American Culture

People are stupid

They are you know, and that’s not just me foot-stomping and getting mad at the car in front of me who just sat through a green light texting.

Years ago I was having a conversation with a dim, dangerous man named Troy. I’d ended up as Troy’s supervisor on the construction project, because I was smarter, and Troy didn’t like it because he was older. Troy was quick to anger and carried a knife, so most discussions with him were best handled delicately.

Troy said, “You think I’m stupid!”

“No!” I lied as sincerely as I could.

“Well let me tell you something smart-boy, they gave me an IQ test in the Army and I scored 86. How about that!”

Obviously Troy didn’t know that IQ tests aren’t on a 100 point scale or that 86 is not too far above the handicapped line. And I sure as hell wasn’t going to tell him. Not just because he carried a knife, but because you can’t tell people they’re stupid. They can’t help it, and they won’t believe you anyway.

Which is too bad. The world might be a better place if people knew they were stupid.

The problem arises because we have too many of them. At one level, this is a good thing. To the extent the economy is efficient and roles are allocated fairly, it’s good that there’s somebody there to pick up the garbage, although they seem to be too busy going to GOP conventions to do much good with the trash.

They’re  also becoming louder and more strident.  Basically, if you’ve ever tried to have a serous conversation with anyone with an IQ below 120 it was a challenge, and if you’ve ever tried to reason with anyone of average IQ or below, 100, it felt like you’d caught your balls in a bear trap–excruciating pain that wouldn’t end, even when you tried to extricate yourself.

But like the poor, the stupid will always be with us.

Yesterday, Ryan Braun admitted (sort of) that he was a drug cheat. This took many people, like his friend Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay quarterback, by surprise. Indeed, Rodgers had offered to bet his salary of $4.5 mil that Braun was innocent when he was accused a few years ago and managed to get the case thrown out on a technicality. The point is, only a fool would would’ve believed Braun two years ago. The evidence was simply overwhelming–little guy puts up unbelievable numbers and has urine sample that is full of synthetic testosterone but gets off because the collector couldn’t get it mailed and puts it in a fridge overnight. Refrigeration causes synthetic testosterone? Sheesh, the pharma companies are wasting their money with all that fancy lab equipment when all they need to do is pee in a bottle and put it beside the milk overnight.  There are some players about whom it’s legitimate to wonder, but we’ll never be sure because they never tested positive. There are others who never tested positive, like Bonds, Clemens, and Sosa about whom there is no doubt, and only the truly stupid would ever beleive otherwise. Luckily for them, there are 150 million fools out there to buy their stories.

This morning, Pew asked a thousand folks or so if they thought justice had been served in the Zimmerman case. 61% of Republicans and 80% of Tea Party members thought justice had been served. Really. There have been numerous studies that prove that conservative and religious people are quantitatively stupider than liberal and non-religious people. This site has gleefully reported those. Mostly we admit, to get under the skin of our conservative and religious friends.

However, stupidity is more than a joke. It has consequences, like a dead kid and his murderer being treated as a hero.

30 replies »

  1. The word stupid covers a lot of ground Otherwise, from simple to brutish and everything in between. Was Troy a good man? True to his word and kind to those he met? I’ll take a happy productive good heart over an angry conniving perfectionist any day of the week and we’re all better off with the former.

    Elitism is dangerous territory. Maybe you’re better, maybe you’re not, e.g. If people are stupid and you are people?…Or this little gem, “the economy is efficient and roles are allocated fairly”.
    Really? Chicanery and nepotism aren’t a hugely ingrained part of the process then?

    If you stated “people do stupid things”, I would agree wholeheartedly, but infatuation with cleverness, no, our prison system is filled with predators who think exactly like this, “People are sheep, I’ll take what I want and I’m too smart to get caught”.

    Humans come in all flavors and the lowest common denominator can indeed be depressing at times, but to indict half the population as unfit to exist seems unreasonable. But then I do carry a pocket knife!

    • Well, when I say “stupid,” I mean “stupid.” Smart people can do stupid things (see my snake post) and stupid people can do smart things, but on average smart people do more smart things and stupid people do more stupid things. And no, Troy and his brother Ronnie were not good people by any stretch of the imagination.

      (An aside. Troy carried a knife. His brother Ronnie carried a tiny silver .22 derringer. Ronnie thought of himself as a player, so when we’d go out of towns he’d style his blond, permed hair, pull on his skin tight jeans and go to the juke joints. His wife was Bootsie, a tiny, unbelievably loud woman who carried a .38 and was foam-at-the-mouth jealous (with reason.) One night she called the hotel (before cells,) Ronnie was out, so she grabbed her gun and raced over to western Louisiana where we were. She charged through the front door of the bar waving her gun and shouting “Where is that no good son-of-a-bitch? I’m going to kill him.” Ronnie logically decided the appropriate response was to pull his gun, but he couldn’t get it out of his pants and it discharged, digging a long furrow down the inside of his leg. He looked at the blood, passed out, and Bootsie ran over and knelt beside him weeping and crying, “Oh my god, he’s shot it off. He’s shot it off!”)

      Ahem, back to the topic.

      Elitism is dangerous. Nepotism even more so. Not sure what that has to do with stupidity though, unless it’s an inferential argument chain that goes something like “Smart people will have dumb children and will cheat the system for them.” That’s true–look at the Soviet Union or at Harvard’s legacy program, but I’m still not sure where it gets me.

    • I didn’t say unfit to exist. Nor did I say unworthy of opinion. I don’t see an easy solution.

    • It all comes down to how you define “intelligence” and “stupidity.” For me, any definition which does not include a certain level of moral awareness and consideration is a poor and partial one, whatever one’s IQ score may otherwise indicate. And the fact that even the most intelligent (by any measure or standard) are fallible and do not operate at the highest level at all times in no way undercuts the value of intelligence.

      As for elitism:

      “I have to admit to being an elitist, I’m sorry. You know, one of the few things you can be arrested for is being an elitist. You can run around the street saying God is dead, and people won’t like you, but you’re not going to be hated. You can preach the violent overthrow of McDonald’s and you’ll get away with it, but all you have to say is that, in fact, there are some people who are better than others, and it has nothing to do with race or ethnic background or color or anything like that. What it has to do with is who’s got the brains.” –Harlan Ellison

  2. I recently read that something like 82% of people believe they have an above average IQ.

    I find a sentence like this very interesting: “Mostly we admit, to get under the skin of our conservative and religious friends.” The word “friends” there seems out of place when you treat the religious as simpletons not holding valid opinions. Yes, you do.

    Saying justice has been served and calling someone a hero are not the same thing.

    • Absolutely. Yes, I do because they are–superstitious simpletons, but they’re still my friends. How I treat them is between me and them, not you. And you’re right, I reached a bit.

  3. There are people with lower than average IQs. If low enough, these folks are considered developmentally disabled. A person’s IQ has nothing to do with whether or not a person is compassionate, thoughtful, or loving. Also, I am quite sure there are many people with extremely high IQs who are not. There are people with extremely high IQs that are manipulative, opportunistic, elitist, and INCREDIBLE greedy.

    There is an extremely pervasive propaganda machine in existence in this country right now. Most Americans are not taught critical thinking skills. Most Americans also believe that propaganda is something that is used in other countries… not here… so they are oblivious to it. I know people with extremely high IQs… with PhDs after their names… who have been taken in by this propaganda machine as well.

    Bottom line, while I agree with you politically, in my opinion, your stance that people who do NOT agree with you are just “stupid” (as in, having a lower than average IQs) is erroneous.

  4. Refrigeration invalidates the sample because of Chain of Custody requirements. I ship a lot of coolers because labs require samples at 4′ C; doesn’t matter if the sample was collected at room temperature. And you include date/time, etc. of sampling. An extra 12-24 hours for a urine sample probably invalidates the sample based potential degradation anyhow … but more importantly, unaccounted for time in a CoC means potential for adulterating the sample.

    As an aside, the problem with the administration’s claims of chemical weapons use in Syria is that they say they have samples, but none has a valid CoC (or no CoC). Scientifically speaking, they don’t have actual samples of anything.

    In the larger scope, yes, people are stupid.

    • I get the COC issues. I understood why Braun got off, although in this case the sample was in a secure place and was stored according to protocol. (The rule was a collector could only hold it if he couldn’t find a way to ship it. Shipping options were available. So it was OK to hold a sample as he did, but because he was too lazy/busy/something to drive 5 miles to a Fed Ex, he wasn’t allowed to hold it. Even if he did so following the rules for holding specimens.)

      What I was saying is that only a moron would believe that meant he was innocent two years ago.

  5. Gentle Sir Otherwise, using a priori knowledge of your style and content I can easily swallow this piece with a smile knowing full well your brash fusillade of fiery words is stream of consciousness not measured logic. Artistic license, I’m hip, it’s cool.

    Without foundation however what I get is “Otherwise thinks he’s is one smart MoFo and every swinging dick that disagrees with him is a dumbass.” To which I would reply, “Really? Prove it.”

    I already pointed out the self-indictment of “People are stupid”, how about the statement that IQ tests determine intelligence? You know minorities score horribly compared to whites on standardized tests I’m sure, and I also know you’re not a racist, therefore I could easily conclude that you suffer from unreasoned thinking…dang that’s stupid!

    Here’s my point young man, and I hope you enjoy the friendly sparring as much as I do. Intelligence is a suite of skills and knowledge that is extremely difficult to measure objectively without observation and interaction. As I observe the world today I see scoundrels pillaging the peasants at will. Immoral greedy thieves whose aggregate IQ would certainly test over 100.

    Intelligence without honor and heart doesn’t mean shit.

    • I’m probably older than you Frank. Back when I was younger, I was REALLY fiery. I scared people.

      However, no, it wasn’t stream of conciousness. Terse yes. Not thought through, no.

      OK, in order.

      Yes I’m smart.

      No I don’t think everyone who doesn’t agree with me is a dumbass. Time has proven that. Many times I’ve been wrong, wrong, wrong and stupid people have been right. (E.g., Obama.)

      Of course IQ tests are faulty, but I am not a relativist. There is such a thing as “smart” and such a thing as “stupid,” even if we can’t measure it appropriately. (And I’m not convinced there are not systematic differences between races introduced by slavery that are still working their way through the system. I don’t think that’s racist. I think assuming an individual is dumber than another because of race is racism. But that’s a post for another day.)

      I will stick to my guns, on average smart people make better decisions than dumb people. Of course goodness, honor and heart matter. There’s a word for intelligence without goodness: Antonin Scalia. Intellectually, I can make a case for genocide, murder, and pederasty, but I’m not going to make any of those.

    • Frank

      I’ve been pondering this since you posted it. Something bothered me and I couldn’t figure out what it was. Now I’ve got it.

      I never said that agreeing with me was a measure of intelligence and that disagreeing with me was a measure of stupidity. You inferred that. I’ve had plenty of idiots agree with me and some not stupid people disagree occasionally.

      Not agreeing with me is a measure of probably being wrong, not always, but usually. And some people disagree with me because they’re stupid. But add it up and it doesnt mean everyone who disagrees with me is stupid.

      You disagree with me all the time and yet I still parse your arguments carefully and respond genuinely. That’s not how I treat the stupid.

      • Well Otherwise, here’s how my brain works. You say you are smart and you believe in X. You also say a lot people are stupid (in particular 61% of Republicans and 80% of Tea Party members) and they believe in Y. Ergo, because you are smart X is true and because others are stupid Y is false. Are these not the predicates you’ve written above?

        I was just calling bullshit on your logic. You may well be the most intelligent mind that ever walked the planet, or at the least in my limited experience you are certainly well spoken. It just doesn’t show in this cobbled construction. Nothing you’ve said proves X or Y because there is no factual basis presented to support your argument.

        That said, I do enjoy your pot stirring, you dilapidated old geezer guy you

        • Sorry, Frank, sometimes I go a little too fast. I’ll slow down. I think your confusion is because we’re dealing with three sets, not two. Here’s the math version.


        • No need to slow down on my account Otherwise. A simplistic 3 circle Venn diagram with no provision for people who disagree with you and are right speaks more to the writer’s ego than the reader’s ignorance.

          “Lay on, Macduff, and damned be him who first cries ‘Hold! enough!'”

        • What do you mean. That diagram has a category for people who disagree and are right. Doesn’t it? Or am I confused? Frankly, my head is spinning today so I may be clueless here.

          But surely Otherwise allows that he is occasionally wrong. If he doesn’t I can provide an example or two…:D

        • Hopefully, you took the “slow down” comment as tongue in cheek as I intended it.

        • I came here to challenge myself and to be challenged Otherwise, and with you and Sam and a few others, I have found exactly what I was seeking…adult conversation, I don’t mind being bested at it, failure often teaches me better lessons than success.

          And yes friend, I see that wry good ‘ol boy smile behind your words. Nobody ever died from a little literary mud stompin’, ear biting, and eye gouging. Sam handing my ass back to me after that logic faux pas yesterday with a polite, “Here you go Frank, I think you might have dropped this” was priceless!

          Thanks for the brain food folks.

  6. I tend to dig the comments more than the article, but thanks for stirring the soup.

    In my opinion, any discussion of intelligence that doesn’t take into account the relativity of it all is, frankly, pretty limited. I’m a professor’s son, graduated with high honors and all that crap, but after working a blue-collar job in a poor neighborhood for a year, I’ve lost my faith in the existence of any rigid intelligence quotient.

    Barring the rare physiological impairment, I’d say people’s cultural interests differ widely, but their storage of knowledge and the ability to use it differ much less. Do you know what kind of mental capacity it takes to pick up women the way some of my co-workers do? All I know, is that I don’t have it.

    If you want to confine your discussion to political intelligence, sociological intelligence, or even verbal skills, then you may have a case. If you want to talk about the defunding of public education, or about the Koch brothers’ suckering of the rural poor, then you may have a point.

  7. Reading through the comments i was afraid I was going to break up the rythm of a really good conversation with my digression. But now that I see the conversation deteriorating I am not so concerned.

    Sheesh Otherwise, a month ago you were complaining there were two many geniuses now you are whinning about too many stupid people! I’m finding it hard to get a handle on exactly where you are heading with all this:) I get the sense that mediocrity is disappearing as fast as the middle class.

    A bit more seriously, it seems that you are trying to seek solace that stupidity accounts for the percentages who thought justice was done in the Zimmerman trial. IQ may get you a few percentage points but not enough to account for it. And, after listening to the second hour of the interview with b37 I think IQ will not get you as many percentage point as racism will. And I’m willing to take race out of Zimmerman’s decision to get out of the car for the sake of my argument.

    Percy Foremen once made the point that when he was defending a client the first rule was to not let the prosecution try his client. Let them try society, the police, the victem, anyone but the client. The defense successfully tried Trayvon Martin and the jury found him guilty. I do not believe the defense would have been successful had Trayvon been white. And I would bet every one of those jurors had above average IQs.

    • spit my coffee on the keyboard. laughed out loud.

      but thank you for the comment. i’m working on a post just for you. “dealing with genital warts in the nose–a how to guide.” 🙂

  8. “If, however, all beliefs and appearances are true, then everything must be at the same time both true and false. For many men hold opinions contrary to those of others and call deluded whoever does not think just as they do, and thus the same thing must both be and not be. Yet, if this is so, all beliefs must be true, since both those who are wrong as well as those who are right oppose the others’ views. If then reality is like this, all are right in their beliefs…
    Similarly, the view that all opinions are true has come to other persons from their observation of the sense world. For they think that the truth of an opinion should not be judged by the large or small number of those who hold it. And they say that the same thing seems sweet to some who taste it and bitter to others. So, if everybody were sick or everybody insane and only two or three were well or sane, the latter would be thought sick and insane but not the majority…….So those who are looking for a powerful argument and expecting at the same time to maintain their own position should take the precaution to say that an appearance is true not in itself but for him to whom it appears, when it appears in what way and form.” – Aristotle Book IV and Chapter 5 and 6 of ‘Metaphysics’

  9. Wasn’t he the one who said that if you drop two rocks, simultaneously, one light and one heavy, from a tower, the heavy rock would hit the ground before the lighter rock?

    Nonetheless, I really enjoyed reading that.

    • Just started reading this a couple of days ago so I haven’t gotten that far into it. He did admit that future information might improve upon or disprove his observations. Even Aristotle didn’t believe he knew everything. 🙂

  10. Otherwise. I’ve only been here a couple of minutes but I love you. Do you have a partner? I want to spend many nights drinking beer and sharing observations with you.

    I think you’ve been generous. I’ve been saying for years that most people are stupid and many of them carry pocket knives.