The Power of Stupidity

by Giancarlo Livraghi


This English edition is a way of coming full circle back to the beginning. Though it’s quite different from what it would have been if all this had started as a book. It didn’t.

The beginning was long ago. I started having doubts and concerns about stupidity when I was a child. I was quite aware of my own, embarrassing, ways of being stupid. But I also noticed that other children were behaving quite stupidly – and grownups weren’t doing much better.

It got worse as I grew into my early teens – and I began to wonder and worry about how the world turns.

I have been fascinated with the subject ever since.

I read some of the (not many) books that can help to understand the problem a little better (as I shall explain in some chapters). But, above all, the study of history, as well as the observation of daily events, led me more and more to understand that stupidity is the greatest destructive force in all the evolution of humankind. It is quite surprising that such a serious problem is so scarcely understood.

I never had the temptation (or the arrogance) to write a book about stupidity. Nor am I now suggesting (that would be stupid) that I can deal exhaustively with such a thorny subject – or offer any complete and “final” solution.

One of the problems is that it’s very difficult to define stupidity – or intelligence. We can, however, develop some useful thinking about human stupidity, and its awful effects, even without any rigorous theoretical definition of the concept.

I had been considering the opportunity of trying to understand this problem in a less confused and disorderly manner, but the opportunity came, quite unexpectedly, thirteen years ago. There had been some discussion on human stupidity in international circles in the internet – and I was asked to try to summarize my opinion.

So I wrote a short text in English, The Power of Stupidity, that was published in an American website, Entropy Gradient Reversals, in 1996. I had no idea that things were set in motion that would lead, five years ago, to the first edition (in Italian) of this book.

I published the original article also in my website, – and in the meantime an extended discussion was spreading in the internet. One of the results was, online in 1997, The Power of Stupidity – Part Two. A debate in a mailing list in Israel was read by someone in Mexico, who in 1998 wrote a Spanish translation of the first two articles – El Poder de la Estupidez.

For four years nothing else was added. Online dialogues continued, prompting me to think. I realized that a different angle could be developed by turning around the title.

In the meantime I had several requests for an Italian version. So The Stupidity of Power appeared in English (and Spanish) in 2002 – and also the first three parts in Italian.

In following months other papers were added, on related subjects, that are online in A new surprise came in 2004, when some publishers asked me to turn all that into a book.

I was led by friendship, and cultural closeness, to choose a then newborn (and still quite small) publisher, M&A – and I am very pleased that they chose Il potere della stupidità as the first book they ever published.

Of course it wasn’t just a collection of what had already appeared online. It took some thorough re-writing, re-thinking and reorganizing. And it’s been evolving ever since. In 2008 the third edition contained substantially more insights and explorations on a subject that is a never-ending challenge and experience (though the basic concepts haven’t changed).

I am grateful to readers who, with their questions and comments, have helped me to improve and expand the analysis – and to understand how reasoning about stupidity can be quite amusing and lead to a feeling of relief and comfort.

That may seem strange, for such a distressing subject. But the fact is that understanding stupidity is a way of avoiding, or at least reducing, its effects.

I have no illusion that these few pages can cover such a vast subject to anywhere near its full extent. But if (as readers say) it helps to understand the problem, this book may be worth writing – and reading.