Stupidity is a lack of intelligence, understanding, reason, wit, or sense. It may be innate, assumed, or reactive - 'being "stupid with grief" as a defence against trauma', a state marked with 'grief and despair...making even simple daily tasks a hardship'.
Etymology of the word
Stupidity is a quality or state of being stupid, or an act or idea that exhibits properties of being stupid. The root word stupid, which can serve as an adjective or noun, comes from the Latin verb stupere, for being numb or astonished, and is related to stupor: in Roman culture, 'the stupidus of the mimes' was a sort of 'professional buffoon - the "fall-man", the eternal he-who-gets-kicked'.
According to the online Merriam-Webster dictionary, the words "stupid" and "stupidity" entered the English language in 1541. Since then, stupidity has taken place along with "fool," "idiot," "dumb," "moron," and related concepts as a pejorative appellation for human misdeeds, whether purposeful or accidental, due to absence of mental capacity.
Definition of Stupidity
The modern English word "stupid" has a broad range of application, from being slow of mind (indicating a lack of intelligence, care or reason), dullness of feeling or sensation (torpidity, senseless, insensitivity), or lacking interest or point (vexing, exasperating). It can either infer a congenital lack of capacity for reasoning, or a temporary state of daze or slow-mindedness.
James F. Wells, Ph. D., in his book, "Understanding Stupidity," defines stupidity thusly, "The term may be used to designate a mentality which is considered to be informed, deliberate and maladaptive." Dr. Welles distinguishes stupidity from ignorance; one must know they are acting in their own worst interest. Secondly, it must be a choice, not a forced act or accident. Lastly, it requires the activity to be maladaptive, in that it is in the worst interest of the actor, and specifically done to prevent adaption to new data or existing circumstances. According to Dr. Welles, mental schemas, which help us adapt to our environment and process new ideas, can also, simultaneously, be maladaptive: "However adaptive a schema may be, it will also be maladaptive to the extent that built-in biases compromise data so that perceptions will conform to expectations and desires. In addition, a schema's behavioral program (which presumably was adaptive when formed) might become maladaptive as conditions change. If fundamental conditions change significantly, maintaining a schema may be maladaptive. On the other hand, altering behavior to fit fantasies may also be maladaptive. Just when and how much change is needed are very subjective matters, and the schema is inherently biased about maintaining both its integrity and existence."
Laws of Stupidity
The economic historian Carlo Maria Cipolla is famous for his essays about human stupidity. The essay, The Fundamental Laws of Human Stupidity, explores the controversial subject of stupidity. Stupid people are seen as a group, more powerful by far than major organizations such as the Mafia and the industrial complex, which without regulations, leaders or manifesto nonetheless manages to operate to great effect and with incredible coordination. These are Cipolla's five fundamental laws of stupidity:
- Always and inevitably each of us underestimates the number of stupid individuals in circulation.
- The probability that a given person is stupid is independent of any other characteristic possessed by that person.
- A person is stupid if they cause damage to another person or group of people without experiencing personal gain, or even worse causing damage to themselves in the process.
- Non-stupid people always underestimate the harmful potential of stupid people; they constantly forget that at any time anywhere, and in any circumstance, dealing with or associating themselves with stupid individuals invariably constitutes a costly error.
- A stupid person is the most dangerous type of person there is.
Fritz Perls claimed of Albert Einstein's remark that '"Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity"' that 'what is much more widespread than the actual stupidity is the playing stupid, turning off your ear, not listening, not seeing'.
Eric Berne described the game of "Stupid" as having 'the thesis..."I laugh with you at my own clumsiness and stupidity"'. He points out that for the protagonist (White) 'there is considerable external gain, since the less White learns, the more effectively he can play....He has known from an early age that everyone will be satisfied with him as long as he is stupid, despite any expressions to the contrary. People are surprised when in times of stress, if he decides to come through, it turns out that he is not stupid at all - any more than is the "stupid" younger son in the fairy tale'.
In a Kleinian view as 'outlined by Wilfred Bion...pseudo-stupidity is a consequence of the massive tendency toward projection and the resulting inability to internalize new knowledge' in the arrogant.
Otto Fenichel maintained that 'quite a percentage of so-called feeble-mindedness turns out to be pseudo-debility, conditioned by inhibition....Every intellect begins to show weakness when affective motives are working against it'. He suggests that 'people become stupid ad hoc, that is, when they do not want to understand, where understanding would cause anxiety or guilt feeling, or would endanger an existing neurotic equilibrium'.
In rather different fashion, Doris Lessing argued that 'there is no fool like an intellectual...a kind of clever stupidity, bred out of a line of logic in the head, nothing to do with experience'.
Persisting in folly
In the Romantic reaction to the Enlightenment, a valorisation of the irrational, of the foolish and stupid, emerged, epitomised for example in William Blake's dictum that 'if the fool would persist in his folly he would become wise'. A century later, Jung would emphasise that 'it requires no art to become stupid; the whole art lies in extracting wisdom from stupidity. Stupidity is the mother of the wise, but cleverness never'.
Postmodernism would take up a similar theme, noting regretfully how 'categories...guarantee our intelligence and form the a priori of excluded stupidity', so that (in order to profit from the excluded) 'the philosopher must be sufficiently perverse to play the game of truth and error badly...to persist in his confrontation with stupidity, to remain motionless to the point of stupefaction in order to approach it successfully and mime it, to...await the shock of difference'.
The fool or buffoon has been a central character in much comedy. Alford and Alford found that humor based on stupidity was prevalent in "more complex" societies as compared to some other forms of humor. Some analysis of Shakespeare's comedy has found that his characters tend to hold mutually contradictory positions; because this implies a lack of careful analysis it indicates stupidity on their part. Today there is a wide array of television shows that showcase stupidity such as The Simpsons.
The first book in English on stupidity was A Short Introduction to the History of Stupidity by Walter B. Pitkin (1932):
“ Stupidity can easily be proved the supreme Social Evil. Three factors combine to establish it as such. First and foremost, the number of stupid people is legion. Secondly, most of the power in business, finance, diplomacy and politics is in the hands of more or less stupid individuals. Finally, high abilities are often linked with serious stupidity. ”
According to In Search of Stupidity: Over Twenty Years of High Tech Marketing Disasters, (2003) by Merrill R. Chapman:
“ The claim that high-tech companies are constantly running into 'new' and 'unique' situations that they cannot possibly be expected to anticipate and intelligently resolve is demonstrably false....The truth is that technology companies are constantly repeating the same mistakes with wearying consistency...and many of the stupid things these companies do are completely avoidable. ”
"While In Search of Excellence turned out to be a fraud, In Search of Stupidity is genuine, and no names have been changed to protect the guilty." according to one reviewer.
Stupidity was a 2003 movie directed by Albert Nerenberg. It depicted examples and analyses of stupidity in modern society and media, and sought "to explore the prospect that willful ignorance has increasingly become a strategy for success in the realms of politics and entertainment."
The Darwin Awards honour people who ensure the long-term survival of the human race by removing themselves from the gene pool in a sublimely idiotic fashion.
Used as a term to retrospectively apply to an earlier generation of technology. For example "stupid-phone" to apply to a 2.5G mobile or POTS or even a non-cordless phone as opposed to the more modern "smartphones" or cordlesses.
- ^ M. Rustin/J. Bradley, Work Discussion (2008) p. 76
- ^ Diane Vaughan, Uncoupling (London 1987) p. 135
- ^ N. K. Oeijord, Why Gould was Wrong (2003) p. 49
- ^ "stupidity". Merriam-Webster. http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/stupidity. Retrieved 2009-01-18.
- ^ "stupid". Merriam-Webster. http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/stupid. Retrieved 2009-01-18.
- ^ "stupor". Merriam-Webster. http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/stupor. Retrieved 2009-01-18.
- ^ Peter Green trans., Juvenal: The Sixteen Satires (Penguin 1982) p. 126
- ^ 
- ^ 
- ^ "Rod Blagojevich, The Stupidest Governor In The Country, Puts Obama In A Bad Light". CBS News. http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2008/12/12/usnews/whispers/main4665944.shtml.
- ^ James F. Welles, Ph. D.. "Understanding Stupidity". http://www.stupidity.net/story2/index2.htm. Retrieved June 07, 2011.
- ^ James F. Welles, Ph. D.. "Understanding Stupidity". http://www.stupidity.net/story2/index2.htm. Retrieved June 07, 2011.
- ^ Fritz Perls, Gestalt Therapy Verbatim (1972) p. 36
- ^ Eric Berne, Games People Play (Penguin 1968) p. 138
- ^ Berne, p. 138-9
- ^ Salman Akhtar, Comprehensive Dictionary of Psychoanalysis (2010) "Arrogance"
- ^ Otto Fenichel, The Psychoanalytic Theory of Neurosis (London 1946) p. 180
- ^ Fenichel, p. 181
- ^ Doris Lessing, Under my Skin (London 1994) p. 122
- ^ William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (London 1927) p. 7
- ^ C. G. Jung, Alchemical Studies (1978) p. 180
- ^ Michel Foucault, Language, Counter-Memory, Practice (1980) p. 188-90
- ^ Finnegan Alford; Richard Alford. A Holo-Cultural Study of Humor. Ethos 9(2), pg 149-164.
- ^ N Frye. A Natural Perspective: The Development of Shakespearean Comedy and Romance. Columbia University Press, 1995.
- ^ R Hobbs. The Simpsons Meet Mark Twain: Analyzing Popular Media Texts in the Classroom. The English Journal, 1998.
- ^ Pitkin, Walter B. A Short Introduction to the History of Stupidity (1932).
- ^ http://www.insearchofstupidity.com/
- ^ "Stupidity". IMDB.com. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0399704/. Retrieved June 17, 2011.
- ^ "Stupidity (2003)". rottentomatoes.com. http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/1164158-stupidity. Retrieved June 17, 2011.
- Avital Ronell (2002). Stupidity. University of Illinois Press. ISBN 9780252071270.
- Alice von Hildebrand (2008-01-29). When is Stupidity a Sin?. http://catholicity.com./commentary/hildebrand/02432.html.
- Edmund Bergler (1998). The talent for stupidity: the psychology of the bungler, the incompetent, and the ineffectual. International Universities. ISBN 9780823663453.
- L. Loewenfeld (1909) (in German). Über die Dummbeit: Eine Umschau in Gebiete menschlicher Unzulänglichkeit. http://textlog.de./loewenfeld-dummheit.html.
- Paul Tabori (1962). The natural science of stupidity. Prentice-Hall International.
- Steven J. Bartlett (2005). "Moral Intelligence and the Pathology of Human Stupidity". The pathology of man: a study of human evil. C.C. Thomas. ISBN 9780398075576.
- Giancarlo Livraghi (2009). The Power of Stupidity. Pescara: Monti&Ambrosini. ISBN 9788889479155.
- Robert J. Sternberg, ed (2003). Why Smart People Can Be So Stupid. Yale University Press. ISBN 9780300101706.
- Stephen Greenspan (2008). "Foolish action in adults with intellectual disabilities: the forgotten problem of risk-unawareness". In Laraine Masters Glidden. International Review of Research in Mental Retardation. 36. Academic Press. ISBN 9780123744760.
- "Unskilled and unaware of it: How Difficulties in Recognizing One's Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments" The authors received the 2000 Ig Nobel Prize in psychology.
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