Thursday, December 9, 2010

"Stupidity has a knack of getting its way"--Albert Camus

This is being bold of me, I know, but I reserve the right to call stupidity stupid.  I do this in spite of the fact that I belong to the race of people who teach English, who are known far and wide for our insane tolerance for just about any cockamamie bullshit you can imagine as long as it doesn't involve comma splices.  I suspect it was one of our race who first coined the expression "There is no such thing as a stupid question."

Oh, yeah?  Since when?

For too long Americans have benignly ignored and intentionally mislabeled stupidity, possibly in the interest of a misguided concept of what the clause "all men are created equal" means or else polite deference to the feelings of stupid people.  As for the former, I'm pretty sure the statement of our founding fathers is not a denial of the existence of human stupidity.  And though recognizing and honoring the right to free speech most certainly ensures that stupid speech is constitutionally protected, it does not mean that the rest of us have to pretend stupidity is anything other than what it is.  And if stupid people are especially sensitive to their stupidity being so labeled and pointed out, I, for one, am no longer willing to consider the possibility that perhaps my plain-speaking even roughly equates to hate speech or bigotry.   To adapt a cliche dear to homophobes, I love the stupid but I hate the stupidity--though, in truth, I do not love the stupid either, because to love them would mean to enjoy their company and I do not, unless they are cute with well-defined muscles and easy to get in the sack, but I do at least see the necessity of having to live in peace among them, even the unsightly ones.

As for saving the feelings of stupid people, I am all for it up to a point, but clearly America's decades-long toleration of stupidity has encouraged deeper, darker strains of stupidity to emerge, fatally resistant to reason or good manners.  Stupidity is both meaner and more pervasive now than it's been at any time since the Enlightenment.  Stupidity has become even a selling point in entertainment, politics, and religion (where it is sometimes called "faith beyond reason")--and that, folks, is bad news for us as a nation, a culture, and a people.

Stupidity is now no longer content to sit quiet--it wants to be in school textbooks, as a viable alternative and counter-balance to "science" and "intelligence."  It wants to be called "common sense."  It wants to ban from the airwaves anything that cannot be comprehended by and processed into the world view of a typical third grader.  It wants its own political party.  It wants to speak out and malign the intelligent and then squawk about persecution and intolerance when reasonably smart people criticize it.  It even wants to categorize thoughtful, perceptive, and insightful speech as, de facto, elitist and tyrannical.

No, no doubt, the stupid are among us, and we must live with them.  We should seek ways of gently prodding them towards reason and fact-based perceptions of the world around them.  We should not lock them away as insane or criminal, unless those lines are actually crossed--in which case, we must hold to the truth that "ignorance is no excuse."  Being stupid is not a cultural difference to be protected in a diverse society.  It may at times be genetic, true, and in every instance we should act with compassion and understanding.  But understanding stupidity is not the same thing as ignoring its clear and unmistakable signs.

Here are the sure signs of stupidity--

1. opinions lacking sufficient support in concrete, verifiable details and beliefs based entirely on authority,

2.  jingoism, unqualified assertions, and high-sounding cant,

3.  impatience with the slow, rigorous processes of research, logic, and fair argument,

4.  and heated and defensive reaction to others' hesitation to swallow patent nonsense.

Any two of the four are certain evidence of stupidity, but, sad to say, folks, quadrilateral stupidity is already the order of the day.

So I am done with pretending that stupidity is just ignorance.  Simply not knowing something is very different from belligerent resistance to knowledge.  I am done with pretending that stupid beliefs bring people together, or that they bring comfort and happiness to many and so should be exempt from criticism or analysis.   I am done with letting stupidity slide.  I am beginning to see it for the intentional, manipulative, and uncannily effective tool that it is, and see it, too, as the tool of oppression, cruelty, and resistance to progress.

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