Stupidity is a choice.
Not entirely, perhaps. Broad generalizations are generally stupid. (There are two kinds of people in the world. Those who believe stupid things like “there are two kinds of people in the world” and those who understand the world is complicated and haunted.) But, generally, stupidity is like happiness–something most of us can achieve or resist.
My source on this is general experience. I have spent my life studying people, investigating them, asking them questions. Most of them are average, no matter what their station in life. All of them are special too, in some ways. Some of them have remarkable talents. Some of them can jump high or run fast. Some can produce beautiful tones with their breath and/or their hands. Some of them have reservoirs of patience and can lean into the task at hand with great powers of concentration.
That is why human beings are fascinating. We are all alike, and all different. Most of us can do something that the rest find surprising. (I do not know if this makes us unique among other species, because I haven’t studied other species as closely as I have our own, but to me it looks like all squirrels possess about the same level of athleticism, and while it is apparent that some dogs are smarter than others, none of them seem to amaze–or even very much impress–other dogs.)
Yet, aside from their special abilities, which a lot of them will tell you are just things they learned to do, these people are pretty much like other people. I’ve never met Michael Jordan, but I bet if you knew him you’d probably think of him a lot differently than those of us who only know him through his basketball exploits and brand representations. You would know the ordinary Mike, and you would understand that he, like the rest of us, has to make an active choice between happiness and unhappiness, between being stupid and being engaged with the wider world as it presents itself to our limited senses.
Even smart people are capable of embracing stupidity, and most of us are stupid in some ways. I might even argue that it’s healthy to be a little stupid about things that don’t matter, things like sports and pop culture and muscle cars and Scotch. Our poor brains work so hard and illuminate so little that it can be a relief and a pleasure to give in to the mystery. Like the guy says, you gotta have faith.
Still, you have to have faith in the right things. It’s dangerous to have faith in politicians and salespeople, though we need politicians and salespeople. It’s dangerous to have faith in newspaper columnists. And it’s really dangerous to have faith in YouTube videos and Tumblr posts.
I have been witnessing and writing about the stupidification of the world since at least the 1980s. The working title of my 1997 book The Shortstop’s Son (which you can order from the University of Arkansas Press) was The Tyranny of the Dull Normal, which was sort of a in-joke based on a certain fashion for similar titles that graced a slew of non-fiction best-sellers in the late ’80s and early ’90s, but also referred to a particular 1990 essay collected in the book about the way we were creeping toward imbecility in our responses to manufactured pop outrages by the likes of Madonna, 2 Live Crew and Andrew Dice Clay. (And Peter Handke, who’d go on to win a Nobel Prize for literature.)
Other essays in that book included a 1996 piece that notes how we “sign up as members of a thought tribe in lieu of genuine thinking” and a 1994 piece about the dangers of the new Fox News Division that ended thusly: “The truth is, we’ve become Foxonian creatures, communicating in catch phrases and obscene gestures.”
I wasn’t prescient; I was reporting. Lots of people were saying the same things at the same time, and had been saying similar things for years. Choosing stupidity isn’t a new phenomenon. It’s always been an option. (Though maybe it used to be more instantly dangerous.)
Given a choice between tough reality-based information and comforting lies, most of us will take the comforting lies. If someone tells us that we’re better off not brushing our teeth and not making our beds, we’re willing to entertain their argument. We like fast food and “reality” TV and can’t bear to be bored or to be told that our loud obsession with the Harry Potter/Star Wars/Marvel Cinematic universe isn’t exactly becoming for a grown-up. What we have now in this country, in this world, is the direct result of a decades-long diet of sweet, comforting and unchallenging empty calories.
Don’t let your kids go to college, lest they be “indoctrinated” by “liberal” professors who actually believe in intellectual discipline. Don’t exercise because that does nothing but deplete the finite store of physical energy your body was granted at birth. Get your news off TV and choose the flavor tailored to flatter your particular worldview. Get your philosophy from some guy selling credit repair and commemorative gold coins on the radio. Nobody really reads those books; they just line their bookcases with them to look smart. Math is important, but you can do it on a calculator. Everything you need to know is right there, in your own gut. Expertise doesn’t matter.
We should have seen this coming. Many did, but more started to take offense at big words and the idea that anyone could possibly know more about something than they do just because they’ve devoted their lives to knowing more.
People use big words to make me feel dumb. But I’m not dumb, I’m a great American.
Vote for whoever tells you the best story, whoever makes you feel best about yourself. It doesn’t matter anyway.
Covid-19 is just a “little flu.” Or, if you want, it’s a plot by billionaires designed to undermine the support of a stable genius American hero chosen by God to root out the cabal of pedophiles that secretly runs the world.
So we deserve this. We didn’t do our homework, we binged on The Bachelor.
We chose stupidity.
Read more at
Editorial on 05/17/2020