Keep reading for FREE
They are abundant, they are irrational, and they cause problems for others without apparent benefit to themselves, thereby lowering society’s total well-being. There are no defenses against stupidity, argued the Italian-born professor, who died in 2000. The only way a society can avoid being crushed by the burden of its idiots is if the non-stupid work even harder to offset the losses of their stupid brethren.
Always and inevitably everyone underestimates the number of stupid individuals in circulation.
No matter how many idiots you suspect yourself surrounded by, Cipolla wrote, you are invariably lowballing the total. This problem is compounded by biased assumptions that certain people are intelligent based on superficial factors like their job, education level, or other traits we believe to be exclusive of stupidity. They aren’t. Which takes us to:
The probability that a certain person be stupid is independent of any other characteristic of that person.
Cipolla posits stupidity is a variable that remains constant across all populations. Every category one can imagine—gender, race, nationality, education level, income—possesses a fixed percentage of stupid people. There are stupid college professors. There are stupid people at Davos and at the UN General Assembly. There are stupid people in every nation on earth. How numerous are the stupid amongst us? It’s impossible to say.
A stupid person is a person who causes losses to another person or to a group of persons while himself deriving no gain and even possibly incurring losses.
Cipolla called this one the Golden Law of stupidity. A stupid person, according to the economist, is one who causes problems for others without any clear benefit to himself.
This law also introduces three other phenotypes that Cipolla says co-exist alongside stupidity.
First there is the intelligent person, whose actions benefit both himself and others.
Then there is the bandit, who benefits himself at others’ expense.
And lastly there is the helpless person, whose actions enrich others at his own expense.
Cipolla imagined the four types along a graph, like this:
The non-stupid are a flawed and inconsistent bunch. Sometimes we act intelligently, sometimes we are selfish bandits, sometimes we act helplessly and are taken advantage of by others, and sometimes we’re a bit of both. The stupid, in comparison, are paragons of consistency, acting at all times with unyielding idiocy.
However, consistent stupidity is the only consistent thing about the stupid. This is what makes stupid people so dangerous. Cipolla explains:
Essentially stupid people are dangerous and damaging because reasonable people find it difficult to imagine and understand unreasonable behavior.
An intelligent person may understand the logic of a bandit, for example. The bandit’s actions follow a pattern of rationality: nasty rationality, if you like, but still rationality.
You can foresee a bandit’s actions, his nasty maneuvres and ugly aspirations and often can build up your defenses.
With a stupid person all this is absolutely impossible as explained by Law # 3. A stupid creature will harass you for no reason, for no advantage, without any plan or scheme and at the most improbable times and places. You have no rational way of telling if and when and how and why the stupid creature attacks. When confronted with a stupid individual you are completely at his mercy.
Non-stupid people always underestimate the damaging power of stupid individuals. In particular non-stupid people constantly forget that at all times and places and under any circumstances to deal and/or associate with stupid people always turns out to be a costly mistake.
We underestimate the stupid, and we do so at our own peril. This brings us to the fifth and final law:
Law 5: A stupid person is the most dangerous type of person.
And its corollary:
A stupid person is more dangerous than a bandit.
We can do nothing about the stupid. The difference between societies that collapse under the weight of their stupid citizens and those who transcend them are the makeup of the non-stupid. Those progressing in spite of their stupid possess a high proportion of people acting intelligently, those who counterbalance the stupid’s losses by bringing about gains for themselves and their fellows.
Declining societies have the same percentage of stupid people as successful ones. But they also have high percentages of helpless people and, Cipolla writes, “an alarming proliferation of the bandits with overtones of stupidity.”
“Such change in the composition of the non-stupid population inevitably strengthens the destructive power of the [stupid] fraction and makes decline a certainty,” Cipolla concludes. “And the country goes to Hell.”
Think of how stupid the average person is, and realize half of them are stupider than that.
Talk sense to a fool and he calls you foolish.
Never argue with stupid people, they will drag you down to their level and then beat you with experience.
We are all born ignorant, but one must work hard to remain stupid.
Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former.
The difference between stupidity and genius is that genius has its limits.
Stupidity is far more dangerous than evil, for evil takes a break from time to time, stupidity does not.
Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.
“An idea is something that won’t work unless you do.” - Thomas A. Edison
In 1976, Carlo M. Cipolla, professor of economic history at the University of California, Berkeley published an essay outlining the fundamental laws of a force he perceived as humanity’s greatest existential threat: Stupidity. We (still) grossly underestimate the stupid, and we do so at our own peril.
MORE LIKE THIS
Ready for the next level?
Read Like a Pro
Explore the World’s
Take Your Ideas
Just press play and we take care of the words.
No Internet access? No problem. Within the mobile app, all your ideas are available, even when offline.
2 Million Stashers
This app is LOADED with RELEVANT, HELPFUL, AND EDUCATIONAL material. It is creatively intellectual, yet minimal enough to not overstimulate and create a learning block. I am exceptionally impressed with this app!
Great interesting short snippets of informative articles. Highly recommended to anyone who loves information and lacks patience.
Best app ever! You heard it right. This app has helped me get back on my quest to get things done while equipping myself with knowledge everyday.
Don’t look further if you love learning new things. A refreshing concept that provides quick ideas for busy thought leaders.
I have only been using it for a few days now, but I have found answers to questions I had never consciously formulated, or to problems I face everyday at work or at home. I wish I had found this earlier, highly recommended!
Great for quick bits of information and interesting ideas around whatever topics you are interested in. Visually, it looks great as well.
Even five minutes a day will improve your thinking. I've come across new ideas and learnt to improve existing ways to become more motivated, confident and happier.
Brilliant. It feels fresh and encouraging. So many interesting pieces of information that are just enough to absorb and apply. So happy I found this.
Read & Learn
Access to 200,000+ ideas
Access to the mobile app
Unlimited idea saving & library
Unlimited listening to ideas
Downloading & offline access
Claim Your Limited Offer
Get Deepstash Pro
75% OFF | 1-Year Pro Subscription