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I've always had my own ideas on who I felt (and I use the word 'feel' very deliberately here) was stupid and who intelligent. People, scientists and laymen alike, have always discussed what intellgence is and if IQ has any bearing on it. It always occurred to me that the definition of intelligence apparently was something nobody seemed to be able to agree upon and most definitions I have heard or read didn't really correspond to my own, admittedly intuitive definition. But maybe it's with intelligence as with many other seemingly 'unsolvable', endless debates. Maybe we are just picking the wrong fight? Maybe we should approach the dilemma from a different angle. In his book Just How Stupid Are We? Facing the Truth about the American Voter, Rick Shenkman gives us a definition of stupidity that I find rather satisfying:
Five defining characteristics of stupidity, it seems to me, are readily apparent. First, is sheer ignorance: Ignorance of critical facts about important events in the news, and ignorance of how our government functions and who's in charge. Second, is negligence: The disinclination to seek reliable sources of information about important news events. Third, is wooden-headedness, as the historian Barbara Tuchman defined it: The inclination to believe what we want to believe regardless of the facts. Fourth, is shortsightedness: The support of public policies that are mutually contradictory, or contrary to the country's long-term interests. Fifth, and finally, is a broad category I call bone-headedness, for want of a better name: The susceptibility to meaningless phrases, stereotypes, irrational biases, and simplistic diagnoses and solutions that play on our hopes and fears.
A short and pretty amusing 5-point characterization, IMHO. It appeared in a short excerpt of his new book on Tom's Dispatch (or AlterNet). Rick runs a blog of his own along the same veins of the book/article, you should go and cheggidout.
However, I'm not about to start blogging on politics, at least not that kind of politics (at least not before I have tenure, that is). I found the article rather interesting because it also helps understand why it is so easy for the flourishing business of religious nutcases (with members such as the Discovery Institute) to find suckers who buy into their -for the rest of the world- obviously stupid ideas. Most of the world has basically abandoned creationism about 150 years ago, yet in the US there still is a steadfast (and rich) few who seem to not have gotten the message yet. It's like these people have been stranded on an island for five generations and their descendants wonder whatever happened to the monarchies of the world and are now trying to bring some of it back. Stupidity, as characterzed above (whatever its reasons), certainly describes a great many of cdesign proponentsists or modern day creationists. I think it is undisputed that education lowers stupidity both in individuals and from an epidemiological perspective. Is it a coincidence that higher education is usually referred to with scorn in these circles? Rather than merely blaming stupidity, I find it more important to ask why being stupid can have such a high social value in certain fractions of the US population. Why do especially religious fanatics keep their children from schools in order to home-school them? It's more than just indoctrination with religious dogma - keeping kids stupid is a prerequisite for them to buy into the religious inanity of some magic man who waved his imaginary hand and just made things. In this extreme form at least, religion really is akin to child abuse.
Posted on Monday 07 July 2008 - 09:26:22 comment: 0

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