Understanding Stupidity #8 – The Three Primary Causes

For this post, I am going to step back a little and look as someone besides Bonhoeffer for wisdom. This comes from an Italian economist Carlo Cipolla who was a leading expert in the field of human stupidity. He wrote his thoughts in a “tongue in cheek” Will Rogers style. To conserve space, I will only cover three of his laws here.

1. Distraction

This causes the lowest degree of human stupidity. Distraction leads people to miss goals due to a lack of focus. Not paying attention or not allocating sufficient resources results in frustration and time wasted. Distracted people tend not to spend the right amount of energy and concentration while performing relevant tasks. So, they behave stupidly because they struggle to achieve goals they are not truly willing to achieve.

Of course, we all have had this form of stupidity. Let’s face it, to accomplish anything in life takes work that we are sometimes just not willing to give.

2. Lack of control

This leads to the average degree of human stupidity. Lack of control is typical of impulsive people. Not having self-control means being a victim of events, acting irrationally as a result. As clearly described by Cipolla, this is the first and foremost cause of human stupidity. So, people lacking self-control behave stupidly because they are inclined to act impulsively, without rationality.

I am a person who demands self-control, so losing it is something I avoid at almost all costs. This type of stupidity means just not giving a shit about something that will very likely come back to bite them later.

3. Ignorance and Overconfidence

This leads to the highest and most dangerous degree of human stupidity.

Ignorance and overconfidence lead people to take unnecessary risks. They act stupidily because they don’t have the knowledge or skills required to manage and deal with the likely disastrous consequences. As pointed out by Carlo Cipolla, others will have to pay for the problems caused by these people. Ignorant people behave stupidly because their actions benefit neither themselves nor society.

This is, as Cipolla says, is the most dangerous type of stupidity, and one that is probably the most prevalent today. Ignorance breeds this type of stupidity.

So, maybe it comes down to the fact that we must attack Ignorance as the primary way to prevent people from doing stupid things.

2 thoughts on “Understanding Stupidity #8 – The Three Primary Causes

  1. How do we overcome that ignorance? After decades of seeming progress, I’m dismayed to see and hear the same old words and charges from my childhood in the Deep South trotted out again.


    1. I share your frustration, Linda. I go back to Bonhoeffer’s words of 80 years ago and see the same things are happening today. Going back even further to Aristotle show similar things.

      I think that stupidity will always be with us and how we cope with it is more important than attempting to alleviate it. It is up to us “informed” citizens to push the actions of the stupid into the background and make sure they stay there. The first type of stupidity in this post is because of laziness and apathy. We can’t just give up fighting stupidity simply because there is no way to cure it. If we do that then we are lost.


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