I watched a documentary this week called Stupidity made by filmmaker Albert Nerenberg.
Nerenberg examines the concept of stupidity from several angles: media and spin, interviews with average people on the street, and interviews with academics and thinkers, including an interesting professor named Avital Ronewell, and the extraordinary Noam Chomsky. The film deals with the history of the concept, the IQ test, and hierarchies like Idiot>Imbecile… and so on. One thing evident right off in the interviews is that it’s easy to make people look stupid if that’s your intention, if that is your lens. Each of us has blind spots, or forgets things, or stutters on camera; it happens all the time. It also doesn’t prove a thing. It doesn’t even remotely indicate IQ.
Ultimately, I feel that examining this human phenomenon has two possible aspects: one helpful, the other not. The helpful way of examining it is to look at popular culture and the general dumbing down of our society via entertainment and what is commonly called “journalism”, and how this allows exploitation, deception, corruption and profiteering by corporations and the politicians who serve them. Basically, an examination of stupidity in our culture: the how’s, why’s, and a few examples to help us recognize it.
The less helpful version would be one in which everyone who examines the issue behaves stupidly, including those who started the study in the first place. I think this is driven not by stupidity but by insecurity, and that it is the insecurity that someone will call them stupid or label them a moron that causes people to preempt that possiblity by doing two things: One, behaving like an idiot. Two, pointing out other people who behave like idiots. In my opinion, there is little to be in this.
Chomsky states the opinion that governmental and corporate powers quite consciously make efforts to dumb people down and keep them preoccupied with fashionable consumerism. He states that our education system is a major force in this. That major force, however, is not to relieve people of stupidity, but to indoctrinate them into it. Stupidity and obedience. But I also want to speak on the producers, writers, filmmakers, managers, politicians, speech writers and the like who would maybe like to deal with real ideas in their work, but don’t believe they can. I find it extremely egregious that when such a cynical point of view is validated, as are all perspectives if you persist long enough, they point to this as evidence that they were right.
I despise the point of view that says you have to dumb down television, dumb down your dialogue and the script for your movie, your newspaper article, that you have to write your weblog posts to a seventh grade reading level. I despise this notion because the people who espouse it have confused cause with effect. They have failed to recognize that the world always responds to our expectations of it. Lacking this fundamental piece of the puzzle, they say things like, “People don’t want to think…” and so on.
Each of us has the potential for brilliance and for stupidity, for courage and for cowardice, to create something beautiful or something banal. Whichever you speak to, this is what you tend to bring out. Interestingly, the idea for this film came to Nerenberg when he was working as a journalist, and consistently and explicitly told by his supervisors to dumb down his work. He decided to make this film after not only noting this, but noticing that it appeared to be working. Again, treat people as if they’re stupid, and you’ll find out you are right. Treat people as if they are more than capable of understanding genuine, substantive issues, and that will be true as well.