Mumbler of the Year

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On Stupidity

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On my flight back to Vancouver, I read an essay titled The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity, written by historian Carlo M. Cipolla. The book wasn’t especially enlightening, but it was a fun and entertaining read nonetheless, probably because I could fit several people I strongly dislike into the author’s profile of a ‘stupid person’.

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In the essay, Cipolla came up with five basic laws on human stupidity and they are:

1. Always and inevitably everyone under-estimates the number of stupid individuals in circulation.

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

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

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

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

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My favorite quotes in the book:

On law #2“Whether I considered a large university or a small college, a famous institution or an obscure one, I found that the same fraction δ of the professors are stupid”

On the power of stupidity“A stupid creature will harass you for no reason, for no advantage, without any plan or scheme and at the most improbable times and places”

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I have some mixed feelings about this book. On one hand, I like its humorous and semi-empirical approach, but on the other hand, I think it needs further clarification on the definition of a stupid person (or maybe breakdown human stupidity into different sub-categories). In the writing, he wrote a stupid person is someone who causes losses on others while deriving no gains/even incurring losses on himself, but what about someone who doesn’t cause harms on others but lacks intelligence? I mean they are not dangerous because they don’t have the intellectual capability to cause any real harm, but they require a lot of patience and energy to deal with. I’m sure we have all met people like that in school/at work.

Personally, I think the most dangerous type of stupid is the type of stupid with a bandit mindset (i.e., people who rip you off for their gain). Recently I had to deal with what Cipolla would identify as a ‘stupid creature’ in a group project. Not only is he lazy and thick-skinned (i.e., didn’t have any guilt on things he didn’t do and meetings he didn’t attend), he’s also a self-righteous opportunist. Because of his irresponsible actions, the team suffered because they had to 1.) spend extra time and effort to complete his part and 2.) waste energy dealing with his immature and arrogant behavior. But at the end, he didn’t gain anything from this because if he had done his part properly (which wouldn’t have taken much extra effort), it would have been a win-win situation, since the project belongs to him too, and 2.) his reputation is now really in ruined and I don’t think anyone who has worked with him or seen his work ever wanted to work with him again. OK, I guess after all, there’s nothing much to complain about because everyone has to deal with stupid people (so I’m not the only person with this problem) and like what Cipolla mentioned, stupid people are irrational so I shouldn’t try to talk sense and waste time with them. *sigh* End of my rant.

If you are interested in reading the book, you can get it here on Amazon.

P.S – I hope no one sees me as a stupid person haha

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