VIII. The Future of Stupidity

and Vice Versa

America and the Western world in general comprise only the most recent example of a civilization failing to live up to its own expectations. In this respect, we are but typical of the civilized tendency of failing to fulfill a presumed destiny. In fact, with or without expectations or destinies, one of the most consistent characteristics of civilizations is failure. Archaeologists have built a profession on studying failures. Historians build careers by explaining failures. Every day, we are immersed in ignorable warnings that we too may fail as have those who have gone before.

This basic, fundamental human constant is due to the fact that we are all pretty stupid, and no amount of information, learning or technological expertise seems to alter this subtlety one iota. The problem is that we have ready-made, socially condoned, psychologically acceptable explanations for crucial events. Unexplained is the curiosity that things routinely go wrong without evident cause and despite everyone's best efforts.

The trouble really is, of course, with the explanations, which contribute to failure by explaining away not only the inexplicable but the explicable as well. We need the assurance of having answers, so if necessary, we make them up. These myths, in turn, can prevent us from discovering valid answers to our questions. Particularly elusive is the answer to the perpetual human riddle—why are our best efforts not good enough?

Well, first of all, our efforts may not be our best because we are biased toward the particular schema which defines our ability to cope. Not only does this bias inhibit cultural improvement by limiting competence, but the majority of people, with marginal abilities, support those who goof up, feeling that they will then get similar support when their turn comes. Thus, the weak support the corrupt, because just as efficiency is regarded as a threat by the inept, accuracy of perception and analysis is regarded as a threat by the powerful.

If we want to escape this self-constructed impasse, we would do well to make fresh inquiries into our shortcomings and imperfections. Our cultural liabilities are so decisive in the way they undermine our institutions that we are compelled to understand them if we intend to be exceptions to the rule of civilized failures. Thus far, the balance sheet on Western