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Tuesday, June 11, 2024

The stupidity epidemic

What leads even the smartest people to be so stupid?

 

By MALCOLM LANGE — mslange@ucdavis.edu

 

“Everyone is stupid!” This is an exclamation that most, if not everyone, has made at some point in their life. Unfortunately, this declaration of frustration is pretty much true. Everyone is stupid, even the smartest person you know. 

Obviously, it seems like a fallacy to say that a smart person is stupid, as they are clearly defined as “smart.” It would be easy for me to say that no one is smart about everything — you can be a world-renowned physicist but not know simple Eastern European history and therefore stupid in that case. 

Harsh, I know. I don’t even know you — who am I to say that you are stupid? I have no level of authority or credibility on the matter. Don’t worry though, I am stupid too. I like to think that I am smart, or at least smarter than most, but this level of arrogance appears to make me dumber than most. I am sure that many people have heard of the “Dunning-Kruger Effect” where those who have a little amount of knowledge tend to believe that they are experts on the matter. That is, once they start to gather more knowledge on the subject, they realize how dumb they actually are. 

This is not a new idea, nor is it a revolutionary concept as it appears to be known and widely accepted — to the best of my knowledge, who knows, maybe I am at the peak of stupidity and know nothing about what I am talking about. 

How then, if we are all stupid — especially when we think ourselves to be smart — are we to move forward and learn? The first step, it would seem, is to admit your own uncertainty. Come to the understanding that you might not understand everything — or not just everything, but that one thing you are so sure of. Humans (which I assume everyone who is reading this is one of) are incredibly fallible creatures, and to assume or declare one’s own infallibility is detrimental to the pursuit of knowledge and truth. 

To completely shut out someone else’s statement due to the fact that you “know” that you are correct is stupid. Don’t get me wrong, there are many stupid beliefs or statements out there and we do not need to take them as true, intelligent or even respect them. However, to dismiss someone else’s opinion or belief on the sole reason that it does not coincide with your own, and yours must obviously be the true belief, is incredibly stupid. It may be the truth that their belief is wrong and yours is correct, but there should be a path of critical analysis or deductive reasoning to come to this conclusion, not a mere “I am right because I say so.”

One instance where I have seen this happen constantly is when referring to politics. Not about which side is being truthful or is the correct side (I mean, yes, it does pertain to that, but I would need way more than two pages to attempt to tackle that beast) but instead when a person says, “I think if people don’t agree politically, they shouldn’t talk about politics.” On the surface, it seems like a polite statement to keep everything cordial. That could be exactly what it is, trying to maintain a friendly rapport with someone, as political conversations can become increasingly aggressive or hostile. It also makes an implicit assumption that whatever you have to say is wrong, because I already know I am right. Or even worse, nothing you say can convince me even if I end up being wrong in the end. 

 While I understand not everyone enjoys talking about politics, and it can be a sensitive subject for some, being able to engage in meaningful conversations or arguments is essential to a functioning democracy. Is that a very dramatic sentence? Yes, yes it is. But there is a level of truth there as well. If everyone becomes stuck on their own opinion and does not open themselves up to the possibility that they are wrong, even in their political beliefs, how could we ever progress as a society? 

It is incredibly unlikely that one person has all the answers to life’s questions, so it would be ridiculous to attempt to shelter yourself from all opposing views. Those views just might be right. And if they aren’t, you being able to disprove them in a legitimate and logically sound way can help solidify the concepts that you know to be true. Relying solely on whatever your parents, religious leader or any other community figure says as the absolute truth simply because they said so is a very stupid way to live. 

There is a silver lining in everything, and, as it was stated before, the best way to rise above this stupidity that plagues the world is to understand that you can be wrong. It is totally possible if not incredibly likely that you are wrong — there are over seven billion people on the planet, and if everyone has their own opinion on a matter, there is no way that everyone is fully correct all at once. The more you open yourself up to the possibility of being mistaken, the more likely you are to stumble upon the truth, or at least an answer, opinion or belief that is one step closer to the truth. 

 

Written by: Malcolm Lange — mslange@ucdavis.edu

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by individual columnists belong to the columnists alone and do not necessarily indicate the views and opinions held by The California Aggie

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