Facts prove, every day, that stupidity is everywhere. We are all, more or less, stupid
in one way or another (the stupidest people are those who think that they are never
stupid.) Ive been concerned with this problem all my life - and I believe that
trying to understand stupidity is one way of reducing its awful effects.
One of the results is the widespread belief that people should be treated as stupid.
That has nothing to do, of course, with the good practice of making things
foolproof. Not because everyone is a fool, but because the brightest
people can be absent-minded and making things practical, safe and easy
to use is an advantage for everyone.
But trying to exploit stupidity is a very different matter. Its often said
that the public (an audience, or a customer, etcetera) has the brains of a silly
eleven year old. Quite apart from the fact that there are some very bright kids,
there is something basically wrong with this theory and its practice.
It is, unfortunately, proven by facts that some results can be obtained in that manner.
But it is also, unquestionably, proven that even better results can be obtained by treating
people with respect, appealing to their intelligence, common sense and understanding.
Where stupidity prevails, the entire system becomes stupid. There are greater openings
for fraud, lies and complacency. There is loss of quality, reliability, relationships and trust.
There is, of course, an easy objection. Why should an individual person, company or
organization carry the burden of general wellbeing? Business ethics are unnecessarily
expensive. It pays to be selfish. Let society as a whole (whatever that is) worry about
whats right or wrong, intelligent or stupid, while each of its components pursues
its own private advantage. If profits or other benefits can be gained by treating people
as stupid, thats what is to be done.
The strategies based on stupidity and deceit are self-defeating. They spiral downwards
in an endless vicious circle. There is no time to think, to plan, to look into the future.
Everything is short-term and hasty. When the effects of stupidity begin to be felt, new
twists are found to blur the picture and do something even more stupid. As the old saying
goes, if you cant get it right screw it up so nobody else can.
The circuit of stupidity is self destructive. When we treat other people as stupid,
we are, or appear to be, as stupid as we think they are. Stupidity becomes a habit.
There is a widespread perception that everything is silly, nothing really matters, thinking
is a waste of time.
Even before it gets in the way of relations with the rest of the world, this attitude poisons
the inside of a business or any organization. Where short-term personal advantage
is the only goal, why should anyone be concerned with the companys objectives,
wellbeing and success?
Its always dangerous to underestimate the destructive power of stupidity.
And its unlikely that by treating everyone else as a fool one can remain immune
from the treacherous contagion of foolishness. Unfortunately stupidity isnt always
defeated by intelligence, but it tends to self-destruct.
While this is generally true, its even more so in the internet. Not because of any
lack of stupidity in the net. As explained by Carlo Cipolla, the index of stupidity is the same
in all human categories. But in an interactive system its easier to double-check, to look
behind appearances. There are greater opportunities (for those who want to find them) of less
conventional and superficial relationships.
Intelligent communication doesnt have to be pedantic, boring or complicated.
The brightest thoughts can be simple and clear. With a healthy dose of humanity
and, when appropriate, with amusement and fun. Arrogance, pompousness and delusions
of superiority arent intelligent. They are ways of being stupid. There can be no real
intelligence without honesty, a sense of humor and true respect for other peoples
attitudes and opinions.
The dominance of stupidity is so overwhelming that there are increasing opportunities
for going in the opposite direction. A single person or company that decides to treat people
with greater respect cant, on its own, reverse the tide. But by doing so, for the very
fact of being different, we can gain considerable advantage. And we have a better chance
of looking at ourselves in a mirror without despising what we are and what we are doing.