Engelbrecht Kruger Attorneys - The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity

Back in 1976, Berkeley professor Carlo M. Cipolla outlined the five laws of a constant in society he feared: stupidity.

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The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity

Back in 1976, Berkeley professor Carlo M. Cipolla outlined the five laws of a constant in society he feared: stupidity. To Cipolla, the stupid people among us possess several identifying traits: “they are abundant, they are irrational, and they cause problems for others without apparent benefit to themselves, thereby lowering society’s total well-being.” To the sadly departed Carlo, there are no defences against stupidity, the best thing one can do is identify the problem.

Law 1

Always and inevitably everyone underestimates the number of stupid individuals in circulation.
No matter how many idiots you suspect yourself surrounded by, Cipolla wrote, you are invariably lowballing the total. This problem is compounded by biased assumptions that certain people are intelligent based on superficial factors like their job, education level, or other traits we believe to be exclusive of stupidity. They aren’t. Which takes us to Law 2.

Law 2

The probability that a certain person be stupid is independent of any other characteristic of that person.
Cipolla posits stupidity is a variable that remains constant across all populations. Every category one can imagine—gender, race, nationality, education level, income—possesses a fixed percentage of stupid people. There are stupid college professors. There are stupid people at Davos and at the UN General Assembly. There are stupid people in every nation on earth. How numerous are the stupid amongst us? It’s impossible to say. And any guess would almost certainly violate the first law, anyway.

Law 3

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.
Cipolla called this one the Golden Law of stupidity. A stupid person is one who causes problems for others without any clear benefit to himself. This law also introduces three other phenotypes that Cipolla says co-exist alongside stupidity.
First, there is an intelligent person, whose actions benefit both himself and others.
Then there is the bandit, who benefits himself at others’ expense.
And lastly, there is the helpless person, whose actions enrich others at his own expense.
The non-stupid are a flawed and inconsistent bunch. Sometimes we act intelligently, sometimes we are selfish bandits, sometimes we act helplessly and are taken advantage of by others, and sometimes we’re a bit of both.
The stupid, in comparison, are paragons of consistency, acting at all times with unyielding idiocy.
However, consistent stupidity is the only consistent thing about the stupid. This is what makes stupid people so dangerous. Cipolla explains: “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. The bandit wants a plus on his account. Since he is not intelligent enough to devise ways of obtaining the plus as well as providing you with a plus, he will produce his plus by causing a minus to appear on your account. 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 maneuvres and ugly aspirations and often can build up your defences.
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.
All of which leads us to:

Law 4

Non-stupid people always underestimate the damaging power of stupid individuals. In particular non-stupid people constantly forget that at all times and places and under any circumstances to deal and/or associate with stupid people always turns out to be a costly mistake.
We underestimate the stupid, and we do so at our own peril.
This brings us to the fifth and final law.

Law 5

A stupid person is the most dangerous type of person.
We can do nothing about the stupid. The difference between societies that collapse under the weight of their stupid, and those who transcend them are the makeup of the non-stupid. Those progressing in spite of their stupid possess a high proportion of people acting intelligently, those who counterbalance the stupid’s losses by bringing about gains for themselves and their fellows.
Declining societies have the same percentage of stupid people as successful ones. But they also have high percentages of helpless people and, Cipolla writes, “an alarming proliferation of the bandits with overtones of stupidity.
Such change in the composition of the non-stupid population inevitably strengthens the destructive power of the fraction and makes decline a certainty,” Cipolla concludes.

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