It was one of those days again, one of those days that I got my face rubbed in my gift for being stupid.
It's not like I need any help being stupid; I've more than a little natural talent. And I have had more than one supervisor over the years with a gift for making me realize just how deep it goes. (Seems to be a supervisor-level job skill, but to be fair, letting someone else know how stupid they're being is a special kind of schadenfreude. Especially from a position of power.)
moments hours of self-flagellation and loathing, I found my mind turning to how Stupid with a Capital S is experiencing a Golden Age right now. It takes a lot of resources to be really Stupid, and boy howdy do we gots 'em.
More maundering below the Orange Omnilepticon.
Consider the growth of human knowledge. The 21st Century sits atop a vast store of human knowledge that has been expanding in all directions faster than most people can keep up, even the Smart ones. The cost of becoming an expert in something is focus, which in practical terms means deliberately working to know more and more about less and less. You can become a world authority in something, but end up needing help to cross the street - and with an ego that doesn't recognize boundaries of competence.
With so much available just an inter-toobz search away, it's never been easier to find something to be wrong about - with lots of links. Social media only amplifies the problem. You can find lots of like-minded people all happy to be Stupid together, and lots more who are willing to tell you at length how Stupid you are because they have a different Stupid they've coalesced around. It's the digital equivalent of howler monkeys traipsing through the treetops to the edges of their territory to scream at competing tribes.
Even when you mean well, Facebook, Twitter, eMail, etc. can enable aggravated Stupid. Make a comment without thinking, you can make an enemy for life. Forward the wrong email, or send it to the wrong person (or Reply All) and you can kiss your life and reputation goodbye. Post an awkward selfie or get caught in a video that goes viral, your moment of Stupid can go around the world and make you immortal. (Till the next Big Stupid comes along.) But once it's out there, it's out there forever. You don't have the luxury of moving away and changing your name.
It's a peculiar way that memory works that complicates dealing with Stupid and learning from it. I find that I personally have a far easier time remembering (and being haunted by) episodes of Stupid in my past than I do recalling positive accomplishments. There are those who seem to have the opposite reaction. (And the defaulting setting is to not think of either at all, living for the moment.) We're wired to respond to pain more than pleasure, and more easily conditioned by it. Stupid is easy; accomplishment takes work - another element biasing the way we deal with it.
In the olden days, when a person could be born, grow up, live, and eventually die without ever traveling more than a short distance from their village, Stupid was self-limiting. When everyone knows the same people, knows the same stuff, believes the same beliefs, Stupid has a harder time standing out. When people didn't know all that much beyond what they needed to know to get along with their neighbors and hopefully not starve or catch a plague, ignorance was a kind of strength.
You didn't worry about what you didn't know, and worrying about "unknown unknowns" didn't even show up on your radar. The officially recognized Smart people (Priests, shamans, chieftains, and other authority figures) would determine what was and was not Stupid, what was Right, what was Wrong. Travelers, strangers were easy to deal with; you knew to be distrustful of them because you didn't know anything about them or what they believed. Of course, there's also the perverse lure of the unknown and exposure to new thoughts - even more reason to treat them as dangerous.
Some people call those the Dark Ages; others think of them as the Good Old Days.
The odds are against us. There's usually only a limited number of ways to be Right about something, a single Optimum to aim for - but a plethora of ways to be Stupid, and usually a far greater likelihood of screwing up on even a simple pass/fail test. You're often far from your potential peak performance, not always on top of your game, sometimes less than focused - but Stupid is always waiting and makes no allowances. Natural laws know no pity. ("We pray for mercy because we would all be fools to pray for justice.")
If that weren't bad enough, we now have enough of a societal cushion (not inexhaustible) to enable weaponized Stupid as a means to power, the manipulation of Stupid as a means to wealth. It's always been around, but we now know enough about how to lead people around by the nose to be really dangerous. ("A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. So is a lot.")
There's nothing more dangerous than elites armed with Stupid disguised as Common Wisdom, aka Groupthink. We've seen what happens when "the Smartest Guys in the Room" are allowed to run amok with the economy. It wasn't all that long ago that "the Best and Brightest" demonstrated that even a world class military machine used in the wrong place in the wrong way at the wrong time even by supposedly very Smart people is a recipe for disaster. (It's even more so when those Smart people aren't really all that smart. Think Dunning-Kruger effect.)
We're experiencing a "Twilight of the Elites" because even people who should know better are not immune to the pursuit of perceived self-interest to the point of Folly. When those elites are corrupt, the power of Stupid becomes magnified. Deliberately fostering Ignorance, Folly, Prejudice for political and personal gain is a growth industry, up until the point it undermines society to the point where catastrophic calamities collapse things to a new equilibrium - and its practitioners do not care so long as they end up on top of the rubble.
They are aided in this by the contemporary understanding of how to manipulate people into Stupid by cloaking it in an attractive guise, or piggybacking it on top of fears and anger, aka marketing. They are further aided in this by technology that allows the howler monkeys among us to be heard around the world 24/7 via dedicated misinformation systems. They succeed all too readily because once you get people to personally invest in a particular form of Stupid, they reflexively defend it because A) it's part of their identity, and B) admitting to Stupid is painful.
More invidious is Stupid by intent - the deliberate manipulation of others by concealing information that might enable people to draw the correct conclusions and avoid a particular Stupid the manipulators desire. It's impossible to exercise oversight of agencies like the NSA or the CIA when the overseers are deliberately kept in the dark or prevented from sharing their oversights with the public. "Need to know" is a double-edged sword. ("You can't handle the truth.") It generates Paranoia - which isn't entirely Stupid when it's an appropriate response to a real threat. ("Trust no one.") The corrosive effect on society can not be underestimated, once people begin believing en masse that they are being lied to - and it's not really Stupid when it's the case.
Hell, even with good intentions, defending against Stupid can be self defeating if done without sufficient thought. The case of wide-spread cheating among Air Force officers in charge of nuclear missile silos on tests came about because a system designed to prevent one kind of Stupid drove the people subject to it to adopt a different kind of Stupid in self-defense - but was it really a stupid response on their part given what else they knew?
For my own part, I can all too easily believe I've gotten to the "Too soon old, too late smart" phase of my life. I work in an environment where guarding against Stupid is a recognized goal, as is (just as, if not more important) the need to recognize that Stupid happens and deal with it effectively. ("Constant vigilance!") Having been exposed to Fitzgerald on "Probability and Human Conduct" at an impressionable age, I could hope I have some capacity for recognizing Stupid and dealing with it effectively, as uncomfortable as that can be.
I do take some comfort in the observation that "Since no one is perfect, it follows that all great deeds have been accomplished out of imperfection. Yet they were accomplished, somehow, all the same." I take less comfort in history, which tells those willing to look that Stupidity can be fatal for civilizations as well as individuals. I try to have faith in that we now know enough to find the answers we need to overcome Stupidity - as long as we remember to appreciate the difference between Intelligence and Wisdom.
So, how do you deal with Stupid, either personally or in general?