When you find yourself trapped within a contentious circle that is on the brink of emoting incivility, many experts advise that you remain calm, no sudden movements, and try to moderately mimic in agreement— but for a moment — their actions as best as you can until an avenue of escape presents itself. Keep in mind, you are not a Marvel super hero; do not try to engage them or fight your way out of these situations. The psychological or physical toll is never worth it. I’d like to believe in some instances that it’s emotive or just unwitting complicity — unbeknownst to them and in varying degrees, instances of motivated ignorance that prop up the numbers. But that’s naïveté. Are we completely surrounded? Absolutely. This is what leads me to have to tout the Italian economic historian, Carlo M. Cipolla’s first law.
But before I get into that I have to define ‘behavior that shows a lack of good sense and judgment’. I am not concerned with the entitlement or free will of the ubiquitous rationale that serve as a set of beliefs that mostly everyone inherently learns via experience. Nor am I concerned with how they achieved it whether it be through influence or inheritance or even by undue influence. I am more concerned with ultimately, the continued behaviors on that rationale — regardless of the consequences or resulting outcome — and whether it is truly rational. I am focused on the lack of mental reflection and the agential insensitivity it carries despite any evidence, or substantiation, or lack of corroboration thereof.
I enjoyed studying economics and so I can truly relate to rational behavior which is defined in the study as the decision-making that provide maximum benefit or utility to the individual or group. Now as unfettered capitalism would like to have you believe, if one ultimately benefits that means another ultimately loses in a transactional exchange. The winners are usually rich, billionaire types that are very much equally venerated as they are envied. Cipolla calls them bandits because in their transactions it is very much one-sided where the benefits received results in a loss to the other, ultimately.
Our social exchanges act as an instance of social cohesiveness but more too on this later.
There are transactions that result, however in no losses to either side. Both sides are beneficiaries and most rational people act on this type of rationale because of their belief sensitivity. Cipolla rightfully calls this group intelligent. They have a penchant for reciprocity.
There are also those who through no fault of their own and under circumstances beyond their control — call it chance. They are either born into or fell into circumstances where advantage is taken. Their transactions benefit others at their own expense or loss. Perfect example are poor people, the enslaved, or descendants of the enslaved for instance. They are oftentimes people who continue to face prejudice or discrimination of some kind because of their station in life. They can be part of a larger group a, such as women, who have been bullied and stripped of their rights on many occasions because of patriarchal tradition or terrible laws. And due to this wrath of misfortune this group is seen as helpless in a fundamental view.
Then there are people who could care less actually. They act as bystanders, and they claim they deign indifference, and are therefore seen as uninteresting. They fail to realize that they are participants in the game of life whether they wanted to play or not. They don’t feel the need to be drawn into something that has no bearing on them. This renders them ineffectual and that is what Cipolla calls them.
Now we get to that last group. A very interesting group at times — because of their unexpected and unpredictable behaviors in their transactions with others. They offer nothing of benefit and receive none in return. Do not confuse this as a loss for a loss. Their contribution results in a loss for everyone including him or herself. They are simply counterproductive in this way. They complain often and very loudly. They claim to be victimized when they often do the victimizing and they can be quite obnoxious. Cipolla calls this group stupid.
But calling them stupid can’t be right, Right? Too harsh of a word. Well the definition of stupid was used straight out of the dictionary (Apple) in the first line of the second paragraph in this essay. They seem to have an authoritarian streak to them even though they operate out of a realm of irrational propositioning. The truth barely registers to them. They refuse to see the evidence for fear of invalidation of their own belief. Maybe they see it as witchcraft or voodoo, who knows, but it is as if they cultivate ignorance in this way. The other preceding groups described formerly tend to dismiss them because of their lack of credibility, which has a diminutive effect that entails condescension or disregard. This may contribute heavily to why we seem to underestimate their presence, and thus the risk they impose. The First Basic Law of Human Stupidity states that “Always and inevitably everyone underestimates the number of stupid individuals in circulation." Cipolla explains their presence in this way.
“Our daily life is mostly made of cases in which we lose money and/or time and/or energy and/or appetite, cheerfulness and good health because of the improbable action of some preposterous creature who has nothing to gain and indeed gains nothing from causing us embarrassment, difficulties or harm. Nobody knows, understands or can possibly explain why that preposterous creature does what he does. In fact there is no explanation — or better there is only one explanation: the person in question is stupid.”
Stupid people are seen as a group, more powerful by far than major organizations such as the Mafia and the industrial complex, which without regulations, leaders or manifesto nonetheless manages to operate to great effect and with incredible coordination.
Now to be fair most people can find themselves straddling between two or more of these groups as members or seen as encouraging the stupid among us. It may be because they are related or are loved ones, or maybe because they share some of their resentment, or maybe they-just-don’t-know any better. That’s okay because life can be complicated that way. The complexities involved in our mere existence suggest that we have found ourselves in places where we are either uncomfortable or don’t belong, and yet even when we long to divorce ourselves from those circumstances we can’t because, you know, it’s complicated. This is an example of mental reflection. I speak from having sensitive beliefs (not hardened ones) in this way.
However, be careful not to stereotype stupid people. The Second Basic Law of Human Stupidity states “The probability that a certain person will be stupid is independent of any other characteristic of that person.” Yes anybody can be stupid. Your professor, your doctor, your lawyer, your psychologist, your president, your congressperson, your favorite movie star or artist, and even, your favorite writer — perish the thought on that last one though!
“[The Second Basic Law’s] implications are frightening,” Cipolla wrote. “The Law implies that whether you move in distinguished circles or you take refuge among the head-hunters of Polynesia, whether you lock yourself into a monastery or decide to spend the rest of your life in the company of beautiful and lascivious women, you always have to face the same percentage of stupid people — which (in accordance with the First Law) will always surpass your expectations.”
Which leads me to the most important and last of Carlo Cipolla’s basic laws. “A stupid person is the most dangerous type of person.” The culmination of all those factors makes this predicament no laughing matter. It dampens the social cohesiveness — the bond of our human existence and our persistence — that we enjoy and that we are all too happy about in our pursuits. This phenomena endangers everyone. This could easily be misconstrued as fatalism, but if I truly thought that people could not change (evolve) then I wouldn’t have written this.