My wife and I don’t let our children use the word ‘stupid.’ It’s rude, but it also suggests someone who is mentally handicapped, someone who can’t learn.
I want to approach that differently here. Consider that we tend to use the words ‘stupid’ and ‘ignorant’ as synonyms. I think that conflation is unfortunate; if you think about it, ignorance means ‘I don’t know.’ But that’s a human constant; our ignorance will always be infinite, and one of the goals of this blog is to get people to keep that in mind.
I want to suggest that stupidity, on the other hand, means ‘I don’t know, and I don’t want to know.’ For much of my life, I have tried to understand how it is that we have these powerful brains with great capacity for logic, which we then refuse to use. Or even worse, how is it that we live in these illusions, where our illogic feels absolutely logical, and where we insist that anyone who suggests anything else is absolutely illogical? Our stupidity can be so strong that we will deny the evidence in front us and maintain our illogic, not only insisting what we see is not there, but also claim that anyone who say it is there, is stupid.
That, in fact, is one of the diagnostics of someone who is behaving stupidly: they say others are stupid. And yes, I am well aware I have put myself in front of my own firing squad.
First, that’s because all of us are stupid at some times, and on some topics. I have mentioned the stupidity of anger, and we can all remember angry words or actions that seemed perfectly logical at the time, but which were obviously wrong, sometimes horribly so, from a calmer perspective.
We also suffer from religion and politics, which as I have pointed out can both be ‘religions‘ – a word which means ‘to be tied up’ – and so religions are positions to which we are tied, and that we will not examine. Here I extend that, pointing out that they are positions to which we have tied ourselves; we could examine them, we have the mind and the liberty to do so, but we refuse.
Of course, religion and politics don’t have to be religions, they don’t have to be stupidity. It’s just when they are not, when they are manifested in more reasonable ways, we call them faith, and statesmanship/citizenship. In those approaches we have belief, not knowledge; we make decisions, but we acknowledge our uncertainty.
I noted that it is stupidity to call someone stupid. If I can split hairs, I’m not trying to condemn the person, nor the conclusion, but the mindset. I’m trying to get us all to recognize the flaws in our thinking, and to recognize the symptoms of our own stupidity. As they say in Alcoholics Anonymous, ‘Admitting you have a problem is the first step to recovery.’
But here the problem grows, because we can be stupid about our stupidity: We don’t want to know that we’re stupid. And so stupidity starts to bleed over into insanity. We deny reality in favor of some internal assumptions and conclusions about the world around us, and reject anyone who disagrees. We don’t want to admit we have a problem.
I want to offer a couple of approaches for those of us who are not too far gone. People will insist they know something, that they are absolutely sure of it, be it politics (left vs right), economics (capitalism vs communism), government (democracy vs autocracy), or religion (mine vs yours); and many other labels besides. My questions for now are straight-forward:
- Have you ever questioned your knowledge, and considered that it may not be true?
- If not, how can you be sure it is correct, or that it is your own idea?
- How many times do you need to question your beliefs to be absolutely sure they are correct?
I believe the answer to the last is ‘Never.’ So if we seriously consider these questions, I think the open-minded person will move toward something I have been proposing here: we should learn to live with doubt. So we should learn to be faithful, not religious. We should be curious, not dogmatic.
Which means we need to remain open-minded. So we see that there are circular arguments on both sides. We can be stupid about our stupidity.
Or we can be open-minded about open-mindedness.
‘Hear Nothing’ courtesy of Wikimedia.