The Stupid Gene
“Stupidity is an unfortunate but necessary by product of cognitive evolution.”
Every once in a while, we hear about someone doing something so profoundly dumb, that it makes us wonder what compelled them to do it in the first place. However, stupidity is not exclusive to people who are notably less intelligent than others. In fact, if you think about it, you’ll see how pervasive it really is.
There are several every day actions that people seem to have a certain proclivity for that they never seem to think about until after the fact, when the reality of it sinks in. These are things most of us – myself included – do with a kind of blind routine; subconsciously at times, without even realizing it.
I call the collective of these actions the function of a “stupid gene” as it were. We all have it to some degree and most of us are only aware of it at a subconscious level. Let me be clear though: I don’t think there’s necessarily such a thing as a stupid “gene”, since DNA is not quite so simplistic. I’m using this description more as a metaphor for describing the ubiquity of this quality.
Now, while there are some incredibly stupid people in the world, this post is not dedicated to those who have unwittingly separated themselves from the gene pool because of their own profound lack of foresight. Rather, I invite you to consider other less obvious examples that we’re all inexcusably guilty of.
With that said, the following is a description of what I believe are the top 10 most common, most stupid things we often find ourselves doing – often times with great conviction and a sense of blind, indiscriminate, ill placed cognition:
1. Valuing process over function
Have you ever heard of the expression that the journey is more important than the destination? It would appear as though humans all seem to derive a greater sense of purpose from being involved in a process as opposed to its intended function. We see this behaviour in everything from romance to war.
Why it’s stupid:
Because it’s synonymous with putting the cart before the horse.
Function defines process, but we often get caught doing it the other way around. Sometimes we get so tied up in the process that we forget the whole purpose of the function altogether. That’s when process supersedes function.
When people lose their sense of direction, they tend to make the same mistakes over and over again. For example; People who become preoccupied with the process of romantic courtship become so addicted to the emotional roller coaster ride (aka “drama”) of the process that a functional relationship is never actually predicated out of this ultimately pointless, meaningless farce.
But it’s not only in romance that people meander aimlessly. You’ll find the same kind of clumsy behaviour in careers and education. There are people who’ve quite literally become professional students, because they choose the career after they’ve gone to college and not before selecting their specialty.
The same can be said of many on-going modern wars. Between Iraq, Afghanistan and the rest of the Middle-East, there appears to be no clear direction in what some of these people are fighting for. As a result, casualties mount on both sides with no clear gains or losses in any particular direction.
Every once in a while, people need to stop what they’re doing, drop everything and take a long hard look at how what they’re doing gets them to what they want to achieve. In many of these cases, people will either realise that they’ve forgotten what they want to achieve or now realise that the process is the achievement, and not so much what it was originally stipulated to do.
In my observation, people seem to value the process more than the purpose. For while it does appear that the pursuit of happiness is indeed the cause of unhappiness, any pursuit that has gone on for too long seems to cause people to ultimately find more satisfaction in the pursuit more than in happiness itself.
2. Trolling on a troll
Trolls, as described by internet parlance, are people who take insidious pleasure at attacking others for no other reason other than to enjoy the fallout that inevitably ensues. Trolls are most evident on the internet, on forums, newsgroups, blogs and now even on social networking sites.
Why it’s stupid:
Surprisingly, people choose to argue with them.
What most people don’t know however, is that trolls are not only the anonymous, obnoxious twats that trawl the internet for a good meaningless face off. They are also the people who appear on television talking smack about public officials just because they disagree for the sake of disagreement.
They are the people who demonstrate at the G-20 gathering for no other reason than to promote anarchy, and other miscellaneous, but completely unrelated or irrelevant ideas. They are the Deontological tea-party crowd who march on Washington to protest government regulation meant to help them.
These people all fall into the troll category, largely because their concerns are either invalid, unsubstantiated, based on eccentric sensationalism, straw man arguments, or even a part of a much larger conspiracy theory initiative designed quite explicitly to sew seeds of fear, uncertainty and doubt.
I understand that people will ultimately disagree because on a microscopic scale we are cognitively different. However, what I don’t understand is when we are compelled to become embroiled in an endless trade off with someone who can only derive satisfaction by attempting to make other people feel just as miserable as they are. Trolls thrive on attention. So don’t give it to them.
It’s that simple.
Trolls exist exclusively for the purpose of sewing discord. Whether that discord is meant to destabilize a system for some other agenda or just to start a flame war on a forum for the purpose of enjoying the ensuing anarchy is irrelevant. Like common animals, trolls don’t care about your values or objectives.
That’s why the co-opted old English word which was originally intended to describe large, obnoxious, stupid, mythical creatures of old Europe (often compared to the Japanese ‘Oni’) is now used to describe such people.
Quite a fitting anthropomorphism, don’t you think?
The instant you get involved in an insult war with a troll, they win – since that was their objective in the first place. This is where the old adage about arguing with a fool becomes especially relevant. They will drag you down to their level and beat you. They win because they’re not playing by any rules.
Admittedly, when I just started out on public discussion groups on the internet, I too was drawn in by the appeal of squashing these annoying cockroaches – (even on this blog in some places). But the thing about cockroaches is that there’s so many of them, that killing one only to have a thousand take its place quickly becomes a meaningless and pointless chore.
Ad hominem remarks are usually the first indicator that you’re dealing with trolls. Thank god for spam filters and administrative key word / e-mail / domain / ip blockers. But even if you’re not dealing with internet trolls, the process is the same. That’s why there’s no point in getting worked up about Fox News, Glen Beck, Sean Hannity, and their entire army of clowns at the front gate.
Even if trolls start an initiative to discredit someone, giving them a voice automatically validates their cause. This is where the vicious cycle of circular arguments begin. Don’t value the process of troll bashing over the function of communication. They only become effective when you patronize them.
3. Forming Factions
I said in a previous post that humans seem to value group membership more than group purpose, and our history is fraught with examples of this. People seem to instinctively form groups among themselves, most of the time serving no other function other than to create unnecessary divides among us.
Why it’s stupid:
Because most of the time, group membership gets taken more seriously than group function.
That’s when we get caught up in defending the group, fighting for a cause that does not ultimately solve the problem. Instead, it usually serves to create all new problems in a vicious cycle of tit for tat that will ultimately be carried on in perpetuity by those who don’t even know how the conflict started.
You see these stupid factions all over the world and in every walk of life. Just give humans a choice of group to join, then let them compete for resources and it quickly goes to hell from there. Whether it is a relatively innocuous conflict between between Star Wars and Star Trek fans, Democrats and Republicans or Israelis and Palestinians, the nature of the conflict is the same.
On either side of the fence, there are people who are only interested in putting forward the agenda of the group to which they belong – yet, they are not willing to listen to the opinions on the other side. This obviously creates a perpetual deadlock, which ultimately leads to more meaningless conflict.
These pissing contests will never end until someone decides to zip up their pants first. It’s just that usually no one is willing to be the first to withdraw for fear of it appearing to be a form of concession. Wouldn’t it be far more interesting if people found more ways to unite us instead of ways to divide us? But alas, I don’t think such a propensity is an intrinsic quality of human nature.
This would be an epic face off – even though the Enterprise would be destroyed.
4. Upholding Double Standards
Originally posted here.
I see this all the time. One group makes a declaration about another or does something to another as if that action doesn’t also apply reflexively. Yet they become surprised when someone else does the exact same thing to them. I talk smack about Republicans a lot, and that’s because they’re prime suspects.
Why it’s stupid:
For no other reason than the fact that it exposes one’s narrow-mindedness.
If a woman declares that all men are dogs, it implies that all women are bitches. If a white man accuses black people of being “crabs in a barrel”, then he needs to be reminded of who started the two World Wars. People who say that all Asians look alike, need to be reminded that they can’t tell the difference between most people from other races either. You get it, right?
Double Standards expose an inherent narcissism in people where they succeed in identifying flaws in others, but fail to recognize the same flaw in themselves. This is why Republicans annoy me so much. They accuse the Democrats of wasteful spending after they supported an illegal, 6 year, 10 billion dollar per month war, loosing focus of it’s original objectives (if any).
But I digress… *pauses to regain composure*
What fascinates me is not so much that people do this nonsense at all. I tend to expect this kind of errant miscarriage of intelligence from the intellectually challenged, (like trolls for example) which is why I tend to ignore them. Most of the times anyway. What really fascinates me is the ubiquity of this behaviour.
But truth be told, what really pisses me off is when intelligent people do it. Nothing disappoints me more than when a seemingly intelligent person goes crazy about an idea of theirs that someone criticized, as if it is somehow exempt from the same kind of scrutiny they level at others’ opposing ideas.
Atheists I find are particularly guilty of this.
I suppose when we get emotionally caught up with an idea that we value dearly, we tend to lose focus on our intellectual integrity and veer off the side of the road of logic. But I always follow a very simple rule when making any kind of observation: How does it apply to me? I find this keeps me honest.
…at least, as honest as far as I can tell. I do admit, even I miss the boat at times.
5. Confusing Opinion and Fact
A fact is anything that can be verified. An opinion is a relatively unsubstantiated position. Yet, people go around making “intelligent guesses” and pass them off as fact. While I do admit that there is a certain temptation in doing this, we live in an age where almost anything can be quickly verified.
…and therein lies our problem.
Why it’s stupid:
Because in this age of information overload, there’s a very thin line between opinion and fact.
I’ve had a number of discussions on this blog where we’ve flung websites at each other in a desperate attempt at disproving each other. What I notice was very common though, was where people only read the title of an article and assumed that it validated their point. In most cases, it worked against them.
Of those cases, people were largely quoting:
- out-of-date information (like old research or dated news articles)
- opinion pieces (like other blogs)
- white paper that only partially correlate their opinions
I find that in the case of #3 especially, people tend to go off on a long rant about this and that, then quote an article that only speaks to that but not this – which automatically invalidates the congruity of their argument. In all honesty, it’s not so much that they haven’t tried to validate their ideas.
It’s just that their effort reeks of grasping at straws.
We see the same kind of behaviour with Republicans (here he goes again) when various senators recently tried to make a case against the recently passed Health Care bill, coming up with all kinds of ridiculous contrivances, one even going as far as trying to quote a baby he held in his hand. I mean, wow.
I really need to lay off the Republicans. It’s not good for me.
More importantly, while this behaviour is by no means indigenous to Republicans (the democratically leaning CNN, MSNBC, et al are at times no different), it is no less bothersome. I can respect a man’s desire to have an opinion. What annoys me is when this opinion becomes dangerously correlated as fact. A certain news organisation has accomplished just that.
Bigots like Martin Luther (yes, the same reformist Martin Luther – he hated Jews) and Adolf Hitler are men whose opinions were so succinctly corelated with fact that people actually died. I can think of a recent US president whose opinion cost over 4,000 soldiers their lives for a seemingly pointless war.
But he’s no bigot …at least, not as far as I can prove.
But it’s not just in bigotry that we see a confusion of opinion and fact. It was a fact that 8 glasses of water per day was mandatory for everyone. It turns out that it was the opinion of the editor of a popular health magazine back in the 50′s that simply became a part of pop culture. There’s no scientific proof of this.
But I’m not going to repeat myself here. I’ve already done a write up on the truth about the truth – which more elaborately goes into how popular opinions become fact. I wonder how many people out there realise that many of the facts based on abstract ideas were actually borne out of someone’s opinion?
Think politics and religion. You won’t be too far off.
6. Playing with fire
Why do people become surprised when they get burned after playing with fire? Why are women surprised when the guy who cheated on their wives with them, cheat on them also? Why do black people who join the Republican party become surprised when one of them calls him a “nigger” behind their back?
(there I go hitting on Republicans again)
Why it’s stupid:
Because it’s madness to think that we’re somehow exempt from the laws of nature.
I remember a tale someone shared with me when I became enamoured with a pretty mixed woman who deviously had me promoted to senior management. The tale tells of a frog crossing a river with a scorpion on its back. Even though the scorpion promised not to sting the frog, midway through the crossing, it stung it anyway – and they both drowned. Heh. No surprises there at all.
True to the tale, the very same woman who had me deviously promoted to senior management tried to use me to accomplish some rather, shall we say, devious and morally questionable personal political objectives. Apparently she thought I would be one of those unopinionated, brain dead “yes” men.
Wow. Did she get a rude awakening.
I’ve met many other people like that – like this really hot chick who was fun to talk to, even though she is a complete, epic bitch of biblical proportions. I’ve seen this woman gut people like fish over the silliest things – and yet I continued to be her friend. Then when we went shopping on Valentine’s day, she totally flipped out about the way I recommended a laptop. I kid thee not.
Her silence to this day is testament to her guilt over what transpired that day.
Is it naivette that leads people to put their trust in other people who they know are bad for them? Probably. But it doesn’t make us any less stupid. We already knew about this person’s rotten ways, and we trusted them anyway. We think we’re somehow special and thus exempt from their behaviour.
A person who is devious with others, will be devious with you as well. A person who is obnoxious with others will be obnoxious to you as well. A deceitful or dishonest person will be no more honest with you. A racist is still a racist, no matter what party he hails from or how many black “friends” he has.
Don’t be surprised when you trust the untrustworthy, or sleep with a whore, or do business with a con man, or befriend the unfriendly, or host an unkempt person in a tidy home, or employ an ex-con, or forgive a betrayer, or marry your ex-girlfriend, or keep a wild animal as a pet, or join the Republican party.
(I really need to stop doing that.)
When you tame a pit bull, the vile nature of the animal never really disappears. Similarly, people don’t really change. They just become better or worse at who they really are. By extension, the laws of nature are relatively consistent. Exceptions to this rule are quite rare. So if you play with scorpions, bitches and the like, don’t be surprised when you get bit. It is only a matter of time. Fuck you Heather.
7. Winging It
I find it interesting that there are people in the world who believe that life is an adventure and that you shouldn’t try to plan everything on your journey to your grave. Isn’t it interesting then, that it’s the very same people who are often shoulder deep in credit card debt or lost their homes in a foreclosure?
Why it’s stupid:
As the old adage goes; a failure to plan is a plan to fail.
Whether you risk living on the street or even gene pool separation is irrelevant. The point is that winging it, however tempting the thought, is just as foolhardy as it is potentially liberating. I concede that all the planning can take the fun out of an adventure, but some things should just never go unplanned.
The trouble with winging it is that the people who do it rarely know when to stop or where to draw the line. It is an addiction to the adrenaline rush that comes with uncertainty. The thrill of going bare with a woman you just met, or hedging the title of your house on a game of blackjack is just plain stupid.
It doesn’t matter if you don’t pick up something like genital herpes or if you double your winnings. Wrecklessness by any other name is still wreckless just the same. When the probability of risk and reward are equal, going ahead without a plan B is just plain irrational. It’s all about proper risk management.
In fact, I am reminded of a Christian missionary group that went into Ecuador to spread the gospel to a violently primitive tribe of indigenous people. I kid thee not. Before you laugh, I need to add that they went in there just with their back packs, a biplane and their Bibles and with no form of self defense.
While the tragic outcome was not unexpected, Christian missionaries do this nonsense all the time. Then when their inexplicable attempt at imperial indoctrination gets them killed, they call it martyrdom. I call it stupidity.
Now even though a second group of missionaries followed up on their slain colleagues and got the job done, they learned from the bones of their fallen comrades that no amount of faith (and this is important) will change the probability of the occurrence of total disaster. This is an undeniable fact.
So think twice the next time you decide to get that Widescreen TV when your credit card interest rate is in the double digits, plan to get married without discussing critical issues like family, religion and politics, lay that hot someone without protection, or travel unsecured to a foreign country currently at war.
Concordantly I don’t understand educated people who are suprised when they have unplanned pregnancies, are decapitated by Muslim extremists in Iraq, lose their their life savings in a Casino in Vegas or are impaled by a rampaging bull in Spain. Winging it is such an epic load bull excrement. No pun intended.
8. Giving unsolicited advice
Is there something you’re really good at? Something you’ve practiced and honed to a perfection? Ever notice that when you get noticed for it, there’s always a lackey here or there that’s quick to become your “manager” or “talent coach” as it were, offering unsolicited advice on how to do it better?
Annoying sons of bitches, aren’t they?
Why it’s stupid:
Because it reeks of gross insecurity – especially when it’s obvious they can’t do any better.
When you’re really good, there’s no shortage of supply in people in the world who want to share your glory or live vicariously through you by kissing your ass. But, there are some really sad, pitiful folks out there, who would rather find a way to take away from your glory through harsh, unconstructive criticism that nitpicks at every insignificant little nuance like self destructive parasites.
These little trolls (because that’s what they are) are so pathetic that their only hope of feeling good about themselves is by attempting to tear down people who they obviously perceive to be better than themselves – that is, people who make them feel insecure about their hapless, self imposed mediocrity.
I gotta tell ya, we come across some really interesting people both in real life and on the internet. But these people stand out the most, largely because they’re usually your greatest detractors. So I tend to use these morons as a barometer of how well I’m doing. The harsher the crticism, the better.
I can’t help but feel really bad for them sometimes, because it’s really, really sad when someone who notices that you’re doing well, simply cannot feel happy for you and would rather tear you down than encourage you on.
I revel in your tears of inadequacy, Ms. Miller. Yummy.
When they’re not busy trying to tell you how bad they think you really are, they feel compelled to offer up suggestions on what they think you should be doing with your talent. It reminds me of that parable about the father, his son and their donkey and how they tried to please every one that passed by.
Now you guys (you know yourselves) know why some of you are ignored when you offer unsolicited “advice” to someone. It’s not that some of your suggestions aren’t good. I bet some of them are brilliant. But when everybody does that, it makes one feel like they’re owned by their audience and it becomes really nauseating really quickly. Nobody likes a tasteless critic.
…especially one that cannot do any better themselves.
9. Soliciting scams
No. Not really.
When are people going to realize that you can’t fix your weight problem with a pill? When are we going to stop throwing our money at the next spot exercise gadget they market on TV? Why do people continue to purchase that rubbish that the late Billy Mays and his army of pitch perfect con artists try to sell?
Why it’s stupid:
As if you need a reason.
Even though we all have a natural instinct that fires off a warning that says “this is too good to be true“, people deliberately ignore the still small voice of their inner wisdom and throw their money at these scam artists anyway.
Despite the fact that we see special effects on television and in the movies all the time, we somehow think that you can’t use it in less obvious ways to sell a product that only works as advertised on television. You’d think by now that people could tell when a really bad actor vouches for a product with their grossly over dramatised facial expressions and fake, glossy vocal inflections.
Whether it’s Mighty Putty or ShamWow, the wanton and indiscriminate marketing by false advertising never seems to stop. Neither Mighty Putty nor ShamWow works as quickly (or at all) as advertised. And for some strange reason, they also try to market products that already exist on the market as though the new versions are any better than what you can get in a store.
I mean, good grief man. It makes you think Billy Mays got what he deserved – and don’t get me started on these weight loss ads that are filling the airwaves. Dangerous products exposed by the FDA prey upon the wallets of our overweight culture that only wants to pop pills instead of pump iron.
It took a while for the FDA to catch up with those weight loss products that use ephedra – because it was killing people left right and centre. When it wasn’t that, it was all of these gimmick machines that only exercised one part of the body – usually the abdomen – as if sit ups and crunches actually work.
Newsflash: THEY DON’T – not by themselves.
Fat people actually buy this thing!
Whole body exercise (like Cardio) is by far the best type, because it effects fat burning all over your body simultaneously. You buy these stupid gimmicks like the AbLounger or Tony Little’s Gazelle because the notion of hard work and a good pain inducing exercise is an unpleasant thought – you lazy bastards.
Don’t you find it strange that it’s only heavily muscle toned people who are used to advertised these products? Why is it that they never use a fat guy to sell an exercise machine? Did you think those actors got that way by using a machine that looks like a porn star giving a brisk hand job to someone?
And what about these internet scams? It’s fascinating to me that there are people who still get hooked on these Nigerian scams – you know the ones where some estranged prince offers to deliver a large sum of money for a small deposit to aid in the transfer? Yeah, those. I mean how dumb do people need to be to realise the obvious trickery involved here? I mean, really?
Oh by the way? Avoid those work at home kits – especially those Google AdSense kits you have to pay for. You can get it for free from Google. All the others are scams. Even if you actually make money from them, they are marketed based on false advertising. Don’t you ever wonder why someone making millions on some marketing secret would want to share it with anyone?
Another thing with these work at home scams is that even if they actually work, by the time you get into it, the market they pander to is so over saturated that there’s virtually no leverage for you to make any real money. What’s worse, is that chances are there are several hundred thousand other people selling the exact same product for much cheaper on eBay right now.
Gentle people, if it takes over half an hour to sell a product during the wee hours of the morning, chances are, it’s a scam. If you have to read through an incredibly long web page or e-mail, filled with BIG BOLD COLOURED TEXT, chances are it’s a scam. If someone offers to give you money for little or no work on your behalf, except that you send them some money, it’s a scam.
Nobody safely or practically loses weight by exercising one body part, or by taking pills, or paying exorbitant sums of money to diet programs – not without some serious side effects like a dead liver or a maxed out credit card. Anything you see marketed by a TV pitch man can be had in any department store with a warranty, a guarantee and even technical support where applicable.
And as for you folks who invested with Bernie Madoff, COME ON! Did you honestly think that someone who can’t tell you how your money was being invested could give you a consistent, monthly, high percentile return on your funds without seeming suspicious? Where did you think it was coming from? I find it hard to pity you. These Ponzi schemes have been around for decades.
For every con artist, there exists at least two fools; one who is greedier than he is and one who is lazier than he is. If either your greed or your laziness is stronger than your commitment to reason, then you deserve to get scammed.
I say that without apology.
10. Believing in Urban Legend and Hoaxes
This photo fooled even National Geographic. Ahh, the power of Photoshop.
People who believe in religion annoy me. People who believe in urban legend piss me off. People who believe in hoaxes however, I want to strangle with a chainsaw rip cord. I know that should be the other way around, but I have some really good religious friends, so I’ll let them slide – for now anyway.
Why it’s stupid:
Because paranoid gullibility is easily manipulated.
I will say this though; I don’t take kindly to people who are so dumb that they forward every e-mail about a cancer stricken girl’s sob story or a tear jerking religious anecdote with a moral that was pilfered from Zen philosophy, or how my luck will change depending on how many people I forward their silly, mindless tripe to. These internet memes really need to die. Like seriously.
And as for you retards who believe Queen Elizabeth planned Diana’s death, or that Obama is the Anti-Christ or that George Bush is a distant cousin of Hitler (heh, wouldn’t that be entertaining), and any other related garbage that has absolutely no proof whatsoever, can you do me a favour? GTFO my internet.
If you are quick to believe in conspiracy theories and urban legends, it demonstrates that there is a gaping hole in your rationality engine. People who are both paranoid and gullible are the easiest to manipulate, because they will quite literally believe in anything – including the incessant garbage that is regularly fed to gun toting, right wing extremists by Fox News.
If you want to see what happens when gullibility runs amok, just examine the tenure of the previous American government. An entire nation of paranoid, impressionable folk tossed logic to the wind and went cowboy on the world. The damage is likely to have far reaching effects well into the next decade.
Fear is the most powerful motivator for a gullible mind. Therefore, a campaign of fear, uncertainty, doubt and disbelief (or FUDD for short) on a religiously leaning, paranoid population will enslave all but the most discerning of minds. It’s no small wonder then that Republicans are largely supported by the temperament of the religious right and Democrats by everyone else.
Religion and gullibility it seems, are very strongly correlated.
I hate it when I do something stupid – especially in cases where I’m supposed to know better. I am even less tolerant of when other people do stupid things, like ice skating uphill – in a blizzard – with no goggles or protective gear. However, I cannot fault humanity for producing stupidity every once in a while. So I cannot even be too hard on myself. It’s all a part of a grand process.
You see, just as how any process that is engineered to produce a greater good will have undesirable by products, human cognitive evolution is no different. As we get smarter and innovate, we will ultimately produce a few samples of human DNA that will produce humans at the bottom of the pool of the collective intelligence of all mankind combined. But it doesn’t stop there.
Stupidity is an unfortunate but necessary by product of cognitive evolution. How else would we know that some appliances are for “indoor use only” or where the “CAUTION: HOT” stickers should go on things that generate heat, or that “objects in mirror are closer than they appear“? I mean just think about it.
If some idiot didn’t cause grievous bodily harm or outright kill themselves doing something that they shouldn’t be doing, the rest of us who wouldn’t have thought to do something that dumb would never have figured how incredibly dumb it really was (like blow drying our hair while sitting in a tub of water).
Therefore, embrace your inner idiot; for that is the purpose of the stupid gene. Without it, we probably wouldn’t have advanced technologically as quickly as we did. Now that we have six billion beta testers willing to off themselves at the newest trends, technological and social advancement can proceed with a greater sense of purpose and alacrity. What can I say? I love you fools.