The Problem With Stupid People: A Commentary


Stupid people

What is the first thing you thought of when you read the title of this article? Did you think of a person or group of people that constantly frustrate you with their stupidity, their stubbornness, or their inability to learn or change their behaviour? Do you think ‘the world would be a much better place if everyone were just that little more intelligent’? Or do you think ‘leave stupid people alone, they can’t help how they are’?

All of these reactions highlight the phenomenon I am about to explain. They all centre around distancing yourself from the ‘stupid people’. If your first reaction was different to all of those above then please let me know because I’d be very interested to hear what it was.

Before you read on, please note that I chose my words carefully in order to make sure I say what I mean. Do me a favour and just read one sentence at a time without trying to jump ahead or guess what I’m about to say. An idea cannot be understood out of context. I will define what I call ‘The Problem of Stupid People’ at the end once it has been adequately explained.

When we look at the world, we find many examples of what WE may see as silly behaviour. The EASIEST way to explain why people think or do silly things is to say that they must not be as intelligent, or informed or perceptive as us. ‘If only they knew what I know. If only they understood what I understand. If only they would listen to reason. Then they would disregard their old ways, their old habits, their old beliefs, and be better for it.’

This explanation is really just another way to assert our own (false) superiority. It is judging the actions and beliefs of others without fully understanding them. Why would someone feed their pay cheque into the pokies every week? Don’t they realise that they can’t win? Surely they must be ignorant of the odds! This is where the trap lies. We KNOW that this is true SOME of the time. The trap is to believe it is true ALL of the time. There is a massive difference between these two statements. The most dangerous lies are the ones that are ALMOST true.

To know that some people who gamble are ignorant of the odds is logical. On the basis that everyone is different, it is reasonable to assume that some people (perhaps even ‘many’ people) do not truly understand the way casinos make money. However, to go the next step and believe that ALL those who feed the pokies are either uninformed or stupid is an insult to all those people who do not fall into these categories.

I have deliberately chosen a relatively trivial example, to illustrate the point without stirring too many emotions or hitting to close to home, but this is just the tip of the iceberg. Have you ever been cut off in traffic by a speeding motorist and been amazed at how ‘stupid’ some people can be? Have you ever looked at an obese person struggling to walk (whilst eating junk food) and wondered how anyone could do that to themselves? The list goes on forever. It is very easy to make quick judgments about others when in reality we don’t know the first thing about them.

Although I usually steer clear of generalisations, this one seems too obvious to omit:

We are ALL guilty of this at some point or another.


I am not writing this to point fingers. Exactly the opposite. Pointing fingers is another example of how people try to (falsely) distance themselves from any fault or responsibility. When reading on you need to know that I’m talking about YOU and ME and everyone else in this world. I am writing this article so that it becomes easier for us to realise when we fall into the trap of thinking we are somehow better than other people.

There are very many reasons why it is harmful to judge others, but today I am only focusing on this ONE. Judging others is a sure way to feed yourself FALSE information; to impede your understanding of the world around you. Every time we do this we MISUNDERSTAND the situation. There is MORE to be understood that we simply brush aside. How does someone become so overweight that they can barely walk?! This is a valid question with a complicated explanation! The answer ‘they just must be stupid’ is completely inadequate! It’s like trying to ever so slightly fudge your figures in a science prac to get the results you THINK you should be getting. (This is never a good idea by the way. I remember falling victim to this temptation in high school.) The results you end up with are WORSE than if you had simply blindly written down observed numbers. This is the price you pay for THINKING you already know the answer (and subsequently IGNORING the evidence in front of you).

I have fallen into this trap myself many times. It is humbling and eye-opening when I realise that the way I saw the world was drastically oversimplified. And to think of all those people I was insulting with my arrogance!! I’ve never met them, but I owe them an apology. I therefore advocate humility in the quest for knowledge. Believing you ALREADY know is the only sure way to PREVENT yourself learning. Pride is a scholar’s worst enemy. I’ll attempt to illustrate what I mean by sharing a recent example of how I was guilty of this very thing.

I often feel compelled to defend those who either don’t have the opportunity, or the capability of defending themselves. Hence why I will usually speak on behalf of the least represented side of an issue. Not so long ago I saw a TV panel interview with Senator Steve Fielding and Richard Dawkins (among others). The senator was receiving a torrent of abuse and ridicule for his belief (derived from history in the bible) that the earth is thousands of years old (not billions as geologists would tell you). The senator (to his incredible embarrassment!) had no reply and I felt compelled to defend his position. Unfortunately I later realised my defence was a huge insult to all well educated, intelligent people who share his point of view. See if you can pick why before I explain it.

My defence went something like this:

“This disagreement is all a matter of trust. In lieu of first hand evidence, people believe information from ‘trustworthy’ sources. Who is right? The geologists or the biblical scholars? The senator does not have the expertise to find the answer himself. Instead he must ask himself which ‘expert’ he TRUSTS more. The senator is not a scientist. His religion (based on the bible) has no doubt done a lot for him in his life since no-one puts their faith in something that lets them down. He believes his biblical scholars. Any rational person in his situation would do the same (i.e. believe the version of events as told by the ‘expert’ you trust the most).”

So what was my mistake? Who was I insulting? My (false) assumption was that all those who properly understand the science behind geology, would agree with the geologists. That is, any belief otherwise ONLY occurs due to lack of understanding. This way of thinking is very dismissive. I only realised my fault when I discovered that there really are people who both understand geology AND yet still disagree. These are intelligent people who can think for themselves and come to their own conclusion. Who am I to claim that I know better? I am neither a geologist NOR a biblical scholar! In fact, I think it is MUCH more likely that an accomplished scholar would be familiar with geology, than vice versa.

So where does that leave me? The fact is that there are those who, for reasons unbeknown to me, believe the earth is a million times younger than the scientific consensus. Now I want to learn more. I want to understand. I want to ask these intelligent people the obvious questions. How can you believe that?! What am I missing?! How is it not obvious that the scientists (with their truckloads of evidence) have it right? What do you know that I don’t know?

In summary ‘The Problem of Stupid People’ is OUR problem. It is a distortion of the truth that occurs in OUR mind. It occurs every time we look at others and think ‘I would NEVER make the mistake your making right now. I’m better than that.’ It is seeing an obese person and thinking ‘I would NEVER let that happen to me’; or a violent criminal and thinking ‘I would NEVER be capable of such injustice’. It’s whenever we see a problem in others and think ‘I am NOT like that. I am different.’ It is a subconscious attempt to distance of ourselves from fault or blemish, and it is based less on reality than it is on what we would LIKE to believe.

If we are to understand the world around us, we need to keep asking questions; to see others and think ‘We are essentially the same! How can YOU think or act or believe such different things to me?!’ Look deeper and earnestly ask WHY? It is never adequate to say “they’re just different” and especially not “they just must be stupid”.

‘The Problem of Stupid People’ is when we compensate for our own lack of understanding by insulting others who challenge our preconceived view of the world. It is a dismissive, self justifying arrogance that reasons “You don’t agree with how I KNOW the world works. I am right. Therefore you are stupid.” Unfortunately, it is much easier to pick the faults of others, than it is to see our own…

Author: Paul Micallef | Commentary


Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Categories: Beliefs, Morals, People

Author:Andrew Beato

CEO, Chief Editor and founder of Intentious. Passionate comment enthusiast, amateur philosopher, Quora contributor, audiobook and general knowledge addict.

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4 Comments on “The Problem With Stupid People: A Commentary”

  1. Emma
    May 19, 2011 at 3:57 pm #

    Actually my first thought was, whay are people always more stupid in groups? is it along the lines od the mob philosophy.

    • Emma
      May 19, 2011 at 4:10 pm #

      my next thought was wow i can’t seem to spell lol

  2. June 9, 2011 at 6:39 pm #

    Reading this has taken me back to the dark days when I took a profound interest in Medieval scholastic philosophy, recalling Richard Bacon, who pontificates on ignorance at length, propounding that it is rooted in four main causes: appeals to unsuited authority; undue influences of customs; opinions of the unlearned masses; and displays of wisdom that simply covered up ignorance. (As to the latter, I see that on a daily basis in fellow doctors and professors……….Jaded by academia much?)

  3. Yessica Martinez
    June 14, 2011 at 2:26 am #

    I actually thought it was pretty amusing. I love stupidity because it can be harmless fun. And it makes me feel smarter. How boring would the world be without stupid people?!

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