Tuesday, March 25, 2014


Last week, I had a meeting with someone I admire--"admire" in a partial, restricted sense, but admire nonetheless. Because I have so few opportunities to speak to people I don't hate, I found myself rehearsing what I would say in my head as I walked to meet him: They're wrong and they don't see why; they don't understand their own position, they don't see the logical end of it all and of course no one will ever stop them because people believe them; people will believe anything as long as it's stupid.

That last phrase ("people will believe anything as long as it's stupid") stopped me in my tracks. What could I have meant by that? The best way I can describe it is to say that it was a sort of mental slip-of-the-tongue: I hadn't actually meant to say (or think) it, although I'm not sure what I meant to say instead. It was an error with no possible correction, an originary mistake. People will believe anything as long as it's stupid. Once I said it, I believed it. Instantly and completely, I believed it.

But I didn't understand it. I could understand (and believe) variants of it: that people believe things which are stupid, that the dominant ideology is one of stupidity, or that the stupidity of an idea will not necessarily affect its reception. But the rule I had stumbled across was different: it posited that stupidity was the condition (or at least, a condition) for the acceptance of a given belief. It was right there in the phrase: people will believe x, provided that x is stupid.


When I encounter other people, I generally feel that that they are either frightening (because they hold power over me) or wretched (because they don't). My response to my fellow man is affective, driven by emotions: specifically, pity and fear. But my response to people's ideas--what they believe, what they espouse--is usually one of trepidation. When someone starts talking, what I fear I'll confront is stupidity.

Part of the problem is my own alienation, a growing sense that I don't identify with the categories used to describe me. I often feel that I won't be able to find common ground with other people about either politics or ethics unless we stick to the most generic observations possible: making children work is a factory is bad. I like feeling free and happy. It's terrible when people are sick.

But people will, inevitably, disagree, even about uncontroversial truisms like this. In fact, people will often justify blatant gaps in logic or incredible violence as long as it's a gap in their ideology or violence against someone they don't like. At the end of the day, that seems to be the purpose of ideology: a tool to avoid confronting your own failures.


Fundamentally, I want to avoid discord. That might surprise some people, given that I seem like a contrarian, but the ideas of compromise, respect, and multiculturalism formed the basis of my education and my moral vocabulary. I was taught that the thing humans are supposed to avoid at all costs is shouting at each other: that the barbarism of the Nazis burning books and slaughtering ethnic minorities is the barbarism of the children who don't walk in a single-file line. Everyone, everywhere, needs to behave, but behaving might mean anything from writing in neat cursive to loving your neighbor to keeping silent about police raids. Be good. Behave. They're intertwined: to do one, I have to do the other.


Why? It doesn't make any sense. I know that. I recognize: it's stupid.


  1. Perhaps the meaning is: people will believe anything as long as it is simple enough, general enough, and has enough gaps in it that they can project their own beliefs and gut emotions onto it and accept it. IF something is "smart", following a self-contained path of logic, people will reject it since it stands on its own independent of their thoughts and beliefs. I.e., in general people could believe in either creationism or evolution as long as both are phrased "stupidly" and openly, where one can fill in the blanks with their own predispositions and say "ya I believe that". If either belief is hashed out to logical completion and a self-contained entity with no room for the emotions or beliefs the viewer, it is easier for the viewer to reject it as foreign.

    1. i agree, this is probably what i meant. very succinct and good analysis, anon :)