II. Defining Stupidity

Naturally—that's how! We can be stupid just by being ourselves. In fact, this book is based on two fundamental contentions: we cannot really understand ourselves without understanding stupidity, and if we understand stupidity, we will understand ourselves. Although the focus of this work is on stupidity, it is really a study of how the human mind functions. Sometimes it is "Intelligent"; more often it is "Stupid", but most of the time, it just plugs along unobtrusively in a manner unnamed because it is so common as never to have been named anything at all. Regardless of the labels used, our characteristic interactions with the environment are all directed by the same basic mental process—the process by which our schemas shape perception, cognition and behavior.

In defining our mental life and shaping our behavior, the schema so routinely causes people to act in their own worst interests that stupidity can be considered one of the few, true cultural universals. Geniuses display it; superior people flaunt it, and the average person is never without it. Nevertheless, it thrives unnoticed in humanity's closet of shame. As this is the age when gays, blacks and even women have come out of the closet, perhaps it could also be the age when stupidity is acknowledged, confronted and even understood. Considering its impact on history, stupidity certainly deserves a hearing which is at least fair if not equal to that granted intelligence.

Traditionally, historians have pleased their readers with accounts of humanity's wondrous progress. These generally placed humans, as Mr. Clemens' boy Sam once observed, "Somewhere between the angels and the French". Likewise, psychologists followed the path of greatest acceptance in their concentration on intelligence to the total disregard of stupidity. Considering how little intelligence and how much stupidity there is, it really is incredible that this imbalance in the literature has existed for so long. Whatever the cause for this condition, it cannot be that stupidity is not a fit topic for scientific investigation, because if it is not, then neither is intelligence. However, the one is totally neglected and the other virtually pounded into the ground. If we really want to have a full understanding of the human experience, we will have to acknowledge and examine that which is both embarrassing and shameful.