In praise of stupidity

Matthew Bostick praises honest stupidity in the age of Google, Wikipedia and relentless knowitall-dom.

My life path has led me to some exciting revelations and extraordinary experiences. It’s been carved out by indulging in – and being comfortable with – my own stupidity. Because stupidity is not a bad quality in a person, no matter how many people say it is. Peeking at a dictionary, we can define stupid as someone “marked by a lack of intelligence.” To me, that’s a perfectly reasonable attribute. We don’t just become intelligent one day.We’re in pursuit of cleverness. Many of us never get there. But we try.

Bravo! There is no better way to have fun than to be the dumbest guy in the room, when the room is, say, a TED talk.


  1. What I can’t stand is willful ignorance coupled with laziness.

    Like when someone asks a question online (or when a friend asks for help with something) that can be easily answered by a few minutes of googling.

    And then, when you try to show them how to get the information, instead of just giving them the answer they want,  they get pissed-off at you.

    We live in an age where we don’t need to retain as much information as before in our own memory.  As long as there’s an Internet connection nearby, it’s becoming almost trivial to find the answer to 99% of all questions we might have during the course of a normal day.  Getting into the habit of looking for this information (instead of asking other people for it) would be an immense improvement.

    I want to live in a world where has no reason to exist.

    1. ‘Like when someone asks a question online (or when a friend asks for help with something) that can be easily answered by a few minutes of googling.’

      ‘And then, when you try to show them how to get the information, instead of just giving them the answer they want, they get pissed-off at you.’

      Perhaps their anger was because you missed the point of their ‘hello’, and I’d tell you to use google to find that missing point, but you might start by looking inside your heart.

      1. So you’re saying that asking for help with something one can easily do oneself is really just socializing and saying “hello”? And that therefor one is justified in resenting others’ attempts at educating the one asking for help?

        That sounds like a rather stupid argument.

          1. Can’t we just talk to the humans?

            And a little understanding could make things better

            Can’t we talk to the humans and work together, now?

            No, because they are dead.

    2. Sometimes I feel like this, sure.  Usually, it’s when I know the answer already and I feel like the person should have looked it up rather than put their ignorance on display.

      But lots of things in this world don’t work that way.  In my chosen sport, precision pistol (various sub-disciplines), everything you might ever want to know can be looked up online.  When you look things up, though, you don’t learn a damn thing.  You just get lots of out-of-context facts that worked for someone else or make sense in some limited sense. 

      “Online” isn’t the culprit, here.  The same is true of books on the subject.  There are classics in the field.  I have them all.  I’ve read them all.  They all contradict each other and, often, themselves.

      No matter how much information you look up and commit to memory, you’re still not going to understand any of those facts in the context that’s germane to your needs.  It just ain’t gonna happen.

      OTOH, I spent a little over 2 days in a class recently with an 11-time world champion and the coach who taught him.  Nothing said during the class wasn’t something I couldn’t have looked up.  In fact, I don’t think anything said in that class was something I *hadn’t* looked up in the past.  The difference was that in the class, the facts were presented in the right order, at exactly the time they were needed to help me understand the confusion that the instructors knew I was about to run into. 

      No facts changed.  I think I could have continued looking things up, learning, implementing, and eventually achieving all that the class provided to me.  However, I firmly believed I skipped 5 to 10 years of work and frustration by going to the class.  That’s how long I would have spent chasing things that weren’t important before figuring out I needed to go a different direction.  That’s how long it would have taken me to figure out what works.

      Literally, my measured performance has improved by more than half in the 2 months since I’ve taken the class.  That’s more than I improved, working on my own, part-time, over the 20 years prior.  Granted, I recently retired so I’ve been working on my shooting full-time for those 2 months whereas for the previous 20 I was also saddled with having to make a living. 

      Still, having someone *tell* me the facts (in the right order, with demonstrations and personalization of presentation) worked *so* much better than just Googling infinite out-of-context factoids and mistaking that for learning.

      I said all that to say this – Generally, when someone asks something on a forum they want more than what they’re asking for.  They want some contextual understanding, not just facts for rote memorization.  They want a discussion and understanding, not just directions to the reference desk or the periodical index.  (Uh, sorry, kinda showing my age, there…)  They want to solve a problem.

      I’m all in favor of looking things up but I find insufferable people who just dismissively point to “let me google that for you” instead of answering the question and then following up with a “So, what do you need this for?  Since you probably knew you could look it up, asking here probably means you’re having some difficulty to which you need to apply the information.  I can probably give you the benefit of my experience in the area if you can tell me what you’re trying to achieve.  Or, if you just want the bare facts and don’t care to discuss, just say so and I’ll be happy to point you to some links.”  (And if the answer is “Just the facts, please”, then a pointer to “let me google that…” would be perfectly reasonable.)

      I thought this whole internet, connected world, we-can-all-talk-to-each-other thing was about helping people solve problems instead of just making noobs feel unwelcome.

      I wonder where I got that idea?

  2. The know-it-alls are more of a bother to me than the lazy people. A lazy person whines for a hand-out, and you don’t have to give it to them if you don’t want to. A know-it-all, on the other hand, actively works to restrict your access to useful information. They do this by delivering cryptic, non-committal answers or by perpetuating myths and misinformation. If you try to wring something useful out of them, they invariably respond with confusion and belligerence, if they respond at all.

    So, yes, being aware of your ignorance can be helpful, as long as that awareness contributes to enough discretion to not be a stupid know-it-all.

    1. Yes, he’s conflating “stupidity” and “ignorance”. Or possibly he’s conflating “intelligence” and “knowledge”.

      Intelligence is one’s capacity to learn, to think, and to reason.

      Stupidity is when you fail to learn, or fail to make proper use of what you’ve learned.

      Hurting yourself doing something you should know better than to do is stupid. Hurting yourself doing something you are unaware can hurt you is NOT stupid.

      It’s hard to tell whether Bostick’s argument itself is stupid, or merely ignorant. He took the time to look up the definition of “stupid”, but then he applied it incorrectly. Maybe he is merely ignorant of the proper meaning of “intelligence”, in which case his accident is understandable. But if not, then the argument is stupid.

    2. Yeah, ignorance is a state of being uninformed.
      Ignorance is the beginning of the learning process.
      Stupid is an inability or unwillingness to learn or be taught.
      You can’t fix stupid.

      1. Yeah, ignorance is a state of being uninformed.

        My 7th grade English teacher insisted that we use ‘nescience’ for simple lack of knowledge and ‘ignorance’ for culpable lack of knowledge.

        1. Why?  What purpose is served by trying to re-cast “ignorant” as a pejorative?  We’re all ignorant of most things but most of us are capable of learning.

          Besides, I looked up “nescience” in a half-dozen online dictionaries as well as three of those giant, printed-on-paper-and-used-to-sit-on-a-pedestal-in-a-library dictionaries I own.  In every case, ignorance and nescience were directly interchangeable, with an occasional note the nescience was a more formal word.

          Your 7th grade English teacher sounds like a bit of a jerk.

          1. Well, in German there are actually two terms. There,a “Unwissenheit”, which matches “nescience” as mentioned above and “Ignoranz”.

            It’s actually quite useful to have two terms. Agood example would be climate discussion, where Unssenheit can be corrected by proper teaching technique while people who are willfully ignorant should just be contained, as trying to give them proper facts is pointless.

          2. Since ignorant is related to ignore, a word that describes an act of volition, it seems like a perfectly reasonable nuance of meaning.

    3. He’s looking at himself through the eyes of the culture of ‘know-it-alls’.  The know-it-alls assume those who don’t know are being willfully ignorant, a deliberate choice made to waste the time and talents of others.

  3. One of my mom’s best posters in her classroom for high school chemistry said ‘Everyone is stupid, just not at the same things’

  4. Looks to me like he is describing intelligence, or at least a healthy intellect, not stupidity.

    The most important part of being intelligent is recognizing what you do and don’t know.  Knowing what you don’t know leaves you open to learning new things.  Thinking you know something that you don’t, doesn’t.

    The author is basically alluding to the Dunning-Kruger effect.

    Moreover, asking “dumb” questions is crucial.  I don’t know how many times I’ve been in a room filled with well educated people who have no clue what is going on but are afraid to ask for fear that this will reveal their ignorance.  The people that would ask the “dumb” questions would eventually figure out what is going on.  The people that wouldn’t never did. 

    1. I see you mentioned Dunning-Kruger effect.  I just read about that on Wikipedia.  Allow me to tell you all about it.

  5. There is no better way to have fun than to be the dumbest guy in the room…

    I’m with you. I even have a T-shirt that says so.

  6. I don’t think the terms “clever” and “intelligent” are interchangeable.

    The Breaking Bad duo is clever but not intelligent.  They make a small fortune, but at what personal cost, and also walk right into avoidable situations that make everybody involved suffer.

    Clever is coining phrases like “single serving friend” while stuck in a rut.
    Super clever is raiding liposuction clinic trash cans and selling back the lard as ladies’ soap.
    Intelligent is writing a book about it.  Selling the rights to Hollywood with Brad Pitt attached is just icing on the cake.

  7. OK, so smart is overrated, I get that. But I can’t help but notice that being clever kind of pulls me away from actual wisdom. I know people who aren’t as smart as i am, yet they seem happier and more relaxed. They even seem to make better choices by flying seat of the pants instead of overthinking every little choice. But I’d hardly call that stupid.

  8. Stupidity can be immoral. Stupidity and ignorance are two of evil’s great allies. We all need to have some moral intelligence. Arguing that it is better not to know is not all that much better than arguing that one shouldn’t care. It’s allying oneself with dark forces.

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