I have long expressed the speculation that we are probably no smarter than the population of ancient Babylon. Yes, we may have more technology and more knowledge, but brains evolve very slowly and have probably long ago reached intrinsic intellectual limits like the maximum size of an insect with an exoskeleton. Similarly, we are probably no smarter overall than people were way back when.
Given the number of people in our population who believe in any sort of crazy, nonsensical, disproven claim, it’s hard to deny that we have a lot of really stupid people in our population. Despite that, we have long preferred to respect the intelligence of our fellow humans and at worst characterize them as misled, uninformed, uneducated, and so on. Not stupid though. Oh no, we’re not saying that.
When Trump came to power I said that was further proof of how stupid we are. Clearly we are not stupid in all ways, but I was talking about the particular set of “social intelligence” smarts that might allow us to form a just and sustainable social system. As social stupidity exerted itself throughout the Trump era, more and more people found they had no choice but to refer to his supporters as simply stupid.
Still, most continued to resist that harsh point-blank criticism. They hung on to hope that Trump voters were simply misinformed by Fox News.
Then Covid came along. As it became clear that many Trump supporters and some others were continuing to resist vaccines and thereby placing themselves and others at mortal risk, the rest of us have pretty much been forced to admit that, yes, they are just plain stupid. We can no longer continue to pretend that any less critical adjective is sufficient to describe them.
Trump has not made people stupid. Stupid people created Trump. Trump didn’t tell them what to think, he threw out trial balloons at his rallies and he echoed whatever they cheered to most strongly. He led stupid people wherever they told him they wanted to go.
The stupid people don’t worship Trump. They don’t even follow Trump. The moment he tries to take them where they don’t want to go, they rebel. They boo him as they did when he tried to urge them to get vaccinated. As horrible as Trump may be, the real problem is not Trump, the real problem are the stupid people who created and continue to empower Trumpism.
Look, it’s clear we have different kinds of smart and stupid. Some people may be brilliant in lots of ways, but still be quite hopelessly stupid at math. You don’t want them teaching math to your kids. In the same way, we should accept that some people, as smart as they may be in lots of ways, are simply hopelessly stupid when it comes to social policy and they should not be allowed anywhere near making it.
In their excellent book, Hating America, authors Barry Rubin and Judith Colp Rubin document the dire misgivings that many 18th century European intellectuals expressed regarding the formation of a Democracy in America (see here). They warned that a system that empowered uninformed and stupid masses to make critical decisions was doomed to be dysfunctional and destructive. Their concern was elevated by their certainty that America, with all its vast resources, would become very powerful. Putting that much power in the hands of the stupid masses would be disastrous, they warned.
It has taken longer than those European intellectuals feared, but their predictions and warnings are finally coming true. A powerful America, dysfunctional and destructive in its behavior, careening down the road to a calamitous global future with stupid people behind the wheel.
Why now? I mean, the stupid people who support Trumpism – if not Trump himself – have always been here. They spewed nonsense in ancient Babylon, they owned slaves in America, and lynched free Blacks more recently. They have always hated government, believed in nonsense, proudly flew their Confederate flags, denied climate change, and rejected vaccinations. But we have managed pretty well so far. We have made progress despite them. So why worry about them now? What makes them more dangerous today?
I’ll give two reasons why our stupid population is more dangerous today – social media and guns. Social media gives them the critical ability to mutually-reinforce their stupidity, to coordinate, to rise up in online or real-world mobs, and to take over our government through coordinated action or even under threats of violence. Social media promised to empower the masses, and unfortunately it has succeeded.
And guns give these people the real power not only to mobilize, coerce, and threaten, but to exert their will through with profoundly horrifying violence and destruction.
It is long past time that we all accept and acknowledge that we have, and always will have, a socially stupid and dangerous fraction of people in our population. We must further accept that no amount of education, media campaigns, or empathetic outreach – or even fear of death – will dissuade these people from their stupid behavior. We cannot “bring them around.” We rather must find ways to moderate them, disempower them, and achieve a fair and sustainable society despite them.
We need, as George Will has said, sane and rational people in our representative form of government who can moderate our worst, stupidest, passions. But social media, and increasingly guns and threats of violence, are installing stupid people in our government who then gerrymander and create other pathways to bring in even more stupid people.
Eliminating, or strongly controlling, the two major enablers of stupidity, social media and guns, is essential if we are going to survive our socially stupid population and prove those European intellectuals wrong about the unavoidable fate of a Democratic system of government.
This is your best blog ever, and I have to admit, I was guilty of the exact state of denial you describe so well. How could a person be so stupid as to risk death just to make a point? They must have been brainwashed. Yes, that’s it. How could they believe a con for such a long time, when there’s so much evidence that they’re wrong? It must be social pressure, some rational calculation so as not to lose their friends. “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.” except, as you point out, guns make stupidity vastly more dangerous. It doesn’t take much intelligence to pull a trigger.
Good arguments, but then you quote an exceedingly stupid person named George Will to buttress your excellent points.
The election of Ronald Reagan was just as important an event in the history of American stupidity as this era of public stupidity. This goes back a long, long ways.
Notabilia, I could not agree more. In fact, you might like to go back and check out an old blog here… https://figmentums.com/2016/03/01/dear-future-time-traveler/
I’m convinced that stupidity can be taught. The Jesuits have a saying: “Give us a child before he is five years old and he is ours forever.” But if stupidity can be taught, so can intelligence. Maybe Ralph Reed, the American fundamentalist rationalist and head of the right wing Faith and Freedom Foundation, had a clever idea when he traveled to every nook and cranny in the U.S. helping fundamentalists get on nearly every school board in the country. . His goal was to indoctrinate American children into fundamentalism, a particular brand of stupidity. He was basically successful, especially in the Midwest and parts of the Southwest and Southeast. As a result, today you will find more avid Trump supporters in all those areas of the country. I have been trying to convince my intelligent friends to run for school boards in their part of the country but I get mostly a ho-hum. Until we wake up and discover hat we can do the thankless job of teaching our children better than stupid people do, I’m afraid the pandemic of stupidity will grow.
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Did it occur to you that Trump supporters did not create Trump? But Liberals pushing Liberal ideology created Trump. Trumps have always existed; you just created an environment where their leadership is actually coveted over the leadership of a progressive liberal Ideolog. Trump voters would most certainly have preferred a non-narcissistic, non-verbally abrasive leader with policies that are not diametrically opposed to the average conservative. But the progressives had the exact opposite to offer. Hillary, Biden, Kamala, please…
What did you expect?
And what are you doing today to remedy that? Nothing. In fact, you are doubling down on the divide. Ridiculous woke ideology that redefines traditional words like “woman” and “man”, and you demand the rest of us conform or else. A southern border out of control. Spending out of control and causing inflation. You are repeating history and creating a new Trump wave.
This blog post reeks of elitism.
(Note that I don’t approve comments unless they are informative in some way. And that doesn’t mean they must agree with me. So I’m posting this comment and my reply in the hope that they might be of some value.)
You started by agreeing that Trumpism is “diametrically opposed” to what we both agree is good governance. You didn’t even push back against my characterization of people, insofar as they embrace Trumpism, as stupid. I’m glad we can agree on that much!
But then you go on to accuse wokeism (it appears you are combining “Me Too” into wokeism) of pushing Conservatives toward extreme Trumpism. I guess your argument is that while Trumpism is bad, woke “progressive liberal” candidates are worse and so it was unfortunately only sensible for Conservatives to vote for Trump.
But this claim is simply not supported by any actual facts or history. Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in 2016. Hillary Clinton was and is in no way “woke.” Neither is Joe Biden. In fact I myself am not remotely on-board with extreme wokeism, quite the opposite. The Me Too hashtag first went viral in 2017 and only since then has pushed forward all the memes that you object to today. This was all well after Conservatives put Trump into office.
You simply cannot blame Wokeism (or Me Too) for Trumpism, and all the examples you cite are post election phenomenon. Further your other arguments do not stand up to any scrutiny, for example, responsible analyses all show that Conservative Administrations all run up spending far more than Democratic ones who bring them back to fiscal sanity. Huge tax cuts for Billionaires are not fiscally responsible.
I am sure your feelings are of course sincere, but the rationales you provide for having been “pushed into Trumpism” are simply, demonstrably wrong. That said, I sincerely thank you for reading and considering my blog articles in the spirit of the positive and respectful exchange of ideas, particularly when they are at such apparent odds. I’m much more gratified to have folks who hate my messages at least thinking about them, than only preaching to the choir!