Stupid? Or Not?

dunceToday a friend sent me an article from the Wall Street Journal by Lance Morrow titled You Are Living in the Golden Age of Stupidity.  The article pretty much describes everything that has happened for the last four plus years as stupid, regardless of political party.  We live in a golden age of stupidity, he says.  It is everywhere. President Biden’s conduct of the withdrawal from Afghanistan will be remembered as a defining stupidity of our time—one of many. The refusal of tens of millions of people to be vaccinated against the novel coronavirus will be analyzed as a textbook case of stupidity en masse. Stupid is as stupid does, or, in the case of vaccination, as it doesn’t do.  Every buffoonery of the president and his people was answered by an idiocy from the other side, which in its own style was just as sinister and just as clownish.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot since January 6 and I think Mr. Morrow over-simplifies.  I don’t think the citizens of the 2020s are any stupider than those of the last two decades … although I do believe that having a stupid, reality show president made it more acceptable to be stupid and that brought some of the Stupid Minority out of the weeds.   I will say that the ability of our citizenry to think critically, to look at a number of viewpoints on a subject and distinguish between the truth and propaganda, has declined in the last few decades.   But over all, I don’t think we are suddenly a stupid nation.  We do, however, as a species have an incredible ability to compartmentalize of minds.  I’ve known scientists who believe in religious doctrines that fly in the face of all they’ve learned in college and I’ve known intelligent, compassionate people who harbor extreme prejudice against certain groups.   You don’t have to be stupid to act stupid.

Rather, I am inclined to blame our apparent stupidity on our old companion, Confirmation Bias, that tendency of humans, when presented with a number of views on a subject to choose the one that supports what we already believeCB and reject the rest.  It seems to be deeply ingrained in our psyches, which makes me believe it served a very positive purpose in our historical societal development.   Perhaps in simpler times, it served to bind us together into communities with shared rules and beliefs.  This is suggested by What is the Function Of Confirmation Bias? by Uwe Peters on (here, if you are up to a long and academic exposition).  Regardless of its purpose in the past, two changes have turned Confirmation Bias against us.  First, the birth of continuous “news” from every viewpoint and of social media has created a world in which we can find “facts” in support of anything we want to believe.  Secondly, politicians and so-called newsmen have become proficient at using media, social and otherwise, to manipulate Confirmation Bias to their advantage.   Disingenuous politicians and so-called journalists have learned that if you say the January 6 attack on the Capitol was a peaceful demonstration over and over, those who want to believe it will do so, no matter what the videos show.

So, to answer the question posed in the title, I would propose that we are not a stupid nation.   There is some reassurance in that.  It means we can learn to think critically, to counter the Confirmation Bias that seems to have become our weakness.  But that takes effort.   It isn’t always fun to examine viewpoints you don’t want to believe and actively consider the possibility that they might be the facts.   It is easier to turn on Fox News or CNN or your favorite YouTube channel and assume it’s all truth.   I’d suggest that perhaps we are not a stupid nation.  We are a mentally lazy nation, unwilling to put in the mental effort it takes to be a good citizen of a democracy.

What do you think?  Or do you?

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5 Comments on “Stupid? Or Not?”

  1. After a trip through Europe I realized how stupid we are and LOUD! It was quite an eye-opener and embarrassing. I knew then that it was only a matter of time before this “democracy” would be taken over by the corporations. It’s not really that hard–you just pander to the rabble and their simplistic beliefs.

  2. nudistterp Says:

    Stupidity and the social acceptability thereof were already rising when drumpf appeared on the election scene. his election just gave it a big boost.

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