Stupidity: the inconceivable tendency to harm oneself and others

Stupidity: the inconceivable tendency to harm oneself and others

“The stupid person is the most dangerous type of person there is,” wrote the historian Carlo Cipolla. The extreme or exceptional situations prove this. Sensitive, intelligent, and thoughtful behavior can keep us afloat and help us weather the storm, but foolish, stupid, and impulsive behavior can definitely sink us in the middle of the hurricane.

Since we are social beings we must take into account the behaviors of others. Sometimes, as Juan Rulfo said, “we save ourselves together or we sink”. Under these conditions, when constraints are essential to avoid disaster, stupid behavior can dangerously tip the balance.

What is human stupidity?

Cipolla manages to evade subjectivity by analyzing human relationships in terms of gains and losses. So it separates human stupidity from individual expectations by offering a more objective definition of it. He believes that "a stupid person is a person who causes harm to another person or group of people without at the same time obtaining a profit for himself".

He also explains that there are enormously stupid behaviors: “there are people who, with their improbable actions, not only cause harm to other people, but also to themselves”. Unlike the villain, who can harm others for his own benefit, stupid behaviors only cause harm to the environment and wreak havoc. Therefore, no one gains from it. It is nonsense behavior.

In short, to classify behavior as stupid, we could refer to three conditions:

1. Lack of practicality. The person knows what they are doing, but they do it wrong. Its behavior is neither practical nor functional, it is not an effective response to the situation, so not only does it not solve the problem, but it creates others.

2. Metacognitive myopia. This concept of the psychologist Klaus Fiedler refers to the inability of the stupid person to analyze his thinking. This person cannot analyze his reasoning process, he cannot make inferences beyond the given elements, so he is perfectly stupid.

3. Motivated ignorance. The stupid person chooses more or less consciously motivated ignorance; that is, it refuses to know more, to go deeper and to try to understand. Despite this, because he has a huge ego, he often ends up in situations that require more skills and knowledge than he has. The result is a disaster.

Stupidity in power

Stupid people can cause enormous damage. Cipolla explained that "some stupid people usually cause only limited harm, but there are others that end up causing terrible harm, not just to one or two individuals, but to communities or entire societies".

“The ability to harm a stupid person depends on several factors”, one of these is “the position of power or authority he occupies in society. The ability to harm others is dangerously amplified by the position of power he occupies, ”he said.

Indeed, it is not unusual for people with excessive egos and poor knowledge to reach positions of power from which they can make terrible decisions that drag with them those who directly or indirectly depend on them.

Why does this happen?

"The problem with humanity is that the stupid are sure of everything and the intelligent are full of doubts," said Bertrand Russell. The smarter people are aware of their limitations and are often reluctant to wield power, which is why it falls into the hands of more daring people, but with less ability, intelligence and knowledge.

In his basic laws of human stupidity, Cipolla explains that the most intelligent and rational people tend to underestimate the harmful potential of stupid people. "Stupid people are dangerous and deadly because rational people have a hard time imagining and understanding stupid behavior," he adds. "Generally, the attack takes us by surprise even when it is expected and it is not possible to organize the defense."

Stupid behaviors do not follow rational logic, making it difficult to anticipate them. So it's not unusual for many people to get sucked into the destructive spiral of stupidity in their path.

How to protect yourself from stupid people?

When life puts us with our backs to the wall as a society, especially in times of crisis, wars and pandemics, human stupidity emerges in all its glory. Unfortunately, sometimes we can't do much to combat it. It is extremely difficult to dialogue with stupidity. However, we can make sure not to participate in it.

"Intelligence and stupidity are not the opposite of each other, nor is stupidity the lack of intelligence, rather intelligence is the product, more or less unsuccessful, of a continuous series of attempts to dominate, or escape, from the stupidity that constitutes all that is human ”, wrote Matthijs Van Boxsel.

This means that we can all behave stupidly under certain circumstances. A University of Oulu study revealed that believing we are too smart can cloud our reasoning and lead us to make decisions that are harmful to ourselves and others.

Therefore, we must keep ourselves free from the toxic influence of an excessive ego accompanied by metacognitive myopia. We can achieve this by developing critical thinking, but also humble and empathetic. Always asking ourselves before making a decision not only what is good for us, but also what is good for others.

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