Stupidity, as Written by Cormac McCarthy

Cormac McCarthy covers many big ideas in All the Pretty Horses.  However, one character completely embodies stupidity: Blevins.

blevinsBlevins is a thirteen year old boy that decides to run away from home to Mexico and to join a sixteen year old, John Grady Cole, and a seventeen year old, Lacey Rawlins, who he does not know, that are doing the same.  Blevins carries a revolver, which he shoots expertly, hitting a wallet spinning through the air, and rides a very fine horse which his companions envy.  Doesn’t sound too bad yet, but the stupidity is coming!

On their way through Mexico, the three encounter a storm.  Blevins panics, claiming that it is in his genes to be struck by lightning.  He lists a plethora of relatives who have been struck by lightning (it’s worth noting that has evidenced that he can not be trusted completely and that he is drunk at the time).  Against the advice of the others, Blevins tries to outrun the storm.  He takes his horse straight to the base of some mountains.  It floods and Blevins loses his horse, gun, clothes (which had metal buttons he believed would get him struck by lightning), and just about everything else besides his boots.

The three ride into a village with Blevins riding with John Grady.  John Grady and Rawlins tell Blevins to stay in hiding as they search town and find look for the horse.  They find it and come back to tell Blevins, but he has disappeared and only returns after they are asleep.  They decide to steal the horse just before dawn, but it is not where they last saw it.  So, Blevins decides to break into a house, where he finds the horse, and rides away on it, chased by men with guns, endangering Rawlins and John Grady, as well.

Have no fear! Blevins becomes even more of an idiot!  Eventually, he gets Colt32-20away, but decides to go back to get his gun.  He retrieves it and kills several people before getting caught and put in prison.

Stupidity can be found anywhere, even in the works great authors.  Stupidity is persistent, ubiquitous, and powerful.

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Stupidity Among the Gods

Everyone makes mistakes.  If you were to ask the ancient Greekscronus, they would say this statement even applies to the gods.  While many gods made mistakes, none were as downright stupid as Cronos.

Mistake #1: Eating your children. This is crazy to begin with.  Why would someone eat their own children?  I suppose when you’re a god, or even a king for that matter, this would stop them from trying to claim your power.  However, this is a fantastic way to make enemies in people such as, I don’t know, your wife, the mother of those children you’ve been making meals out of. (Note: This was actually a precaution, Cronus was aware that one of his sons would “kill” him.  Nevertheless, he should have know that there’s no getting around the Fates.)

Mistake #2: Underestimating your wife.  Rhea, the wife of Cronus, was another Titan.  I don’t think it matters if you are a god, you do not want the wrath of a divine woman on you!

RockMistake #3: Believing a rock is your son. Rhea hid her and Cronus’s son, Zeus, and fed Cronus a rock instead.  How do you mistake a rock for your son?!  You should be able to tell the difference with all five of your senses! A rock is much harder than a baby.  A rock does not smell like a baby.  A rock does not look like baby.  A rock does not cry like a baby.  And, while I cannot honestly say that I have tried either, I can’t imagine that a rock tastes like a baby!

Mistake #4: Not digesting those kids. Well, I guess you can’t really blame ole Cronus for this one.  The gods are immortal, after all.  Apparently they can’t die even if they are eaten and sitting in the belly of a Titan for years.  This just serves as a reason why Cronus should have disposed of the future Olympians in another, more effective, manner.

After this series of mistakes, Zeus returned and cut his father open, allowing his five siblings, Demeter, Hades, Poseidon, Hera, and Hestia, to escape.  Zeus proceeded to banish Cronus and usurp his throne.

If Cronus had not decided to eat his children, and instead chose to nurture them and keep good relations with them, his reign would likely have lasted much longer, probably forever, seeing that he was immortal.

My Story of Stupidity

Yes, I do stupid things too.  In fact, I did something pretty stupid just last week.

Our school soccer team made it into the state tournament so, as per tradition, we decided to do something crazy with our hair.  I was not one of these, however, because I was working as a checker at the municipal elections the day of our first game in the tournament and I did not want the many voters of my town to think that a fool was handling something so precious as their vote.

The next game was two days later, so I decided to do something with my hair for that.  Many of my teammates had bleached their hair and a couple were planning to dye their hair, so I joined them.  One of my teammates bleached my hair, which did not look half bad, then another dyed it for me.  There was a problem with this: my friends are not professionals and bleached and dyed my hair unevenly.  I was stuck with unevenly colored hair.

At work Saturday, I showed one of my coworkers and he said, “What did you do to your hair?”  I told him the story, “The soccer team made states so why not?” To which he responded, “I can think of several reasons.”

Once I got home, I had my brother buzz my hair off, but this only revealed lusty lavenderthe unevenness of my hair more.  Now, I wear a hat all the time to cover my spotty hair.  To make matters worse, the color I chose was “Lusty Lavender”, so my hair is blond, purple, and dark purple and not at all natural looking.  I look like a fool, but I still hold that that permanent hair dye may have been the best twelve dollars I have ever spent.

Stupidity in Pop Culture

Although society frowns upon stupidity, it seems to also look up to it.  The stupid are shunned… but only if they are part of “normal” society.  It seems that celebrities, who are external to what I am calling “normal” society, are idolized for their stupidity.

Take a look at American television.  So many of the shows, and some of keeping-up-with-the-kardashiansthem very popular, are reality shows.  These often show rich people acting stupidly (I’m looking at you, “Keeping Up with the Kardashians”).  It’s not even just the shows, but reality itself.  Anytime a celebrity does something, the media is all over it.  Examples include Charlie Sheen and his cocaine addiction, Justin Bieber’s wreckless driving, or pretty much anything Britney Spears has done, to name just a few.

If people of “normal” society acted like this, everyone else would turn away from them, not focus their attention on them.  This is a baffling paradox: we love what we despise.  As Brad Paisley so eloquently puts it in his song “Celebrity”,

The more they run my name down, the more my price goes up

Stupidity: It’s a Competition

Have you ever seen someone dare someone else to do something stupid?  And darethen seen the dare-ee actually do it?  And even more surprising is when a third person says that they will do something even stupider!

This baffles me (not that I have never been a part of this scenario).  There must be some reward to acting stupid or else no one would act in such a way.  Then, if there is a reward, logic dictates that stupidity must be a competition.  People actually try to out-stupid each other.

So what is this reward?  Well, I have never seen anyone get money or a prize for acting stupid.  Perhaps the reward is respect, from oneself and from others, but then again, stupidity is looked down upon.  The reward must be some feeling of self-fulfillment.  None of this really makes any sense, but that is the nature of stupidity.  Stupidity does(n’t) have a mind of its own.

Danger - Stupidity

“You Can’t Fix Stupid”

According to comedian Ron White, “You can’t fix stupid.”  This raises the question: Is there really a cure for stupidity?  For ignorance there is a cure, becoming aware and learning what you do not know.  However, stupidity is a little more complex.

Stupidity is not just a lack of knowledge, but instead it is a refusal to learn or a decision to act against common sense or what you already know.  Either of these options rule out ignorance’s cure of learning as a cure for stupidity.

One could suggest that a negative outcome to a stupid action might teach a stupid person not to act in such an idiotic fashion.  To counter that suggestion, I say that such an option would be negated by the very essence of stupidity itself.  The reason is that the first time one acts with a negative outcome is a mistake.  It is not until one repeats that action that he or she is stupid.  This leads me to believe that Albert Einstein was mistaken when he said, “insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”; perhaps he should have said stupidity.

I cannot think of another possible cure for stupidity and I have never heard another offered.  As such, Ron White may have been right.  I would take it even further and say that stupidity is an incurable disease, rampant among humanity.

The Laws of Stupidity

According to Carlo M, Cipolla, a Professor of Economics at UC Berkeley, in his essay “The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity”, there are five fundamental laws of stupidity:

1) Always and inevitably everyone underestimates the number of stupid individuals in circulation.

If any estimate of the number of stupid people would be low, then that would mean that the fraction of stupid people that is correct would be above any estimate.  So is the fraction of the people that are stupid 1/1, or everyone?  This sounds harsh, but, in an odd way, it seems accurate.

2) The probability that a certain person be stupid is independent of any other characteristic of that person.

This particular statement is intriguing.  If a person can be stupid regardless of any other characteristic, even one that might be evidence otherwise, can a person that is smart be stupid?  In my opinion, yes.

3) A stupid person is a person who caused losses to another person or to a group of persons while himself deriving no gain and even possibly incurring losses.

Cipolla refers to this as the “golden law”.  This is how Cipolla defines stupidity.  While I agree that someone who harms others without benefiting themselves is stupid, I do not think that this is the only way a person can be stupid.  I think that the definition of stupidity should be broad, like “stupidity is acting against logic or one’s own knowledge.”

4) Non-stupid people always underestimate the damaging power of stupid individuals.  In particular non-stupid people constantly forget that at all times and places and under any circumstances to deal and/or associate with stupid people always turns out to be a costly mistake.

This law again deals with underestimating stupid people.  The first law was about the number of stupid people and this is about their power.  If stupid people are so numerable and powerful, then it seems that it would be nearly impossible to avoid them, and as such nearly impossible to avoid making a “costly mistake”.  This reinforces the saying, “everyone makes mistakes.”

5) A stupid person is the most dangerous type of person.

The fifth law resembles the fourth.  The reason stupid people are so dangerous is because they are irrational.  They do not plan out their actions before they carry them out.  As a result, they cause losses to others without seeking out their own gain.   They are especially dangerous because the losses they bring to others unintentional and so a stupid person could, anywhere, at any time, without warning, harm another.

While I find these laws to be thought-provoking, I do not agree entirely with them.  It is not so much any individual law that I disagree with, but the concept of writing laws for stupidity altogether.  Laws imply some sort of limitation and I do not believe that stupidity has any limits.

limitless stupidity

 

Sources:

The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity, http://www.ecotopia.com/webpress/stupidity/

 

Stupidity is Funny

Stupidity is not often perceived as an admirable quality.  However, there is a place people love to see it: in comedies.  While more refined comedies may not need to use stupidity to make people laugh, many comedies do operate via stupidity.  Some call this “asinine”, others call it hilarious.

The people who call stupidity as a mode for humor asinine seem to have a “higher sense of humor”, at least in their own mind.  They think themselves more enlightened.  This is not necessarily bad.  These people just think comedy is more of an art and that there is more to it than just acting stupid.

People who think stupidity is hilarious sometimes think that those who do not are just snobby.  They appreciate the stupidity for what it is trying to do, that is make them laugh.  In my observations, these people tend to laugh more in their lives.  It’s possible that they have happier lives than the “snobs”, but it’s also possible that the “snobs” have just as happy lives and either keep their pleasure inward or take pleasure from sources other than comedy.

Some comedy greats, such as Will Ferrell and Jim Carrey, barely go a movie without acting stupid for the entertainment of others.  Some might say that acting stupid for others’ enjoyment is in itself stupid, but that can be seen as funny itself.  Perhaps there is a chain of stupid actions and people seeing them as funny or stupid but in turn seeing them as funny so in the end almost everyone, inclined or not to laugh at ill thought-out actions, is entertained.

One such movie as mentioned above is Dumb and Dumber, whose title is in itself a homage to stupidity:

Synonyms and Antonyms of Stupidity

Synonyms:

  • absurdity
  • apathy
  • idiocy
  • ignorance
  • lunacy
  • nonsense
  • silliness

Out of these synonyms, the one that stands out to me the most is “ignorance”.  Although it is listed as a synonym of stupidity, they do not mean the same thing.  To be ignorant is to lack knowledge of a subject.   To be stupid is to lack the capacity to have knowledge of a subject or to think one does have knowledge of a subject when, in fact, they do not.  Another synonym that stands out to me is “apathy”.  Most people do not think of someone who does not care when they think of stupidity.  However, this synonym, “absurdity”, relates to the definition of stupidity in the 1560s: “numbness”.

Antonyms:

  • intelligence
  • sense

The Origin of Stupidity

stupidity1540s, “want of intelligence,” from Latin stupiditas, from stupidus (see stupid). It also at various times meant “lack of feeling or emotion” (1560s); “stupor; numbness” (c.1600)

The word stupidity does not have very old roots.  It comes from around the year 1540, from the Latin word stupiditas meaning “want of intelligence”, which comes from stupidus meaning “stupid”.  In the 1560s, stupidity meant “lack of feeling or emotion” and in the 1600s it meant “stupor” or “numbness”.

People use the word stupidity when referring to an action or behavior that is not sensible.  Often, stupidity is used as a form of humor. Other times, examples of stupidity are used to teach lessons to others.  Observing and commenting on or mocking the stupidity of others is also a way that some people increase their self-esteem.  In all these cases, stupidity is useful, although it can be harmful.

“Think of how stupid the average person is, and realize half of them are stupider than that.” -George Carlin