ADELAIDE - In 1976, Professor Carlo M Cipolla wrote a 60-page paper in which he outlined the fundamental Laws of Stupidity.
His work was and remains a very important contribution towards understanding why the human world works in the way that it does.
The basic laws of stupidity are:
Everyone always underestimates the number of stupid people in circulation.
The probability that a person is stupid is independent of any other characteristic of that person.
A stupid person is a person who causes losses to another person or group of people when he or she does not benefit and may even suffer losses.
Non stupid people always underestimate the destructive power of stupid individuals.
A stupid person is the most dangerous type of person.
Whilst there is a tendency to regard Cipolla’s paper as being a ‘tongue in cheek’ or even satirical piece of work, I submit that it is, in fact, not only serious but alarmingly accurate.
There is ample evidence on display that demonstrates the veracity of Cipolla’s thesis in today’s world.
For example, there is no doubt whatsoever that the UK’s decision to exit the European Union was one of the most stupid national decisions in living memory. It is truly a colossal example of self-harm on a national scale.
Of course, Brexit is dwarfed, in terms of both the harm done and the sheer scale of the ensuing disaster, by the ongoing Russo-Ukraine War.
Seldom in recent history has a nation embarked upon a more catastrophic exercise in self harm and harming others than Vladimir Putin’s irrational and hopelessly misguided decision to stage what he thought would be a quick and mostly bloodless takeover of Ukraine.
Another outstanding example is China’s decision to embark upon the One Child Policy - the world’s largest experiment in population control and social engineering.
Despite warnings from demographers that this policy must inevitably result in a precipitous and probably irreversible decline in China’s population, the Chinese Communist Party thought otherwise.
We now know that China’s population has already peaked and is in irreversible decline. It has succeeded in becoming old before it has become rich.
A stupid decision taken 30 years ago has now had exactly the effect predicted by others but not by the Chinese leadership.
Much closer to home, the recently departed and unlamented Coalition government led by Scott Morrison took policy stupidity to an entirely new level.
Its hysterical rhetoric in relation to China was counter-productive in the extreme, while its illegal and immoral Robodebt scheme not only cost many innocent people their lives but ultimately required payment of a colossal sum of public money to compensate the many victims, all for absolutely no discernible benefit to anyone.
No doubt readers will be able to think of other egregious acts of stupidity ranging from minor idiocies to inexplicable acts of self-harm.
If we turn our minds to social media, there are thousands of examples of stupidity put on display on a daily basis.
These range from the merely pathetic to the deeply subversive and dangerous.
For example, the truly insane idea that Covid 19 vaccination campaigns were a conspiracy to poison us.
This wrong and shameful notion was propagated globally through multiple social media outlets.
It is no exaggeration to say that this led directly to thousands of unnecessary deaths due to vaccine hesitancy yet the adherents to this obviously stupid idea remain resolute in their beliefs.
Somewhat similarly, the obviously and demonstrably false assertion by Donald Trump that he won the last US presidential election continues to be believed by a startingly large percentage of the US population.
The impact of this mass stupidity on the American polity has been seriously damaging.
It is my contention that the apparent rise in the range and scale of obvious stupidity across the world is clearly related to the rise in the use and pervasiveness of social media.
The ignorant and the credulous can now rapidly spread ideas that, while having no actual basis in fact or reality, are put forward to ‘explain’ actions and events in the world.
This phenomenon is now so persistent that it is destabilising political decision making systems and creating considerable harm for large numbers of people.
This behaviour and the seemingly unstoppable rise of the stupid seems incomprehensible until you familiarise yourself with the Laws of Stupidity and understand their implications.
Suddenly, it becomes horribly clear why our world appears to be inexorably heading towards some sort of global catastrophe.
This may be due to the impacts of climate change, the development of a new and lethal pandemic or the outbreak of a global war. Or, as seems more probable, some combination or all of these causes.
I have an awful sense of inevitability about one or more of these things occurring.
The root cause appears to be the large scale rejection of logic, rationality and science, values that emerged in Europe as the Age of Enlightenment in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Instead, far too many people are embracing anti-scientific illogic, irrationality and ignorance.
There are, of course, those who profit from all this.
The stupid are easily misled and there are any number of hucksters, shysters and con artists who will exploit the gullibility of these stupid people to their own advantage.
Donald Trump remains an exemplar of this phenomenon although many other politicians also exploit the irrational beliefs of their supporters to garner electoral support.
Unless there is some way in which we can collectively stop, or preferably reverse, the rise of the stupid then we are all likely to suffer quite horribly’
It is for this reasons that I am trying to draw to people’s attention to the fact that there are identifiable laws of stupidity that are valid and real.
Unless this is understood, the sheer idiocy that we see around us may be dismissed as an ephemeral obsession rather than the deeply dangerous mania that it is.
We need to start calling out obvious stupidity everywhere and every time that we see it.
Failure to do so will simply allow deeply dangerous ideas to flourish uncontested and, as history has repeatedly demonstrated, this has real and sometimes hideous consequences.