Stupidity Isn’t Always About Being Stupid #discourse #debate

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I’m writing this post three weeks before it’s scheduled to be published. While I’m about three weeks ahead of schedule in writing posts, I’d probably schedule this one that far out anyway. For reasons that should become obvious, I don’t want to upset the person that inspired this post.

I think there are four reasons people say stupid things.

1. They’re stupid (i.e., they have a low IQ).
2. They’re kidding.
3. They’re trolling just to get a rise out of you.
4. They’re emotional about the issue, and are thus abandoning logic.

It’s far easier to deal with the first three than the last. You can ignore #1 knowing that there’s only so much damage they can do. You can (and should) join in the fun with #2. You can take either approach to #3 depending on your mood and overall approach to life. But with #4, you aren’t necessarily dealing with powerless people. You also have an obligation to figure out why they’re behaving as they are. Their perspective can help you understand the human side to every issue, because these issues affect people, not just things, and even the most stoic people are emotional. Unfortunately, we’re not all shrinks, and even for those of this that are, the person saying stupid things is probably not your patient. So how do you press the matter without making things worse?

Like I said, it’s not easy.

Don’t Fight Stupid with Stupid

Of course, it’s easy to discount someone’s substantive view as stupid simply because you disagree with it. That happens all the time, and that is itself a stupid thing to say. There are far too many intelligent people from all political perspectives to assume they all fall under #1. In the case that inspired this post, the stupid things that were said were:

  1. You shouldn’t ask questions.
  2. If you aren’t an expert in an area, you should never comment on it.
  3. You shouldn’t fully understand an issue before forming an opinion.

The first statement is actually a necessary inference from what was actually said. The others are paraphrases of what was expressly stated, so there’s no way of getting around them. We can agree these are stupid sentences, right? They were written by someone who I’ve known for years and is extremely high on the intelligence bell curve. That’s not sarcasm. He’s one of the smartest people I know. Halfway through the rant, he wrote, “Why did you even make this post at all if you aren’t an expert?” I breathed a sigh of relief because I couldn’t believe he’d say something like that if he weren’t kidding. But no, he continued to double down until the hysteria had risen along an exponential curve. The only way I can reconcile his intelligence with those three statements is to assume he’s emotionally compromised. Given the nature of the issue in question, that’s certainly possible, so I chose not to respond at all.

Procedure v. Substance

To fully understand where I’m going with this, you have to understand the difference between procedure and substance. To use a crass example (only because it illustrates the point clearly), if my substantive view is “slavery is bad and we should stop it,” then everyone is on board. However, everyone should immediately jump ship the moment I offer the procedural position that we should eliminate slavery by killing the slaves. Just because one wants the right thing (substance) doesn’t mean they’re going about it the right way (procedure). Put another way, hypocrisy is an objectively wrong position to take, but hypocrisy is a failure of procedure, not necessarily substance***. The failure of the three statements above are procedural in nature, so I assure you I’m not accusing him of stupid statements because his substantive view differs from mine. In fact, the first sentence of the post that inspired his rant was to say that I refused to form an opinion due to my lack of expertise. The last character of my post was a question mark because I was soliciting more informed viewpoints, not telling everyone how it is.

*** One man’s floor is another man’s ceiling, right? Well, one man’s substance can be another man’s procedure, and I believe that discrimination on the basis of an inherent characteristic is a hybrid of procedure and substance. So, it’s certainly possible that hypocrisy can be a failure of substance, but my point is that it’s always a failure of procedure.

When you shut down dialogue, even in the private sector (and thus most likely legally), you prevent anyone from learning anything. Even if you arrogantly believe you know everything, don’t you want others to learn? How can they if they don’t engage and ask questions? If your emotional state doesn’t allow you to engage, that’s fine, but why would you want to discourage the dialogue among others? We should be talking to each other more, not less, and should feel comfortable expressing our views so that they, the views, can be properly vetted. Responding to a question with ad hominem and other vitriol discourages such discourse among most people.

But not me. I’ll never apologize for trying to see the big picture and for politely engaging rational people with differing substantive viewpoints (elsewhere on social media; not on this blog). Sorry not sorry, but I’m not going anywhere, and I will continue to learn what I can.

I’m sorry for the serious post, but at the time of writing, I was emotional. 🙂

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