We all do stupid things. Doing stupid things doesn’t necessarily make you a stupid person. Stupidity, as defined by the OED, is ‘behaviour that shows a lack of good sense or judgement’. The key to that definition is the word behaviour. Stupidity isn’t the act, it’s the behaviour.
In recent years, we have shied away from calling people stupid, for fear of causing offence or being called elitist. But I think we need to talk about stupid. We need to reclaim stupid and call it out, before stupid claims us.
All life on Earth evolved by learning from mistakes. Any organism which doesn’t learn by its mistakes is destined to fail and, eventually, become extinct. That is nature’s safety mechanism, to ensure that only the brightest and strongest survive.
The problem humans have is that while, as a species, we have learned from many mistakes and become more intelligent, stupid has hitched a ride. The social nature of humans means we don’t, in civil societies, let the weakest slip through the net. We support everyone, regardless of intelligence. This is something which should be applauded, but it does come at cost. Stupid has lost its only predator: natural selection.
For millennia, humans coped by having an intellectual pecking order. It was accepted, although not always appreciated, that certain people within societies were more intelligent and were afforded respect for their deep understanding of subjects. It was widely accepted that doctors knew about medicine, scientists knew about science, the clergy knew how to brainwash the masses, and so on. Then came the internet.
In 2016, the former Education Secretary, Michael Gove, said, “I think the people in this country have had enough of experts,” and, for a growing section of our society, that is the case. Rather than seeking facts and truth, many people are only interested in seeking confirmation bias.
Sir Tim Berners-Lee, who invented the internet, once said, “The original idea of the web was that it should be a collaborative space where you can communicate through sharing information.” The problem we have now is, people are no longer just sharing information, but misinformation and disinformation, and those in power, or seeking power, are able to capitalise on the gullibility of those looking for simple answers to complex questions.