In the wake of my earlier post on the similarities between death and stupidity, I received a lot of enthusiastic commentary on FB; the topic of human stupidity having touched a chord in many people. My cousin in Greece, Vasili, pointed me to a great little book by the renown Italian economic historian, Carlo M. Cipolla, titled, The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity, available on Amazon and other sites for a nominal cost as either a paperback or eBook.  This is a very short book, but loaded with critical observations and lots of tongue-in-cheek humour.  As I was preparing this post I realized that a number of sites have posted the complete book (minus the mathematical appendices) for free. One such site is here.

This is essential reading if you are to find peace of mind in the modern world. Cipolla’s definition of stupidity is brilliant in that it doesn’t rely on intelligence tests, education, etc. In fact, Cipolla makes the compelling case that stupidity is evenly distributed across all demographics, regardless of race, colour, creed, genetics, education, or anything else you can think of.

A stupid person is a person who causes losses to another person or to a group of persons while himself deriving no gain and even possibly incurring losses.

The book is filled with observations that are simultaneously pithy and hilarious. On the dangers of stupid people, Cipolla writes:

Essentially stupid people are dangerous and damaging because reasonable people find it difficult to imagine and understand unreasonable behaviour. An intelligent person may understand the logic of a bandit. The bandit’s actions follow a pattern of rationality: nasty rationality, if you like, but still rationality….All this is bad, but it is rational and if you are rational you can predict it. You can foresee a bandit’s actions, his nasty manoeuvres and ugly aspirations and often can build up your defenses. With a stupid person all this is absolutely impossible as explained by the Third Basic Law. A stupid creature will harass you for no reason, for no advantage, without any plan or scheme and at the most improbable times and places. You have no rational way of telling if and when and how and why the stupid creature attacks. When confronted with a stupid individual you are completely at his mercy. Because the stupid person’s actions do not conform to the rules of rationality.

The one major flaw in Cipolla’s reasoning of course, is that he fails to account for the intrinsic psychological payback that many people derive from seemingly irrational behavior; the Ego gratification as it were. By Cipolla’s definition, anti-vaxxers are the poster boys and girls for stupidity, harming not only their own children, but the children of others as well, with no rational reason. In fact, recent studies have shown that the more indisputable scientific information you present to anti-vaxxers, the more firmly entrenched they become in their beliefs! Such is the nature of motivated reasoning, cognitive dissonance, and egoic identification with certain beliefs.