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Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Many Meanings of Stupidity:

Today I want to address a popular, and pathetic, debating tactic found around the web. Instead of engaging with the opponent's arguments or countering their factual evidence, everyone just calls their opponents 'stupid.'

But what does stupid mean? When it comes to these wonderful debaters, stupid is a catch-all term that can be used to apply to anyone or anything.

Stupid = I don't like you.
Stupid = I disagree with you.
Stupid = Unwise.
Stupid = Imprudent.
Stupid = Foolish.
Stupid = Unpopular.
Stupid = Irrational.
Stupid = Upholding a taboo belief.
Stupid = Ignorant.

But when you substitute the meaning of the word for the word in their debating tactics, their tactic totally falls on its face. This is because they all beg the question. If someone is stupid simply for disagreeing with you, then all you're saying is that you are God, perfection incarnate, and any disagreement with you is innately wrong. But the very point of a debate is that the correct conclusion has not yet been satisfactorily established. You can't prove your side of an argument by saying only a stupid person could disagree with you, whose arguments are always right by default. The same is true if you call someone stupid for holding an unpopular or discredited belief. That just means they are wrong, or many people think they are wrong. It has no bearing whatsoever on their intelligence. If someone makes an irrational argument, it doesn't mean they're stupid, it just means they're being irrational. And if someone does something that will result in long term disaster, that doesn't make them stupid, it just makes them foolish or unwise. The results of someone's actions, the reasoning behind people's choices, none of that is indicative of intelligence.

Let's recall that some of the smartest people on Earth have endorsed disastrous policies for the world and their own personal lives. Logicomix is a fascinating book about this selfsame issue. Many of the greatest mathematicians and logicians of the 21st century, who proved new theorems, advanced entire fields of math and science, and even invented the mathematical logic behind all computer thinking which has resulted in vast prosperity for the whole world, were 'stupid' when it came to their own personal lives. Many were insane, some were abusive, still others were adulterous, none could be said to have acted 'wisely' or 'prudently' in such a way as to maximize their own happiness. What can we learn from this? Stupidity is one of the most abused words in the English language.

When winners of Fields Medals and Nobel Prizes, when people like Bertrand Russell, regularly rated among the ten greatest mathematicians of all time, are being called 'stupid,' something has gone wrong. What is that something?

It's simple. Stupid has changed from a denotation to a mere connotation. Stupid used to have a real, literal meaning: Someone with low IQ as measured by valid, scientific IQ tests. Stupid people are easy to identify in any crowd. They have low vocabularies, speak slowly, can't control their behavior and can't take care of themselves either financially or physically. They end up pregnant, fat, alcoholics on welfare or go to jail, depending on whether they're male or female. If a nation has low IQ on average, it will display similar traits, on a grander scale. The country will look delapidated no matter how new the buildings and infrastructure was built. Nothing works. Electricity goes down, roads are full of potholes, schools don't teach anything, hospitals don't have any necessary supplies or funding, and everyone moves in a lethargic, devil-may-care attitude, interrupted by orgies of suddenly violent rapes and murders. When you enter a low IQ country, you can tell instantly, just like you can tell instantly when you're in the presence of a low IQ person. The very air becomes thick with stupidity.

When stupidity is correlated to so many unlikable traits, it is bound to generate a negative connotation in someone's mind. Whenever we consider someone stupid, we instantly generate a sense of loathing for them, an acute negative feeling that recalls all other stupid people and how much you disliked them too.

Debaters have been relying on this negative connotation for decades to win points in a debate without ever having to address people's logic or evidence. Just by calling their opponent stupid, they dredge up so many negative connotations in onlooker's minds that they can instantly win any contest. Who would want to be on the side of a stupid person? Who would want to listen to a stupid person? If the person is stupid, I guess that settles it -- I'd much rather agree with the smart person.

How do they get away with it? Using ever-more-slippery analogies, they've managed to attach the negative connotation of stupidity to winners of Nobel Prizes. This is simply physically impossible. You don't win a Nobel Prize by being stupid. But the logic usually works like this: "Stupid people are irrational. You're also irrational. Therefore you're stupid."

You see what happened there? This is a classic logical fallacy. All I have to do is rephrase the statement to show where the argument went wrong: "All Beebs are irrational. Johnny is irrational. Is Johnny a Beeb?"

The answer is "not enough information." Because there still exists the possibility that non-beebs are irrational too. The statement that all Beebs are irrational does not imply that all irrational people are Beebs. This is the type of logic you'd actually find on an IQ test. So we can assume that the very people calling others stupid are themselves the stupid ones, for not understanding such a simple concept.

The same goes for every other torturous use of the word stupid. "Stupid people are self-destructive. You're also self-destructive. Therefore you're stupid." This is utter nonsense. Stupidity has one scientific, literal meaning: Someone with low IQ as given by a valid IQ test. Stupid people often share many traits, these are correlations. There are no 100% correlations. Some stupid people aren't self-destructive, and some self-destructive people aren't stupid. Just because stupid people are commonly self-destructive, being self-destructive doesn't automatically identify you as stupid. I know of many geniuses who could excel in school and display great intellectual talents who, nevertheless, had self-destructive habits. The two issues are correlated, but they are not Identical. The causes of self-destruction are manifold -- stupidity is just one possible explanation.

As to calling someone stupid simply because you find their thinking objectionable, you may as well call them poopyheads while you're at it. This is childishness, intellectual immaturity, at its finest.

And as for someone being factually wrong on an issue, and therefore 'stupid,' this is utterly bizarre. I presume this would mean that all non-Christians, including Plato and Socrates, were 'stupid' because they didn't believe in Christ. Nevermind the great feats of intellectual prowess various non-Christians have shown across history, from Nietzsche to Rand to Spinoza to Plutarch. Likewise, it is ridiculous to call Christians 'stupid' because Christianity is wrong. Newton was a Christian for God's sake, as was Kierkegaard, Dostoevsky and Solzhenitsyn. Whether your beliefs are true or false has nothing to do with intelligence. Intelligence is a brain's raw power, not how it is used. People can use that intelligence to come to a variety of conclusions, all based on what they value and how they perceive the world, which is unique to each individual. There are even intelligent insane people, like John Nash, winner of the Nobel prize in economics. Insane people are wrong about a great many beliefs, but that didn't stop Nash from being one of the smartest people on Earth.

It isn't true that only 'stupid' people could possibly be wrong about certain beliefs. There isn't a single argument, no matter how 'obvious' it seems to you, that hasn't had both sides manned by extremely intelligent adherents. The 'world is flat' crowd had many distinguished thinkers on their side, as did the 'sun revolves around the Earth' crowd -- including Aristotle. There is no belief too pellucid for anyone to be mistaken over. This simply neglects human psychology and instincts, which often finds that holding to incorrect beliefs are in their best interest, either evolutionarily or emotionally -- not to mention how difficult it is to understand anything, because reality is simply too complex for our weak human brains to ever fully grasp.

Rather than calling someone you believe to be wrong 'stupid,' why not consider all of the other possible reasons they could be wrong? Even if they are ignorant, irrational, and overly emotional, it's not clear that your opponent is stupid. This is because stupid means one thing, and one thing only, 'low IQ.' They may be brilliant when it comes to all other things. They may be millionaires with Harvard degrees. No IQ test in history has ever been administered with questions like: "Do you believe in God?" and "Does communism work?" and "Is Global Warming man-made?" The reasons people call other people stupid, and the way scientists measure intelligence, are exactly perpendicular to each other. No IQ test offering such questions would turn out to have any correlate to income, education levels, vocabulary, accomplishment or any other cue that the intelligence we are measuring is real and significant.

Most likely someone is wrong because they are ignorant. After all, no one human even knows how to make a pencil, much less all the meaningless trivia of the world. If the problem isn't ignorance, but a stubborn refusal to understand, the next most likely reason they are wrong is that they are emotionally or instinctively invested in holding said false belief, and it would be harmful to them, socially or personally, to change it. The third most likely reason they are wrong is because they are right, and actually you are wrong. The fourth most likely reason is that the situation is complicated and they were somehow led astray in the long chain of reasoning, which is so tangled it can never be made clear. Only last can we resort to something as infantile as "He's just too stupid to understand, he doesn't have the brainpower to follow what I'm saying, he should just be locked away somewhere where no one has to listen to him anymore." This is the easy way out of every argument, but it isn't the honest one.

I'm not interested in dishonest arguers. People who resort to negative connotations to win debates by default, without ever addressing their opponents' reasoning, are snake-tongued deceivers. They are evil, and what they are doing is evil. Therefore, I'm not interested in any argument that starts or ends with, "You're stupid," "People like you are stupid," or any variation thereof. It's blatantly obvious I'm an intelligent person. My vocabulary, spelling, sentence structure, and mental output on a variety of different fields which displays enormous intellectual curiosity, proves it beyond all doubt. Anyone who calls me stupid is therefore a dishonest arguer who doesn't deserve my, or anyone else's, time. But courtesy extends even beyond a ban on calling obviously intelligent people stupid. Even if someone is obviously stupid, as shown by their spelling, sentence structure, vocabulary and shallowness, their reasoning, their argument, still deserves respect -- so long as they show respect to others. They also shouldn't just be dismissed as stupid and ignored. If it's so easy to refute their arguments -- then go ahead and do so! Otherwise, you're just as bad as someone who calls an intelligent person stupid. You refuse to address the message and only attack the messenger.

We aren't Persians. We don't kill the bearers of bad news. We're Greeks, descendants of Aristotle, Plato, and Socrates, who taught us the proper method of debate, which is to adhere to Truth and leave personages out of our debates. Even stupid people deserve the respect of an honest and rational reply to their stupid thoughts. Rude, dishonest, evil people, however, deserve censorship, which is why so few comments survive moderation. Until people mature enough to understand that this blog is in pursuit of the truth, and is only interested in honest people desirous of the truth, they may as well not even submit their useless, abusive, and empty thoughts. They won't survive.

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