It has been alleged that I like calling people stupid. 🙂
I actually don’t. It’s just an honest observation. Group think and mob mentality are well documented psychosocial states. Sometimes it manifests as a trend in the stock market other times as a guy being dragged to death behind a pick-up truck. Of course, stupidity comes in myriad forms.
I am not talking about people with legitimate cognitive disabilities, but rather people who fail (or refuse) to put adequate thought behind their words and deeds.
Like evil, stupidity is a result of behavior. It stems primarily from speaking or acting from ignorance. Ignorance is unawareness of–or disregard for–information, logic, reason, and common sense. So stupidity is nothing more than ignorance in action. It is learned and reversible.
And it is rampant in the United States of America.
This is mainly because we accept it. We allow people to espouse unfounded and illogical beliefs without challenge. We have a media that simply parrots talking points. We have an education system that is merely prep for standardized tests. We elect ignorant people to positions of power and allow them to use their ignorance to impact everyone.
So why do we do this?
As is often the case, it goes back to religion (I’m not trying to beat up on it, I’m just noting where things come from). Our nation has Christian roots. And what Christianity teaches us is that the sin that has doomed our entire race to suffering and strife is the acquisition of knowledge. Not envy, or wrath, or greed, not murder or rape, but knowledge. I’ve considered the Adam and Eve story allegorical for as long as I can remember. A disappointingly large number of people take it as literal. Either way, it’s unsurprising that after inculcating, even beating, this story into millions and millions of kids over the course of centuries, we have learned to distrust knowledge.
This distrust is nothing more than willful ignorance.
Education, discussion, and exposure to new people and experiences can do away with involuntary ignorance. Hey, I didn’t know cause I didn’t know. But with willful ignorance, commonly expressed as, “That’s just what I believe,” this baseless, line-in-the-sand positioning becomes a bulwark against enlightenment. It is often considered principled, even noble, to hold firm to one’s beliefs regardless of their validity. Unfortunately, it’s used to hurt people for “honorable” reasons.
But it is not noble or honorable. It’s hubris. It’s dangerous. And it’s antithetical to progress.
Essentially one is saying, I am going to keep believing in something even though I have no reason to believe it other than I want to. At issue in these instances actually isn’t the belief itself but rather the feeling of safety, security, comfort and stability one gets from believing it. Ignorance really is bliss.
This is common refuge for religious people. To some degree I understand the obstinance. Faith deals with ideas that are often reassuring, unquantifiable, and–most importantly–unfalsifiable. It feels good to believe it and it can’t be disproved, so there’s little motivation to stop believing it. Plus, science doesn’t have any better answers in many cases.
While this type of reasoning is actually unsound, there is a pure logic to it that appeases common sense…until you actually think about it. Pleasant fiction is still fiction.
The troubled waters really begin when this type of thinking spills over into other aspects of life, especially legislation.
When stupidity dictates policy you get Stand Your Ground and Sharia Law bans. You get our crumbling education system. You get bigotry, tribalism, and antipathy.
You also get the Texas state GOP rejecting higher thinking skills, including critical thinking, on their official party platform. Or you get the Louisiana lawmakers who passed a school voucher program allowing people to send their kids to Christian schools pulling their support for the program after people started using those same public funds to send their kids to Muslim schools. It’s how you get people scoffing at global warming every time it snows or refuting radiometric dating without an iota of expertise.
Of course, these are right-wing issues.
On the left, fear of vaccines and other pharmaceutical drugs are built largely on conjecture, unfounded claims, and circumstantial evidence. Any charlatan with an alphabet soup after their name can write a book and present it to the masses as a breakthrough. The lay person lacks the acumen to challenge it. But does that book hold up to the scrutiny of other experts in their field? The only thing these miracle herbalists and holistic healers need to do is demonstrate–to other experts in the field–that their methods get consistent results–that anyone who follows their processes can duplicate. That is the standard for the scientific method.
Most of the people I’ve had discussions with could not articulate that standard of proof. We haven’t been taught to think in those terms. We believe what we want to believe.
So we do need better education. But we also need to let go of our own arrogance. We need to stop presuming that we’re right all the time. We need to stop thinking that we know and start proving that we know. We’ve got to stop being scared of challenging our beliefs.
I lean towards skepticism because it makes the fewest presumptions. It’s mantra is simply that I will believe whatever there is sufficient reason to believe.
It’s a renunciation of absolutes and it’s far from sexy. For some, it may seem like a cold proposition (of course, that is once again basing one’s beliefs on feelings rather than facts). Admittedly, the argument that there’s more to life than what you can measure and calculate has merit. But in terms of what rules we make to live by, we should go by a reality that we can mutually demonstrate. The standards should rely on independently verifiable evidence.
This means getting past life by je ne sais quoi, and into the realm of the provable, quantifiable, and falsifiable.
That means getting past stupidity, which means letting go of our ignorance, which begins by admitting that we are ignorant.
I know, it doesn’t feel good, but it gets better (I hope! :o).
And it’s important to remember that the problem is not the lack of knowledge but rather acting on the lack of knowledge.
Changing the culture is a generational thing. But it’s possible. And it starts with each of us.