Is Stupid Having a Moment?
Forget about good versus evil, it’s the spectrum of intelligence that’s really at war in the 2016 election
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Trump’s a genius, stupid. How else to explain the fact that he’s legally avoided paying no federal income taxes for the past 18 odd years? It takes a megamind to game the system that well. Trump’s really, really exceptional brain could not be any more obvious even to the really, really stupid.
His genius brain is so obvious that it’s visible across the pond. The Spectator has declared Trump a “brilliant” man who may well be a political “genius.” Trump’s American supporters think that he’s “brilliant” too. Predictably, former New York City major Rudy Giuliani has not only been defending Trump’s “genius” with every alveoli in his body, he’s been loudly proclaiming that Clinton is “too stupid” to be president. General Michael Flynn agrees with him, saying that Clinton’s “really stupid” for bringing up Trump’s misogynistic treatment of Alicia Machado, a former Miss Universe. I very much doubt that Clinton thinks Trump’s a genius, which is proof enough to his supporters that she’s impossibly stupid.
Meanwhile, a genius friend of mine has started decluttering her house by asking objects if they’re stupid. “If the object says ‘no, you have to keep me’,” Christina explains serenely, then “it gets demoted to the donate pile. If it shrugs and says ‘it’s up to you,’ I keep it because I don’t like bossy things with ulterior motives.”
Read that again: Christina chucks items telling her what to do, and keeps the stuff leaving the decision up to her. The “stupid” objects, in other words, are the ones trying to bully her. But her approach doesn’t just throw shade on the “KonMari” Kondo method, which asks you to consider if your socks’ feelings are hurt, explaining their balled-up condition. It’s a political allegory for the state of the 2016 presidential race. Politically speaking, and depending on your team, that “bossy thing with ulterior motives” is either Trump or Clinton. But only one of them is demanding that you vote for him, stupid human! Which one do you keep?
It’s practically a truism of this campaign season that Trump supporters are stupid (they’re not), but only recently has Hillary Clinton herself come under attack as the Idiot Queen of Moonbats. In over 30 years of public life, she’s been called many unprintable things, but stupid is not one of them, partly because she is so obviously not lacking in brains. She earned an undergraduate degree with honors from Wellesley College, her law degree is from Yale, she was a law professor at the University of Arkansas, and the list of her accomplishments is mind-numbingly long. In her case, the applicable truism is that she had to be twice as good as a man to get half as far. So why are Flynn and Giuliani calling her stupid, over and over, while praising Trump’s genius to the skies? Do they think that saying it enough times will make the rest of us believe it? Worse, could they be right?
Back in the ‘40s, Isaac Asimov wrote the Three Laws of Robotics, which have since been enshrined in pop culture in vehicles ranging from “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” to the big-budget film based on a collection of Asimov’s short stories, “i, Robot.” Bet you can recite the Three Laws without checking Google. They are: 1) A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. 2) A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law. 3) A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law. In the 1970s, an Italian economist named Carlo M. Cupola came up with similar laws for humans, which he called the Basic Laws of Human Stupidity. In the internet age, we might call them the Five Laws of Fuckery.
To paraphrase Elle Woods (BA, Harvard JD), the optimistic heroine of Legally Blonde, the Basic Laws of Human Stupidity are simple and finite. They are:
1. Always and inevitably, everyone underestimates 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 at all times and places and under any circumstances to deal and/or associate with stupid people always turns out to be a costly mistake.
5. A stupid person is the most dangerous type of person there is.
Smarties can mutter about Hanlon’s razor (“Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity”) and the Dunning–Kruger effect (a cognitive bias in which low-ability individuals suffer from illusory superiority), but the Five Laws of Fuckery distill today’s absurdist political theater into an elegant recipe leading to one devastating soundbite: mass stupidity is a symptom of a civilization in twilight. In short, explains Marc Abrams, “declining nations have…an ‘alarming proliferation’ of non-stupid people whose behaviour ‘inevitably strengthens the destructive power’ of their persistently stupid fellow citizens.”
The anti-intellectual roots of American exceptionalism have come full circle. We’ve now become outstandingly bad in several global metrics, including literacy, so we can’t read the program separating reel life from reality. Both “genius” and “stupidity,” then, are shorthand for broader changes being swiftly wrought by the internet, which distracts, deludes, and deforms information into pure–hence meaningless–entertainment. I could talk about ontological unraveling and the loss of epistemological certainty, but I won’t. Instead, I will merely observe that the first Clinton-Trump debate of 2016 was the most watched presidential debate ever, with viewership numbers not quite as great as this year’s Super Bowl—but close!– and this has been taken by some as a positive sign of politically engaged public. Who won the head-to-head match? Clinton or Trump? The indisputable winner wasn’t either of them. It was the television networks and Twitter, Inc.
And so, stupid is having a moment. Thanks to all us geniuses, that moment is here to stay.
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