Idiots – the nature of the beast

In the 2006 movie Idiocracy, the American filmmaker Mike Judge depicts a dystopian world that is failing to maintain even the most basic requirements of human existence. This extreme situation developed due to an extreme form of dumbing down of the entire human population.

The filmmaker explains this by the much higher rate at which dumb people pro-create and have children. They simply outbred those who were smarter and as in a democracy, the majority drives policy, things got progressively worse until the world was on the brink of falling apart.

It was a very simplistic version of what many today fear might happen and bemoan when looking at some of the clearly ridiculous things going on today. It also assumed wrongly that stupidity is in the genes.

The movie was derided when it was released as utterly unrealistic. Almost 20 years later though, it almost feels like the movie was more on the prophetic side. As said, much is wrong with the assumptions put into this movie, but we can’t deny that many people say and do very, very stupid things. And they cause massive damage to society while doing what they do.
How come stupid people are so destructive?

First, let’s turn to Marcus Aurelius. What is this thing we look at? What is it in its nature? Are there alternatives or remedies? And why does stupidity come to dominate anything given enough time?

When I turned 15, I became interested in a lifelong quest for self-improvement. Never mind that this quest is riddled with boatloads of false paths and personal failures galore. But it took me a lot of time to pierce through my own batch of prejudices and stupid (some would say idealistic) ideas. I started reading a lot of books.

My very first self-improvement booklet was a little paperback by an Austrian author called Josef Kirschner. He was a book writer and television moderator and at the time made quite a name for himself as a weirdo. Not only because of the book but because of his admittedly weird public persona.

The title of his book was loosely translated as “The Art of Being an Egoist”. The title struck an immediate chord with me as it was unusual. In it, he postulated that the negative connotations associated with the term egoist were unwarranted. An egoist is a person who recognizes one’s own urges and satisfies them with the aim of being a better human. For himself and for others. How can that be wrong? It made a ton of sense to me at the time. Help yourself to help others better.

Part of the book was devoted to explaining the types of people that exist. He split all of us into 3 distinct groups.

The smallest group, which according to him is 2% of any population at best, are the Wise ones. Those people don’t need others to tell them what to do and they also don’t want to tell anyone what they are supposed to do. The group is so small because being truly free requires you to say goodbye to all notions of blaming others for your misfortunes and pointing the finger of blame into one’s face. Your life is your fault, suck it up and deal with it.

Not very popular as you can imagine but I wanted to be special, so I needed to be in this group. With hindsight, I must admit that my record is chequered.

Group 2 are the Wolves. Those are people who need others to tell them what they need to do. They are dependent on the others and when they don’t have those they can command, they will do whatever they need to find such a group they can use. They are supreme exploiters of people and according to Kirschner, they constitute about 18% of all people.

The last, and by far the biggest group is the Sheep. They are followers as they need someone to tell them what to do. Work, pay your taxes, be a good spouse, believe what the television tells you, respect authorities, and get vaccinated. 80% of all people fall into this group according to the author.

Do you see the marketing trick? 80-18-2 – neat hein?

We can discuss the exact numbers and won’t get to the truth because the boundaries are fleeting. I rolled for a long time with this split. But it also felt uncomfortable as the sheep were a very diverse group. I was always of the opinion that they needed further atomization.

The key came to me with the work of a 1976 essay written by Carlo M. Cipolla, a professor of economic history at the University of California in Berkley. This essay laid out the 5 universal laws of stupidity, but it also defined 4 possible tendencies in people that define their worth to the community.

He proceeded to separate humans into those who are beneficial to society on one side and those whose attitudes, actions, or inactions will harm society. He also split both of those groups into those who were incapable and/or unwilling to derive significant personal benefit and those who exploited others for their benefit.

Let’s give them names:

On the top left, you find the Helpless. Those are good people who want to do good, and want to live their lives, but can’t exploit the fabric of society for their benefit. This group is significantly large but it’s also very ineffectual. This group usually goes on living life as they can, complains about the situation but gets on with it without doing a lot to change the status quo.

On the top right, you find the Wise. This is the smallest of all groups. This group is animated by doing good for society, but they also can detect opportunities and derive personal benefit from it. Being Wise assumes superior wits and a strong moral compass. Understandably, that’s not easy to find.

On the bottom right are the Bandits. They exploit society as best they can, and they don’t care one bit about the damage they do when they do their thing. Again, this is a rather small group.
And on the bottom left are the Idiots. Those are people who will harm others, but they don’t derive any benefit from it.

You will quickly see that the Wise can be found in Kirschner’s booklet and again, they are very small. No difference here.

The Bandits are the Wolves of Kirschner although I must admit that 18% seems rather large to me.

The vast number of Kirschner’s sheep are now split into the Helpless and the Idiots. I was never comfortable putting those two into the same group.

The Helpless are fundamentally good people who are beneficial to others. They maybe can’t exploit for themselves but that does not make them bad or dangerous or negative in any other way. A society of only the Helpless would be a thriving and beautiful thing.

The Idiots on the other side are the most dangerous type of person that exists. Way more dangerous than the Bandits as the Bandit wants to milk the cow, not kill it. Idiots are fanatics who don’t care if they destroy the very fundamentals of human civilization. They are utterly unpredictable except in that they are so unpredictable. They also have the urge to never ever stop until they stand on smoldering ruins. And then they would blame others for their doings to no end.

Now that we know who is who and how they interact, let me give you the bad news first. It’s very hard or even almost impossible to reform an idiot. They might blend in for a while when the pressure on them to do so is too high. But their underlying convictions and their fundamental drive remain the same. In the best of cases, we are surrounded by sleepwalkers. Of course, an idiot never considers him/herself an idiot. They know everything so they must be right.

In his essay, Cipolla describes 5 universal laws when it comes to idiots.

First, and most importantly – any non-idiot always underestimates the number of idiots around. They are everywhere. I would argue that half of the sheep are idiots. Thats a huge proportion. It’s hard to gauge them exactly as idiots are not idiots all the time. They can act in a very rational manner for large parts of the day until a certain trigger event happens.

As a rule of thumb, the longer someone is exposed to institutionalized education, the more likely he is to be an idiot. Idiots are frequently very educated. They have often spent a good deal of time in higher education and accumulated information.

They have invested a lot of time and status into it, so questioning things is hard or even impossible for them. Questioning what they think they know becomes an exercise in self-doubt and as they have fragile egos, that’s not something they can ever allow to happen.

So, there is a massive concentration of idiots right where the elites recruit their new flesh. And once they made it into the elite circles, whatever opinion they hold hardens into a brittle shell. Unable to accept anything new, they become crusaders for the one true cause. Which is preventing others from finding out how little they truly know. It’s nothing but a latent inferiority complex.
Truly smart people tend to shy away from those elites as they abhor the machinations and the drama. They prefer to live their lives in peace and not be bothered by the armies of idiots around them.

Second – the likelihood for a person to be an idiot is totally dissociated from other characteristics of this person. Idiots are everywhere. Yes, higher education churns out proportionally more of them, but they permeate every stratum of society. Idiots come in all shapes, colors, and tastes.

Just be aware that I think at least 4-5 out of every 10 persons you meet are idiots. See it another way – every person you engage with probably has a 50% chance of being an idiot. From the Dean of a university to the street sweeper.

Third – idiots harm others while not deriving any personal benefit for themselves while doing so except maybe a vague feeling of social superiority. They are the troops of doom. They are the voluntary riders that will fill the ranks. They are perfect material to be thrown at any cause as they are cheap, there are plenty of them and they will do it for mere words and feelings.

They may even know fully well that they will suffer because of their actions, and they will still run for the cause. It fills them with a sense of superiority over others. My eyes are open, I can see what you can’t see. I am wide awake or is it awoke? Thats the only benefit they get. They are willing to turn the world to dust for that fleeting sense of superiority.

Fourth – non-idiots always underestimate the destructive potential of idiots. A little more than half of humanity are non-idiots – at least that’s what I think. One would think that they should be able to rein the idiots in. What prevents them is ignorance about how extreme idiots truly are. Non-idiots tend to calculate how far a reasonable person is willing to go.

They take themselves as examples as they are accessible to reason. And they would say something like “Here is how far I am willing to go, and others probably won’t go a lot further”. But idiots have no such limits. They are fanatics. What limits were religious fanatics observing when they created faith-based states? What limits are the climate cultists responding to?

Fifth – nothing is more dangerous to humanity than an idiot. The idiot is the quintessential parasite that befalls humanity and they have brought countless thriving civilizations to their knees. Pretty much any man-made disaster can be ascribed to them in some way. Totalitarian regimes need idiots like they need water to survive.

It’s getting long. Read the Methanist this time next week to see part 2.

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