Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Benefits of Forgiving Stupidity

or, Why I Stopped Buying the Line that Stupid People and Ideas Deserve Scorn

Stupidity, though an undesirable trait, is not worthy of scorn for two classes of reasons, moral and practical

The moral reasons:

1)The basic simple Golden Rule: What you don’t want done to yourself, do not do to others.

2) The stupidity they did commit could not by any reasonable standard be regarded as a non-trivial threat to others’ lives, physical or mental health, physical or mental functionality, their human rights, civil liberties, their money, bank accounts, property or reasonable enjoyment thereof.

The practical reasons are as follows:

1) Scorn only tells people they did something to meet others disapproval. It says nothing about how to correct their error, assuming they committed an error in the first place.

2) Scorn causes resentment, anger, distress, or mental discomfort in the people scorned for their stupidity; often to the degree that they either close their minds to what you have to say. Even if the stupid person is open to what you have to say, the non-trivial emotional disquiet creates an additional barrier which they have to overcome in order to get to the point where they can listen to or figure out exactly why they are in error.

3) There is always the possibility that “stupid” person is not being stupid after all.  History is filled with occassions where people came up with a new idea that conventional society said was stupid, but proved to be correct when one looked deeper into the matter than mere popular “say-so”.

In fact, some scholars, most notably Richard Florida, say (essentially) that a community’s economic future often hinges on how they react to stupid, strange or weird ideas and cultural practices. Example: Florida claims it’s no accident the San Francisco Bay area is a major center for creating tomorrow’s technologies based on cutting edge science - namely that the SF Bay area is open not only to unconventional ideas, but also unconventional people.  Areas open to “unique” people and ideas are also more likely to be open to “unique” ideas about business, industry, and technology.  Result: the San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose Bay metropolitan area has the highest per capita income of any large US metro area (yes, even higher than the New York metro area).

No comments: