Sunday, May 06, 2007

The Theory Of Stupidity

[Ok, this is a long post, and for once I'm not trying to be funny. This is my honest opinion on why I think there as so many downright stupid people in the world. It's not a 'hur hur you're dumb' post, but my views on people allowing themselves to be far too influenced by the media, how the dumbest ideas and points of view survive and why. I hope you take the time to read it, and I'd love to hear your views.]

If there’s one thing that the internet and mass-media has proven it’s that people, on the whole, are stupid.

This is something I’ve given quite a bit of thought to. How can a civilization that’s so advanced be so…well…dumb?

Well, I think I’ve finally cracked it. So here it is, my Theory of Stupidity.

First we have to define stupidity. Unfortunately, most people assume intelligence is a synonym for ‘knowing stuff’. Knowing lots of facts isn’t intelligence, it’s just having a good memory.

For example, if we look at ‘primitive’ tribes off in a jungle somewhere, by our standards, they’re stupid. They don’t know things like trigonometry, think the world is flat etc. However, what we’re talking about is a group of people who’ve learned how to feed, clothe and protect themselves in a highly hostile environment. That’s intelligence.

You’re not stupid because you don’t understand how the internet works. You’re stupid when you think that by writing “Uncle Jeff” in the To: field of an email, the computer will automatically know who to send it to.

The thing I’ve noticed more than anything else is that a person tends to be smart, or at least not dangerously stupid. It’s people as in a large group that tend to be dumb.

To explain why I think this is, you have to understand a marketing principle known as “Opinion Leaders”.

The idea is that every group of people has an ‘opinion leader’. So in any group of people, there’s only one or two members of that group who actually decide whether a movie or a piece of music or an idea is any good or not…and the rest of the group tend to fall in line in order to ‘fit in’.

This isn’t to say that every member of the group will say they like something they absolutely hate for acceptance. The point is that they allow themselves to be influenced by their opinion leader. They may go and see a movie that one member thinks was only so-so, but will say he thinks it’s better than he thought he did in order to fit in.

This is essentially how society works. You have a small group of leaders who the rest of us agree with through peer pressure and a desire to be accepted.

This is the point where people usually start to disagree, but it’s like the goth or punk community. They hold ‘being different’ in high regard and like to think of themselves as ‘non-conformist’. However, when you look at this situation we see that the Opinion Leader theory is still in play. The ‘non-conformists’ are simply conforming to a different clique that is different from the majority.

Not wishing to make fun, but you have a group of people who all dress and act the same, listen to the same music and like the same movies, but do so in order to ‘be different’.

Of course, there are people who will say what they believe and think regardless of what their peer group says…but these people are a tiny minority.

So how does this apply to stupidity?

Well, the Opinion Leader theory creates a network. We all belong to a number of different groups, and someone who is an ‘Opinion Follower’ in one group is often and Opinion Leader in another group.

In this way, one point of view or idea can be disseminated around a large group of people…despite the fact that the majority of that group, if left to their own devices, would disagree.

So, in essence, the minority have the power and everyone else follows along because they believe everyone around them believes the same thing. When everyone you know thinks one thing, especially when they’re people you care about or respect, you tend to agree with them on faith. It’s not that you say you agree when you don’t. You just tend to accept their opinion as fact, without actually thinking it through or researching the situation yourself.

Basically, if your entire family loves hunting, you’ll probably hunt yourself and decide that hunting is a good thing without ever really looking at the opposing point of view. If you’re from a family of vegetarians, you’d think hunting was a cruel and inhumane sport, without ever looking at the other point of view.

It’s not that you’re just trying to fit in, it’s that you’ll accept someone you respect’s opinion as your own, without ever really thinking about it. As humans we develop a shared conscience and more than anything we want to feel we’re part of a group.

Just to be absolutely clear, look at the following scenario.

A group of 5 college kids go to see a movie. As they’re leaving, the Opinion Leader says it’s the best film he’s ever seen. Another friend agrees, but the other three think the movie was only so-so. However, on the way home, all five talk about how awesome the movie was because no one wants to be the outsider who says it wasn’t great. Then they followers start to think that maybe the movie was great, and that they didn’t like it because they didn’t really ‘get it’. So they decide the movie is good, because they want to fit in with the group, and don’t want to feel stupid as the only one who didn’t really ‘understand’ why it was so great.

Then one of the group members goes home for the weekend, an Opinion Follower in his college group, but he’s the opinion leader in his group of ‘home’ friends. He tells everyone how awesome the movie was.

Then the cycle continues.

If you think this idea is a little far fetched, just look at some of the ‘crazes’ that have swept the nation. People where literally killing each other at Christmas for a “Tickle Me Elmo”. Why? Because they’d been convinced it was the latest ‘must have’ toy…so all the kids wanted one.

Basically, as humans, all we want to do is to ‘fit in’, be it with the majority, or with a select group of ‘outsiders’. Sure, you may be into inde music that no one but your closest friends like, and revel in being ‘different’…but how likely are you to tell your close friends that you thought the new Britney Spears single was good, even if you absolutely loved it?

We form groups and will do or say just about anything to fit in with that group.

Now, most of what I’ve talked about could be said to only apply to kids or teenagers…basically to people who really want to ‘fit in’. It couldn’t possibly affect adults could it?

Well, as I’ve stated, this doesn’t just apply to movies and stuffed toys. It applies to ideas as well.

What it boils down to is no one wants to look stupid, which means in most cases they’ll agree with the majority even if they disagree. A guy is at work and everyone around him is talking about how gun control or ‘intelligent design’ is a really good idea.

Here’s the thing. Not many people actually understand gun control or the ‘intelligent design’ versus evolution debate. The truth is they don’t really know what to think…so they go with the safe option. They agree with the people around them. “These people are all smart, and they all seem pretty certain about what they’re saying…I’ll agree rather than set myself apart, or admit I don’t actually understand what they’re talking about.”

Then, of course, that guy goes and tells his friends what a great idea gun control or intelligent design is…because talking about things like that makes him feel smart.

The second part of this are the things we take for granted or assume to be authorities sources, when if fact they’re simply not.

For example, multiple people can witness the same event and all come away with a completely different idea of what actually happened. A cop pulls over a black guy and they get into an altercation. One person sees a police officer doing their job and subduing a dangerous and uncooperative suspect. Another sees racially motivated police brutality.

Who’s to say which is the ‘correct’ evaluation? This is a typical human reaction, we see something and form an opinion without getting all the facts or understanding the situation.

The biggest offender here is the News.

People tend to see the news as an unbiased, transparent reporting on the days events. Unfortunately, there’s no such thing as an unbiased report. In the end, it’s the news station that decides whether an event was a peaceful protest that turned violent due to over-zealous police…or a street riot in which the brave police had to arrest a bunch of thugs.

It’s when you combine these two things that we start to explain the rampant stupidity in society.

For example. Fox news has run reports on leet-speak, a ‘dangerous’ secret language that kids are using so their parents can’t understand what they’re saying and how webcams are essentially ‘pedophile eyes’ that allow predators to see what’s going on in your home.

Now, a well informed person knows that leet-speak (or 1337-5P34K) isn’t exactly hard to crack (You just substitute letters for numbers or other letters that look like the original…A becomes 4, E becomes 3 etc), and that most kids write in leet-speak because they think it’s cool, not because they have anything to hide.

Well informed people also know that webcams are incredibly hard to crack, it’s almost impossible to remotely activate one, and the ‘danger’ can simply be averted by unplugging it or turning it to face a wall when you’re not using it. (Oh, and of course that calling a webcam dangerous is exactly the same as calling a phone dangerous because people can hack it and hear everything going on in your home.)

However, none of this applies when this ‘news report’ reaches the ears of a ‘concerned parent’ who has absolutely no idea how the internet works. It must be dangerous, it was on the news! Why would they report something that wasn’t true?

Well, they’d report it because News Stations and Newspapers don’t exist to report unbiased news. They exist to sell themselves. A sensational story about pedophiles watching your kids undress is going to pull more viewers than “Leet-speak, it’s…umm, a kinda stupid, easily read ‘secret language’ that kids think is cool”.

So the ‘concerned parent’ rushes to their kids’ bedroom and unplugs that webcam and cuts the cord. They have to, to protect their kids. Take that, you evil Pedophile!

Then, they go to work the next day and talk to the other ‘concerned parents’ about the news report they saw and how they protected their kids. The opinion leader cycle starts all over again…and unfortunately the only brake on the situation is the one person who has the courage to openly disagree with the majority of his or her peers.

So then we’re left with a group of people who are foaming at the mouth over this ‘danger in our homes’, despite the fact most of these people have absolutely no understanding of the situation other than ‘pedophiles are bad’, most of them don’t even own a computer or webcam…but it must be an important and dangerous issue because so many people are concerned.

Then they go to the politicians and lawmakers and demand something be done, which leads us back to the problem with the News. Like Newspapers exist to sell themselves, Politicians don’t act on what they think is in people’s best interests, they act on what they think will get them elected for another term.

So then we get the politician who realizes that if he stands up and sets himself up as a ‘Champion of the People’ and demands that ‘something be done about this clear and present danger to our kids’ he’s going to get a lot of popular support.

Then we have a group of lawmakers trying to solve a non-existent problem with something they don’t understand, which just makes life difficult for the rest of us.

Series of tubes anyone?

This is why Webcomic artists get fired and investigated for terrorism for discussing target shooting at work. After all, the news has told us that there are terrorists around every corner. This is why violent acts get blamed on music or video games. This is why we’re stuck with religious beliefs being taught as science in schools.

Just as a final and classic example of this in action, in 2001 a British Comedy TV show called “The Brass Eye” ran a show on internet pedophilia.

The premise of the show is simple, they’d make up a problem, and get a load of unsuspecting celebrities to appear on the show and talk about the problem as if they where doing a public service announcement. None of the celebrities were in on the joke.

So, the show was featuring celebrities, talking complete straight faced about the latest in ‘pedophile technology’.

Reading from scripts they actually believed, these celebrities stated the following:

Philippa Forrester (a host of ‘Tommorrows World’, a science TV show) and news reporter Nicholas Owen talked about ‘HOECS’ computer games that allowed a pedophile to feel up children through the computer’s monitor.

Neil Fox (A radio DJ) informed the audience that pedophiles have more genes in common with crabs that you or me.

Syd Rapson (A member of Parliament – the Brit equivalent of a Senator) informed the audience that pedophiles where using an area of the internet the size of Ireland.

My personal favorite, TV Presenter Richard Blackwood warned the viewers that pedophiles could cause computer keyboards to emit noxious fumes in order to subdue childen…even going so far as to sniff a keyboard and saying he could smell the fumes and that it made him ‘feel suggestible’.

In another episode, David Amess MP, the Conservative Member of Parliment for Basildon, was fooled into filming an elaborate video warning against the dangers of a fictional Eastern European drug called ‘Cake’, and went as far as to ask a question about it in Parliament

This is exactly what I’m talking about. You take a group of intelligent people (including politicians and other trusted TV personalities), and feed them the most outrageous lies…and not a single one of them actually stopped for a second to think about what they were saying…and then appeared on TV spouting the lies they’ve been fed as fact.

See what I mean? Someone in a lab coat tells an intelligent person that a pedophile can hack a computer and cause a keyboard to emit ‘hypnotic fumes’ to subdue children, or that a pedophile can convince a child to push their private parts against a monitor, and they can somehow use a computer game to ‘feel them’ through it…and these people believe it and go on TV to ‘warn’ the public at large.

Fortunately, this was a comedy show and was presented as such (and also received one hell of a backlash from the press), but here’s my point.

If a celebrity, politician or news reporter can be fooled that easily, and go on TV and represent what they’ve heard as fact…who’s to say that this doesn’t happen every day?

The truth is this does happen every day. Jack Thompson going on TV as a ‘school shooting expert’ and blaming the VT shootings on video games before the shooter was even identified. People holding rallies after the columbine shootings, blaming that one on Marilyn Manson’s music and the NRA.

Then the public at large accepts it as fact, without understanding or looking into the situation themselves, and demands ‘something be done’.

I suppose, to sum up, the reason why stupidity is so rampant in society today is simple. People believe everything they see on TV, and refuse to actually stop and think for themselves.


Daniel said...

My friends on and I agree about what you said. Exactly, there are so many stupid people in the world.

Paulius said...

Know what I think is stupid daniel?

That you think that I won't notice you just read the first paragraph in order to make your spam for a dating site look like a legitimate comment.

The irony is just KILLING me.

OzzyC said...

I think that society is more stupid because we're artificially making the gene pool more shallow.

It used to be that natural selection would take out the stupid ones. Idiots that wouldn't wear seat belts got thrown from their cars and died in the crash.

Dumbasses that went skateboarding in traffic got run over.

Then congress got involved and made stupid laws. Unfortunately, the stupid laws protected the stupid people. Suddenly there was a population boom of stupid people, and their population began expanding exponentially.

100rabh™ said...

A slightly different take on stupidity by me at