Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Wizard's First Rule

“People are stupid; given proper motivation, almost anyone will believe almost anything. Because people are stupid, they will believe a lie because they want to believe it's true, or because they are afraid it might be true. People’s heads are full of knowledge, facts, and beliefs, and most of it is false, yet they think it all true. People are stupid; they can only rarely tell the difference between a lie and the truth, and yet they are confident they can, and so are all the easier to fool.”
― Terry Goodkind, Wizard's First Rule

There’s a (sadly) accurate theme that philosophers (we’ll call them that), the world around have been intensely interested in over the last 40-50 years. It’s likely that the subject goes back much further to the Greeks and beyond, but for the sake of brevity we’ll focus on the modern and contemporary perspectives.

To sum it up, let me offer a quote from Robert A. Heinlein, one of the fathers of modern science fiction. “Never underestimate the power of human stupidity.”

The entire global community has a shining example of this in today’s government shut down of the most powerful nation in the world, and they find it mind boggling. Admittedly, so does the general population of that nation, from erudite to high school drop out. With some exceptions, who remind us that Heinlein’s quote will be apt until the day the race ceases to exist.

These exceptions bring to mind a much more in depth exploration into the definition of stupidity and the makeup of the group of such people. As written by the economics professor Carlo Cipolla, the number of stupid people in any given group is always represented by the variable s. It can only be represented as a variable due to the fact that the number of stupid people in any given group is always more than one thinks it is.

For those of you who don’t mind some light reading, his essay explains it all quite impressively. http://www.ecotopia.com/webpress/stupidity/

Though written originally written in jest, it rings remarkably true, particularly as we continue to explore contemporary examples of the phenomenon.

Some time in the last decade or so while Jimmy Kimmel was still on The Man Show, he spent the only segment I ever saw petitioning to help end women’s suffrage in America, just to see who would sign it. If you weren’t aware, women’s suffrage is the 19th amendment of the Consitution, giving women the right to vote. I can’t find the clip to share with you, but lets just say the results of the attempt just goes to show how uneducated people are. Many, many women signed it and I did find several examples on youtube (that I didn’t watch), repeating the experiment.

Fast forward to today, when Kimmel hit the streets again to ask people which they preferred, Obamacare or the Affordable Care Act. The results were astounding, with a fascinating ability of individuals to support one over the other. You can see it for yourself here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/10/01/jimmy-kimmel-obamacare-prank_n_4022424.html

It is important to recognize, however, that this particular brand of stupidity isn’t one sided. There were plenty of people in recent polls on both sides of the spectrum too oblivious to know the two items were the same damn thing. Democrat or Republican, the quantity of stupid people in the group is still more than you think.

We can only wish that this had been staged, but tragically, that’s not even necessary in today’s environment. And with the exposure via media and accessibility of information today, it seems inexcusable. Alas, people would rather call data sources propaganda than read and learn. It’s a good thing s is unquantifiable or the numbers might be significantly depressing.

It’s disappointing that in this time where not only do we have to concern ourselves with some of the finest stupidity of our era, that we simply have an excessive population from which to draw an even higher degree of stupid people.

I don’t know that there’s anything to be done about this unfortunate aspect of life other than to be forewarned and forearmed. Be aware and, as the Boyscout’s say, be prepared. The best we can manage is to make an effort to hold ourselves individually to a higher standard and not fall victim to the flood of ineptitude. We can always argue for more and better education, but I’m not certain that will ever be more than a thumb in the dyke; at least not outside some utopian dream world where everyone values learning.

As much as I wish I could apologize for the apparent cynicism of this post, as evidence shows, it’s simply realism. All I can say is,

Never underestimate the power of human stupidity.

I can’t say it any better than that.

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