Stupidity is the quality or condition of being stupid, or lacking intelligence. This quality can be attributed to both an individual himself (John Smith is stupid) or his actions, words or beliefs (John Smith's policies are stupid). The determination of who is stupid is difficult, despite attempts to measure intelligence (and thus stupidity) such as IQ tests.
As there are many definitions of intelligence, there are also many definitions of stupidity:
- Those who suffer from a mental disability that is genetic or biological in origin. It could be argued, however, that this is unfair, since stupidity implies that one is at least able to understand that an action is stupid, and in the mentally disabled this may not be possible. In other words it could be argued that stupidity implies culpability, which may not be fairly imputed to mentally disabled people on account of actions that would rightfully be considered stupid if done by people not suffering from any mental disability.
- Those lacking knowledge about certain subjects. This can be those who are lacking formal education and knowledge about the world, or those that are highly educated but lacking street smarts or common sense. Lack of knowledge is more commonly termed ignorance.
- Conflicting "belief systems". When an individual regards the actions of others as "stupid", it is often because those actions are contrary to the actions that the individual thinks are rational. It has been proposed that when faced with the complexity of life, the universe, and everything, humans create belief systems that enable them to function without being overwhelmed by information. In other words humans do not naturally employ logical progression in order to arrive at every single judgement — they rely instead on preconcieved notions that have been built up over the course of their lives. People who have led different lives develop different "truths" which are in turn used as starting points from which to navigate more complex reasoning. Although a belief system may be religious, idealogical or political it must not necessarily be so -- it can be a combination of all or none of these. All individuals have their own belief system. According to this definition, an individual can only be stupid if they employ faulty logic on their existing beliefs. An individual cannot reliably be diagnosed as "stupid" by an observer who is not in possession of the "facts" on which the individuals reasoning is predicated. Of course the observer may feel that they are in possession of more "facts" — but how can they be sure of this...?
Stupidity manifested by the educated
Recently a great deal of attention has been paid to another class of stupidity: stupid actions by those that are highly educated and worldly. It is an important subject as it is increasingly evident that powerful, and generally very intelligent, people sometimes do stupid things. In recent years a number of notions such as group think or god complexes have been developed to explain this. This is a fairly new topic for researchers and there are still few academic works on the subject, though in the 19th Century Oscar Wilde wrote There is no sin except stupidity. 
The Encyclopedia of Stupidity ISBN 1861891598 by Matthijs van Boxsel is based on the author's contention that "stupidity is in fact the foundation of our civilization" and his idea that no one is intelligent enough to realise how stupid they are. This is not as stupid as it sounds if one includes in the definition of stupidity "unwitting self-destruction, the ability to act against one's best wishes". A saying attributed to Albert Einstein is "Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former." Therefore stupidity is not solely the opposite of intelligence but a very human kind of flawed or mistaken intelligence, the darkness that makes the light of true intelligence visible.
Stupidity in comedy
For as long as comedy has existed, stupidity has been a source of immense entertainment. Generally the entertainers are merely pretending to be stupid. The buffoon of ancient plays is the progenitor of a venerable lineage that continued through Falstaff, Bottom, Harpo Marx, Goofy, Eccles, Norman Wisdom, Jerry Lewis and countless others, and is today epitomized by Homer Simpson. The fool/buffoon has been a central character in most comedy. Today there are a wide array of television shows that showcase stupidity, from the America's Funniest Home Videos genre to shows like Jackass. Often the greatest stupidity is deliberately generated by very smart minds such as the Oxbridge comedy of Monty Python.
Many nations have a brand of pejorative humour which involves labelling the people of a neighboring nation as stupid. The English do this with Irish jokes, the French with Belgians, Belgians with Dutch, Americans with Canadians, Canadians with Americans, Canadians with Newfoundlanders, Australians with New Zealanders, and so on.
Individual stupidity vs collective stupidity
Social psychology has shown that perfectly sensible people can, collectively, act quite foolishly because of blind obedience, mimetism or herding.
Last updated: 05-13-2005 07:56:04