I also think, “but I am not”, and thus strive to not fall into the same traps. It is maybe an insight which we could do with in a lot of our discourse, a way in which hypocrisy can be constructive.

We preach better than we are because we strive to be better than we are, and while we don’t quite hit as high as we would like, we aren’t quite so low either.

And it means I always have hope for improvement in others, because stupid is ineducable, it cannot be improved. I can see the progress people make, the improvements that I could never think of, and realise that what I once considered stupid fairly often turns out to be brilliant.

Maybe the idea of stupid people is one of those comforting myths we tell ourselves more often than not, in order to put ourselves above somebody else and thus not have to listen to what they have to say, and thus not have to deal with the risk they may actually be right.

It is comfortable to simply believe other people to be stupid, but perhaps the concept of stupid people is in fact, the stupidest idea of them all.

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Sat Aug 30 18:17:31 SAST 2014 ::