Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Peeple Are Dumm

I find myself altogether too frequently impressed by the creative ways in which people around me make idiots out of themselves. I'm not talking about circles where one would expect this, either—I don't just mean I've seen it on the Internet (though I certainly have); I've seen it from my classmates (at a highly rated private university), some of whom are in the school's honors program. And I don't mean that I see people misspeak or say something stupid by accident, but expose themselves to be really, genuinely stupid, in overpowering ways.

The stupidity of the masses is genuinely amazing. In advanced, developed countries, large numbers of people continue to cling to irrational beliefs, prejudices, and fears when the evidence necessary to dispel them could hardly be any easier to obtain; when presented with it, they generally refuse to be disabused of their idiocies. Examples of this principle are abundant, particularly in the United States; a recent poll, for instance, found that eighty percent of Americans believe that ISIS poses a serious threat to the United States. Based on what, exactly? Where are the experts who have argued that? Where is the evidence?

America has a worldwide reputation for stupidity, but this sort of ignorance is by no means confined to the US; take Israel, where ninety percent of Israeli Jews endorsed last summer's murderous offensive against Gaza. Or Germany, where they've given Angela Merkel almost ten years in office so far so she can push austerity policies that are disastrous for the rest of Europe (hardly a result that can be in Germany's long-term interest, either, for that matter). And, again, let's keep in mind that these are advanced, developed countries we're talking about. Ignorance alone is one thing, but these are examples of people actively holding beliefs and making decisions that any rational, intelligent person should be able to understand are ridiculous. And yet, even otherwise intelligent people will hold to beliefs like these.

Think back through history; is there any time where ignorance, superstition, bigotry, and barbarism didn't abound? Any time where the average person was perceptive, skeptical, and wanted to advance humanity rather than hold it back? I can't think of any examples, to be honest. The genuinely creative and intelligent people of history have always been not only a small minority, but frequently a persecuted one. The same still holds true today. In advanced countries, we may not kill or prosecute people for heresy anymore, but that doesn't keep us from marginalizing and attacking them.

I'm not trying to say I'm any different than the rest of humanity, or immune from the stupid tendencies I see in others; but I know I make an effort to at least be rational in what I believe and how I behave, and often I feel that the people who are willing and able to make that effort are in short supply. I don't see myself as some sort of genius, but I can't help but see the majority of people as being easily led around and unable or unwilling to critically examine a lot of the things they believe and act upon.

For humanity to truly achieve its full potential, the intelligent, capable minority has to be free to achieve its full potential, unfettered by the foolishness of those around it; the unthinking masses, on the other hand, have to somehow be kept at bay. The achievements and discoveries of the minority will benefit them in the long run; until then, they can be kept occupied by the necessary chores that somebody has to do, but nobody really wants to.

To be clear, I'm by no means endorsing the sort of plutocracy we see today; clearly enough, American capitalism does not reward the most capable or innovative, the best and brightest minds society has to offer—rather, in enriches a small number of people who profit off the work of the masses, and then frequently hoard their money or spend it on frivolous things. The rich are no less stupid than the poor; all too often, their money makes them stupider, if anything.

Nor am I endorsing some kind of fascism, where the law is imposed by some ruling caste. The best and brightest minds of society—the Da Vincis, and Beethovens, and Shakespeares—should by no means have to spend their time running a country and handling the mess of economic and political issues that inevitably comes with such a task. That would be neither the best use of their time nor likely to produce good results.

Rather, what is needed is a system that liberates the best minds from control or hindrance, whether economic or political, by the masses (or by any sort of "elite" that consists, in reality, of the least elite people imaginable, such as in the US today). In the United States, an exceptionally open society in many respects, there are still a number of factors that hinder the ability of the best and brightest to realize their full potential; in a number of ways, society has either imposed equality where it should not exist, or made "superiors" out of people who are not, in fact, superior in any meaningful sense of the word.

For example, the vote of an ignorant bigot counts every bit as much as the vote of a well-informed, thoughtful, and tolerant-minded person; in numerous instances, this artificial, legal equality has resulted in idiots and demagogues winning elections, or, in referendums, the imposition of pointless and moralistic restrictions. I don't ask that we give more weight to the votes of the more intelligent or better-informed, because any criteria for evaluating these qualities would open the door to abuse and unfair exclusion or devaluation; rather, I ask that we give no one the power to impose their morality on anyone else, and to restrict the actions of others based on their own prejudices. It is no coincidence that those most committed to giving the best minds the opportunity to realize their full potential (Emerson, Thoreau, Nietzsche, Wilde) have been the greatest opponents of government power. 

None of this is to try and say that the masses of humanity should be disregarded or despised; there are certainly times when the masses have been willing to take up admirable causes or embrace important ideas, and that is an important fact to acknowledge. But we should not have to wait for the bulk of humanity to embrace the idea of individualism, of allowing each person to flourish unfettered by the factors that today make that more difficult, for that principle to be put into effect.

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