Let’s all be less stupid. OK?

– by Bruce Mason –

If anyone survives the current human-caused mass extinction – the sixth since the dawn of time – they’ll look back on our epoch as the Golden Age of Stupidity. There is no better way, or word, to describe a species that is greedily stretching the resources of planet Earth beyond what it can sustainably provide, while wilfully destroying life upon it.

Since stupidity defines us, let’s define it. Or re-define it. So often, we use the word despairingly when facing the ubiquity of stupidity, baffling political realities, obscene inequity, perpetual war and ecocide. So let’s come to a common and wise understanding of its meaning in order to comprehend and reverse the feces-storm that is the 21st Century.

Here’s a start: the “Golden Law of Stupidity”. This shall define a stupid person as one who causes problems for others without any clear benefit to themselves. Simple.

Also politically correct. This definition has nothing to do with gender, race, or nationality. There are stupid Presidents, Prime Ministers, Premiers, MPs and MLAs. They’re among those who gather at Davos, the United Nations, and your local mall. On Facebook, Twitter and TV. There are stupid people in every nation and neighbourhood, and they are humanity’s greatest existential threat.

That was the warning and conclusion offered by Professor Carlo M. Cipolla, an economic historian at the University of California, Berkeley, in a 1976 essay, The

Basic Laws of Human Stupidity. The Italian-born Cipolla was no dummy; he studied at the Sorbonne and London School of Economics, taught and researched internationally, and formulated the first economic model of stupidity.

He divided those of us who must co-exist with stupidity into three groups. First: intelligent people whose actions are reciprocal and benefit both themselves and others. Second: bandits who benefit themselves at others’ expense. Lastly: the helpless who contribute to society and whose actions enrich others at their own expense, but who are taken advantage of (especially by bandits).

The non-stupid are a flawed and inconsistent bunch. Sometimes acting intelligently, sometimes selfishly or helplessly. We are a mixed bag.

Bandits, such as sociopaths, psychopaths, the all-too-familiar non-pathological “jerks” and amoralists, pursue their self-interest to the detriment of the common good. They act with full knowledge of the negative consequences of their actions on society, but neither identify with, nor care about those consequences. For example, our so-called “global elites”, who inflict losses upon others while reaping benefits for themselves and the GNP of our endangered world. Stupid people drag down and impoverish society as a whole.

As a result, Cipolla argued, a stupid person is the worst, explaining:

“Essentially stupid people are dangerous and damaging because reasonable people find it difficult to imagine and understand unreasonable behaviour. An intelligent person may understand a bandit’s logic. Their actions follow a pattern of rationality: nasty rationality, if you like, but still rationality.

“The bandit wants a plus on his account, but isn’t intelligent enough to obtain it without causing a minus to appear on others. All this is bad, but it is rational and predictable. You can foresee a bandit’s actions, his nasty manoeuvres and ugly aspirations, and often can build up your defences,” he added.

However, the non-stupid constantly underestimate the damaging power of stupid individuals. This problem is compounded by assumptions that certain people are intelligent because of superficial factors such as job, education, and celebrity. They aren’t. Social status does not preclude stupidity.

Forgetting this is costly and we do so at our peril.

Cipolla insists we can do nothing about the stupid. They are abundant, irrational, and subvert society’s overall well-being. A society can avoid being crushed only if the non-stupid work even harder to offset the losses.

The difference between societies that collapse under the weight of their stupid citizens, and those that transcend them, is the relative number of the non-stupid. A high proportion of people acting intelligently brings benefit for them and for their fellow citizens.

Declining societies have the same percentage of stupid people as successful ones. But they also have a high percentage of helpless people and, Cipolla writes, “an alarming proliferation of the bandits with overtones of stupidity.

“Such change in the composition of the non-stupid population inevitably strengthens the destructive power of the stupid fraction and makes decline a certainty,” Cipolla concludes, “and the country goes to Hell.”

The question now is whether our short-term survival and future will be peaceful, equitable and deliberate, or an ugly haphazard collapse into states of fractured barbarity. It is time for intelligent people to redouble efforts to offset the losses incurred by the stupid, and demand accountability for common good. To do anything else would be, in a word, stupid.

The five fundamental laws of stupidity

  1. Always and inevitably everyone underestimates the number of stupid individuals in circulation.
  2. The probability that a certain person (will) be stupid is independent of any other characteristic of that person.
  3. A stupid person is a person who causes losses to another person or to a group of persons while himself deriving no gain, and even possibly incurring losses.
  4. Non-stupid people always underestimate the damaging power of stupid individuals. In particular non-stupid people constantly forget that, at all times and places and under any circumstances, to deal with or associate with stupid people always turns out to be a costly mistake.
  5. A stupid person is the most dangerous type of person.

lllustration © Maxim Popov, Dreamstime

1 thought on “Let’s all be less stupid. OK?”

  1. Hi Bruce,

    I am responding to your article on the 5 stupid laws or laws of stupid or something. Very interesting and fascinating view. I have a feeling that if anyone is critical of your article you will label them as stupid. At least that’s how I am interpreting your words but let’s entertain this thought for a second. Wouldn’t that mean that you be just as stupid if you refuse to entertain someone else’s view or are you that arrogant that your view is the only correct view? It seems you talked yourself into a predicament. In case you respond to this with “there is scientific consensus” (there isn’t by the way) don’t forget that the truth is not a democratic principle. The majority is never proof of the truth.

    You made reference to climate change in your article and you claimed that anyone who is critical of climate change must be stupid, right? Claiming that someone is stupid based on your ideological ideas and unproven theories, is not only ignorant (I am not necessarily saying you are, just your claim is) but also irrational and counterproductive to your cause (living peacefully together). Your ideas and beliefs on climate change, assuming you equate CO2 with pollution, are in fact doing more damage to the lives of future generations through the various policies and laws that will push the average individual close to the poverty line with the help of carbon tax etc and those policies/laws will do absolutely nothing for the environment (or the climate for that matter). I am concerned about real pollution just like you but the claim that CO2 is causing an existential crisis of the planet is ludicrous and all the false predictions by “scientists” over the last few decades have already proven that.

    Do you know what a hypothesis is? If so, would you mind showing me those studies (there must be several since you believe that there is scientific consensus) that has tested the global warming hypothesis that the temperature of the planet has increased by x amount of degree Celsius over the last 50 years as a consequence of human added CO2?

    You have a chance to proof you’re not stupid by responding to me and answering my question about the hypothesis because nothing is more ignorant than to throw add hominem comments at someone who is simply being critical of your ideas.



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