From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
"Man is stupid, you know, phenomenally stupid." --Notes from Underground (1864) by Fyodor Dostoevsky
Stupidity is the quality or condition of being stupid, or lacking intelligence, as opposed to being merely ignorant or uneducated. This quality can be attributed to both an individual (e.g. Penny Person is stupid) or a person's actions, words or beliefs (e.g., Penny Person's policies are stupid). The term can thus also refer to poor use of judgement, or insensitivity to nuances in a person who is otherwise intelligent. The determination of who is stupid is relatively difficult, despite attempts to measure intelligence (and thus stupidity) such as IQ tests. The adjective is also used as a general pejorative (e.g. I didn't borrow your stupid cap - go look for it yourself).
From Proto-Indo-European *(s)tewp-, from *(s)tew- (“to push, hit”). Cognates include Ancient Greek τύπτω (túptō, “I strike”), Sanskrit तोपति (tópati, “to hurt”), Albanian shtyj (“to thrust”), Old Church Slavonic тъпати (tŭpati), and Old English styntan (English stint), Old English stybb (English stub), Old English stēap (English steep)
The root word stupid, which can serve as an adjective or noun, comes from the Latin verb stupere, for being numb or astonished, and is related to stupor. In Roman culture, the stupidus was the professional fall guy in the theatrical mimes.
According to the online Merriam-Webster dictionary, the words "stupid" and "stupidity" entered the English language in 1541. Since then, stupidity has taken place along with "fool," "idiot," "dumb," "moron," and related concepts as a pejorative for misdeeds, whether purposeful or accidental, due to absence of mental capacity.
Stupidity is a quality or state of being stupid, or an act or idea that exhibits properties of being stupid. In a character study of "The Stupid Man" attributed to the Greek philosopher Theophrastus (c. 371 – c. 287 BC), stupidity was defined as "mental slowness in speech or action". The modern English word "stupid" has a broad range of application, from being slow of mind (indicating a lack of intelligence, care or reason), dullness of feeling or sensation (torpidity, senseless, insensitivity), or lacking interest or point (vexing, exasperating). It can either imply a congenital lack of capacity for reasoning, or a temporary state of daze, or slow-mindedness.
Eric Berne described the game of "Stupid" as having "the thesis...'I laugh with you at my own clumsiness and stupidity.'" He points out that the player has the advantage of lowering other people's expectations, and so evading responsibility and work; but that he or she may still come through under pressure, like the proverbially stupid younger son.
Otto Fenichel maintained that "quite a percentage of so-called feeble-mindedness turns out to be pseudo-debility, conditioned by inhibition ... Every intellect begins to show weakness when affective motives are working against it". He suggests that "people become stupid ad hoc, that is, when they do not want to understand, where understanding would cause anxiety or guilt feeling, or would endanger an existing neurotic equilibrium."
In rather different fashion, Doris Lessing argued that "there is no fool like an intellectual ... a kind of clever stupidity, bred out of a line of logic in the head, nothing to do with experience." (Under my Skin)
Persisting in folly
In the Romantic reaction to Enlightenment wisdom, a valorisation of the irrational, the foolish, and the stupid emerged, as in William Blake's dictum that "if the fool would persist in his folly he would become wise" ("The Marriage of Heaven and Hell"); or Jung's belief that "it requires no art to become stupid; the whole art lies in extracting wisdom from stupidity. Stupidity is the mother of the wise, but cleverness never." (Alchemical Studies)
The fool or buffoon has been a central character in much comedy. Alford and Alford found that humor based on stupidity was prevalent in "more complex" societies as compared to some other forms of humor. Some analysis of Shakespeare's comedy has found that his characters tend to hold mutually contradictory positions; because this implies a lack of careful analysis it indicates stupidity on their part.
- Stupidity can easily be proved the supreme Social Evil. Three factors combine to establish it as such. First and foremost, the number of stupid people is legion. Secondly, most of the power in business, finance, diplomacy and politics is in the hands of more or less stupid individuals. Finally, high abilities are often linked with serious stupidity.
According to In Search of Stupidity: Over Twenty Years of High Tech Marketing Disasters, (2003) by Merrill R. Chapman:
- "The claim that high-tech companies are constantly running into 'new' and 'unique' situations that they cannot possibly be expected to anticipate and intelligently resolve is demonstrably false ... The truth is that technology companies are constantly repeating the same mistakes with wearying consistency ... and many of the stupid things these companies do are completely avoidable."
"While In Search of Excellence turned out to be a fraud, In Search of Stupidity is genuine, and no names have been changed to protect the guilty," according to one reviewer.
Stupidity was a 2003 movie directed by Albert Nerenberg. It depicted examples and analyses of stupidity in modern society and media, and sought "to explore the prospect that willful ignorance has increasingly become a strategy for success in the realms of politics and entertainment."
Idiocracy, a Mike Judge film from 2006, explored a dystopian future America where a person of average IQ is cryogenically frozen and wakes up 500 years later to find that mankind, increasingly dependent on technology built by previous generations that it does not properly maintain or understand, has regressed in intelligence to the standards of current-era mental retardation, and that he has become the de facto smartest person on Earth. Americans have become so stupid that society faces famine and collapse, and according to Pete Vonder Haar of Film Threat, "...each laugh is tempered with the unsettling realization that [Judge's] vision of mankind's future might not be too far off the mark."
- The Ass in the School after Pieter Breughel the Elder
- Borderline intellectual functioning
- Bounded rationality
- Dumbing down
- Dunning–Kruger effect
- Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds
- Hanlon's razor
- Idiot (person)
- Illusory superiority
- In Praise of Folly
- The Dunciad
- It's the economy, stupid