What Is Antistupid?

There are things which cannot be taught in ten easy lessons, nor popularized for the masses; they take years of skull sweat. This be treason in an age when ignorance has come into its own and one man’s opinion is as good as another’s. But there it is…The world is what it is—and doesn’t forgive ignorance.” -R.A. Heinlein, Glory Road

What is Antistupid?

This blog has been, conceptually, years in the making.  It is just an extension of a Quixotic quest I have been upon for most of the last decade—namely, a quest against stupidity, in all its forms, wherever I find it.

What do I mean by stupidity?  At its core, I suppose my definition of stupidity would center on laziness of thought.  Whether that takes the form of willful ignorance, deliberate rejection of empirical evidence and logic and the scientific method, a devotion to unthinking dogma, a refusal to confront one’s own cognitive biases, a preference for echo chambers and “truthiness” over verifiable facts, or any other version of lazy thought, all would qualify.  Stupidity is not just ignorance.  Stupidity is not just being wrong.  Stupidity is laziness.

This is not to say those guilty of stupidity are themselves inherently stupid.  I firmly believe the vast majority of people are innately intelligent and capable of critical thought and reason.  Studies of IQ test results have shown a general increase in scores for generation after generation, known as the Flynn Effect—a result not yet well understood, but fairly damning of the conclusion that people are just stupid.  If I thought people themselves were irredeemably stupid, there would be no point railing against stupidity.  It would be as much a waste of time as railing against the weather.

Rather, I believe that people are lazy.  That reason and objective assessment of the facts are much harder than emotion and heuristic thought processes, and we tend to default to the latter without deliberate effort.  There’s some strong evidence for this belief, from various cognitive and social psychology studies such as those cited by Daniel Kahneman in his book “Thinking, Fast and Slow” (2011) and Duncan Watts in his “Everything Is Obvious—Once You Know the Answer” (2011).  Our brains work very efficiently, but the ways they work tend to lead us toward lazy thought patterns unless we work very hard to counter these tendencies.  And often, our upbringing and education just reinforces those tendencies rather than showing us a better way.

But despite all evidence to the contrary, despite long experience, I believe there’s merit in confronting this laziness, in shining light on stupidity and revealing it for what it is, and trying to guide those willing to listen back to the path of intelligent thought and nuanced reason.   In trying to show them a better way, a way that has, slowly and in fits and starts over the millennia, lifted mankind from the muck and filth of subsistence and grinding poverty to the heights of civilization and prosperity.  Because I have not yet lost hope for humanity, and much like a religious missionary preaching faith to the resistant heathens, even small and occasional victories make the struggle worthwhile.

This blog will tackle this challenge in multiple ways.  It will examine complicated and complex issues and try to reveal the nuanced realities underlying the oversimplifications.  It will look at and try to understand new and interesting ideas.  It will review books and articles and studies and try to place them in context.  It will challenge prevalent modes of thought and maybe even wax philosophic on occasion.  But most of all, it will strive to be a beacon in the dark, a guiding light for anyone struggling to make sense of the complex world around them, for anyone seeking refuge from the sea of popular stupidity around them.

I do not pretend to always be right.  In fact, I am routinely wrong, and do not expect that trend to change.  The difference between me (and those like me) and most people is simply this: I try to figure out when I’m wrong, and learn from it, and be less wrong in the future.  And, more importantly, when confronted with stupidity, we do not merely reject it out of hand, but seek to examine it, to learn from it, and to use it to strengthen our own understanding. That’s Antistupid.  So let’s tilt some windmills.

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