V. The Cultural Basis of Stupidity

What is culture? There are many answers, as it is different things to different people. Basically, it is a means of behavioral organization by which some of the more advanced species (especially sophisticated vertebrates) learn to interact with their environments. In our case, each society has a specific set of cultural controls—recipes, rules, plans and instructions—which provide both a method for structuring behavior and a linguistic context for perceiving it. In terms of a schema, normative rules define the behavioral program of a people while language frames their common assumptions.

Culture is also a means of transmitting behavior and values across generations. Further, it is a communication system, and it has been analyzed as a means for distributing both human and natural energy. However, no one yet seems to have considered culture as a means for fostering stupidity—promoting, developing and transmitting it throughout a society and through time. Perhaps it is this as well.

As a cultural constant, stupidity is routinely transmitted from one generation to the next by the time-honored mechanism of the vicious cycle. Poorly adjusted children mature into maladjusted adults, then using the same techniques their parents used on them to raise yet another generation of misinformed conformists or malcontented sociopaths. If there is some selection pressure acting to weed stupidity out of each generation, it is, apparently, easily offset by a willing disposition of people to spread it and encourage its continual, spontaneous synthesis.

For all the observing and generalizing done by cultural anthropologists, this one, true human universal seems to have escaped notice completely. In every age, land and culture, stupidity defines the hominid condition. It is both eternal and ubiquitous, although the specific forms it may take are, of course, dependent on the misperceptions and fantasies of the particular people running themselves into the ground chasing their own favorite rainbow. As a quality, it is the great equalizer of humanity, being a common element in all religions, philosophies, societies, political regimes and economic systems. No machine is built without it, and most artists— especially modern artists—depend upon it for their success. As a quantifiable