The Stupid

Consider popular lotteries where you have a 1 in 175 million chance of winning. Consider your fear of flying and terrorism relative to your indifference to driving and heart disease. Consider poor citizens across the world voting against their own economic interests. Consider the world’s reaction to global warming.

There is a perverse pleasure in invoking stupidity as the explanation for all of these. Google “Stupidity Quotes”, feel good for a few minutes. We all do it sometimes, some people do it all the time. This is lazy thinking.

If every sub-optimal situation involving humans can be attributed to human stupidity, then stupidity just means sub-optimality. Excluding non-human causes improves the situation: stupidity is when humans cause things to go wrong, the rest is force majeure.

There is a difference between understanding something and having a name for it. If stupidity is invariant with bad outcomes, then we don’t need the extra term. If it varies with outcomes, then let’s discuss the drivers of the variations – for this we will need more than a single axis (i.e. smart-stupid).

I’m sure most people don’t actually believe things are this simple when they revert to the stupidity explanation. I just have a hard time understanding how someone could feel smarter by “explaining” things this way. Or why everyone just puts up with it.


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