Carlo Cipolla, Robert J. Stenberg, and More on Stupidity | Part 5

JAMES F. WELLES in Understanding Stupidity:

In fact, confusion as to the relationship of wisdom to knowledge impeded our understanding of ourselves for years. Two hundred years ago, Rationalists believed that as we learned more about our world we would become wiser. That belief is no longer tenable. Knowledge accumulates; wisdom does not. For all our vaunted skills in communication, we still learn pretty much as do rats, with little wisdom passed on from one generation to the next and even less developed through education. Worse yet, each generation finds a new way to mess itself up because we do not behave even like knowledgeable rats. As knowledge accumulates, so do misconceptions, superstitions and idiotic ideas and beliefs of all sorts. These do as much to shape our behavior as do immediate circumstances, since it is through our cognitive world that the stimuli we perceive are interpreted.


Culture is also a means of transmitting behavior and values across generations. Further, it is a communication system, and it has been analyzed as a means for distributing both human and natural energy. However, no one yet seems to have considered culture as a means for fostering stupidity—promoting, developing and transmitting it throughout a society and through time. Perhaps it is this as well.


As a cultural constant, stupidity is routinely transmitted from one generation to the next by the time-honored mechanism of the vicious cycle. Poorly adjusted children mature into maladjusted adults, then using the same techniques their parents used on them to raise yet another generation of misinformed conformists or malcontented sociopaths. If there is some selection pressure acting to weed stupidity out of each generation, it is, apparently, easily offset by a willing disposition of people to spread it and encourage its continual, spontaneous synthesis.


James F. Welles, Ph.D was arrested for soliciting sex on the internet from a middle-aged policeman posing as a 15-year-old girl. How Ironic!

Carlo Cipolla, Robert J. Stenberg, and More on Stupidity | Part 4

VICTOR SWIFT in Inkblot:

A fool is one who deceives himself in order to maintain his own destruction.  Whereas the stupid person lacks the intelligence to live a good life, and the ignorant person lacks the knowledge to live a good life, it is the foolish person who possesses both the knowledge and the intelligence but deliberately chooses not to live a good life.

Since the time of Socrates, philosophers have identified six different qualities constituting foolishness: lack of character constraint, unbalanced motivational centers, narrative fixation, misframing, modal confusion, and lack of self-transcendence. 

For Aristotle, part of being a good person is having a well-developed moral and self-reflective character that is strong enough to constrain behaviours across circumstances (Aristotle & Irwin, 1999). If one’s character is unable to constrain one’s behaviours, then one remains susceptible to self-destructive and self-deceptive behaviour.

In modern psychological terms, character constraint may be understood as self-regulation, the ability to coordinate the processes of forethought, performance control, and self-reflection in a dynamical fashion (Zimmerman, 2000). The self-regulating individual reflects upon the effectiveness of his or her behaviours, generates strategies in order to maximize the usefulness of these behaviours, and then guides his or her actions according to the proposed strategy. This cycle is monitored and evaluated based on feedback from the environment that indicates how adjustments can be made in order to further optimize functioning. 

Read full length here

Carlo Cipolla, Robert J. Stenberg, and More on Stupidity | Part 3

ROBERT J. STERNBERG in The American Interest:

Examples of foolish behavior in smart people abound. Bill Clinton, a graduate of Yale Law School and a Rhodes Scholar, compromised his presidency by his poor handling of the Monica Lewinsky scandal and other scandals with women from his past. The antics of Silvio Berlusconi, one of the richest men in the world and the Prime Minister of Italy, at times seem to defy belief (at least, my own belief), such as his claim that Mussolini wasn’t responsible for any of the deaths of his countrymen; he only sent them “on vacation.” And lest all this seem recent, we only need to go back to Neville Chamberlain and his slogan of “peace in our time” as a means to appease Hitler to realize that smart people can act very foolishly.

Such behavior is not limited to politicians. Some of the world’s smarter and better-educated businessmen brought us the scandals and fiascoes that led to the bankruptcies of or debacles in major U.S. corporations such as Adelphia, Arthur Andersen, Enron, Tyco, WorldCom, and others. Such scandals are not, of course, limited to the United States.

Wisdom can be defined as using one’s academic and practical intelligence, as well as one’s knowledge base, for a common good over the long and short terms by balancing competing interests through the infusion of positive ethical values. Schools need to place more emphasis on teaching wisdom and less on the learning of facts, many of which will be out-of-date or irrelevant shortly after they are learned. We test for many unimportant things that crowd the important lessons out of the curriculum.

If there is one conclusion that seems clear, it is that smart people can act foolishly. If foolishness is in some sense the opposite of wisdom, it means that intelligence is no protection against it. 

Read full length here

Robert J. Sternberg is Professor of Human Development at Cornell University

Understanding the Other Side – Beto O’Rourke on NFL Players Kneeling During the National Anthem


My short answer is no, I don’t think it’s disrespectful. Here is my longer answer – but I’m gonna try to make sure I get this right, because I think it’s a really important question. And reasonable people can disagree on this issue. Let’s begin there, and it makes them no less American to come down on a different conclusion on this issue. Right? You can feel as the young man does, you can feel as I do, you are every bit as American all the same.

Carlo Cipolla, Robert J. Stenberg, and More on Stupidity | Part 2

MARC ABRAHAMS on Cipolla’s laws of human stupidity in The Guardian:

Cipolla’s essay gives an X-ray view of what distinguishes countries on the rise from those that are falling.

Countries moving uphill have an inevitable percentage of stupid people, yes. But they enjoy “an unusually high fraction of intelligent people” who collectively overcompensate for the dumbos.

Declining nations have, instead, an “alarming proliferation” of non-stupid people whose behaviour “inevitably strengthens the destructive power” of their persistently stupid fellow citizens. There are two distinct, unhelpful groups: “bandits” who take positions of power which they use for their own gain; and people out of power who sigh through life as if they are helpless.

Read full length here

Playlist of the Week

Cyndi Lauper – Time after time
Andrea Bocelli ft Dua Lipa – If Only
Leonard Cohen – Almost Like the Blues
Ian Brown – Goodbye to the Broken
Bread – Guitar Man
King Crimson – Starless
Steve Perry – Running Alone
Ace of Cups – Fantasy 1 & 4
Asa – Satan Be Gone
Stevie Nicks – Edge of Seventeen

This week’s playlist is available on iTunes and Spotify. I hope you enjoy it.

Carlo Cipolla, Robert J. Stenberg, and More on Stupidity | Part 1

CARLO M. CIPOLLA

In his 1976 essay, Carlo proposed the five basic laws of human stupidity:

  1. Always and inevitably everyone underestimates the number of stupid individuals in circulation.
  2. The probability that a certain person (will) be stupid is independent of any other characteristic of that person.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. A stupid person is the most dangerous type of person

– Carlo M. Cipolla was a professor of Economics at the University of California, Berkeley.

Believing without evidence is always morally wrong

Francisco Mejia Uribe in Aeon:

In a world in which just about everyone’s beliefs are instantly shareable, at minimal cost, to a global audience, every single belief has the capacity to be truly consequential in the way Clifford imagined. If you still believe this is an exaggeration, think about how beliefs fashioned in a cave in Afghanistan lead to acts that ended lives in New York, Paris and London. Or consider how influential the ramblings pouring through your social media feeds have become in your very own daily behaviour. In the digital global village that we now inhabit, false beliefs cast a wider social net, hence Clifford’s argument might have been hyperbole when he first made it, but is no longer so today.

…it is always wrong to believe on insufficient evidence is that poor practices of belief-formation turn us into careless, credulous believers. Clifford puts it nicely: ‘No real belief, however trifling and fragmentary it may seem, is ever truly insignificant; it prepares us to receive more of its like, confirms those which resembled it before, and weakens others; and so gradually it lays a stealthy train in our inmost thoughts, which may someday explode into overt action, and leave its stamp upon our character.’ Translating Clifford’s warning to our interconnected times, what he tells us is that careless believing turns us into easy prey for fake-news pedlars, conspiracy theorists and charlatans. And letting ourselves become hosts to these false beliefs is morally wrong because, as we have seen, the error cost for society can be devastating.

Read full length here