Bandits flex their stupid muscles in Kentucky. What to do? Empower the helpless

maratby Stifts- och landsbiblioteket i Skara

Science education vs. high-profile ignorance
[Via Ars Technica]

In Kentucky, the fight over science education is getting ugly. Kentucky has been one of the first states to consider adoption of the Next Generation Science Standards, a set of goals meant to improve US science education. Given that the NGSS were developed by organizations like the National Research Council, National Science Teachers Association, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, their adoption would seem to be an obvious choice. But things have become less obvious in Kentucky because the standards assure that students will learn the mainstream scientific view on the topics of evolution and climate change.

In what passes for political discourse in the US these days, state school board hearings provided citizens with the opportunity to accuse the new standards of being simultaneously fascism and socialism. The Courier-Journal quotes a Baptist minister as saying, “Outsiders are telling public school families that we must follow the rich man’s elitist religion of evolution, that we no longer have what the Kentucky Constitution says is the right to worship almighty God. Instead, this fascist method teaches that our children are the property of the state.”

Meanwhile, another person suggested they could be a platform for socialist genocide: “The way socialism works is it takes anybody that doesn’t fit the mold and discards them… we are even talking genocide and murder here, folks.”


The life history of all civilizations represents a continuing battle between the intelligent and the bandits, over the helpless and the stupid. So succeed, the allies of the intelligent will not come from the stupid or from the bandits. They will come from the helpless.

Kentucky is just the latest battlefield dealing with the stupidity that hampers our progress forward. I have written before about the need to walk away from the stupid, about creating a new path away from the bandits. But I’ve realized something else. I had forgotten one of Carlos Cipolla’s Laws of Stupidity – the Fourth one about everyone underestimating the damage from the stupid.

I’ve written about Cipolla’s Basic Laws of Stupidity  before. I think that they present a working hypothesis. The Five Basic Laws are (my bold):

1. Always and inevitably everyone underestimates the number of stupid individuals in circulation.
2. The probability that a certain person will be stupid is independent of any other characteristic of that person.
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.
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.
5. A stupid person is the most dangerous type of person.

The problem with the current focus on the stupid is that, as Schiller stated, “against stupidity the Gods themselves contend in vain”. Those of us who are non-stupid and not bandits continue to focus on stupidity, thinking we can change the stupid. We are wrong. The Fourth Law of Stupidity stands.

Bandits will not change as they are doing great right now in their battle with the intelligent for the survival of our society. Only the helpless might change.

Cipolla describes the different groups thusly (my bold):

When confronted for the first time with the Third Basic Law, rational people instinctively react with feelings of skepticism and incredulity. The fact is that reasonable people have difficulty in conceiving and understanding unreasonable behaviour. But let us abandon the lofty plane of theory and let us look pragmatically at our daily life. We all recollect occasions in which a fellow took an action which resulted in his gain and our loss: we had to deal with a bandit. We also recollect cases in which a fellow took an action which resulted in his loss and our gain: we had to deal with a helpless person. We can recollect cases in which a fellow took an action by which both parties gained: he was intelligent. Such cases do indeed occur. But upon thoughtful reflection you must admit that these are not the events which punctuate most frequently our daily life. Our daily life is mostly, made of cases in which we lose money and/or time and/or energy and/or appetite, cheerfulness and good health because of the improbable action of some preposterous creature who has nothing to gain and indeed gains nothing from causing us embarrassment, difficulties or harm. Nobody knows, understands or can possibly explain why that preposterous creature does what he does. In fact there is no explanation – or better there is only one explanation: the person in question is stupid.

The intelligent help others as they help themselves, while the bandits hurt others as they help themselves.

The helpless hurt themselves as they help others. They are generally bystanders in the battle of the intelligent and the bandits over the stupid.

It is the stupid that often seem to determine success. They hurt others as they hurt themselves. That irrational behavior draws a lot of attention. It should be ignored.

All rational people think they can deal with the stupid, either using them for profit or educating them for benefit. They focus on the Third Law and overlook the Fourth. It is always a mistake to focus on the stupid.

The intelligent think that people are simply ignorant, not stupid. Stupidity represents the lack of ability  to learn. Ignorance represents the lack of opportunity to learn. For the intelligent, all that needs to be done  is  education and the stupid will be transformed into the intelligent. They are wrong

The bandits think they can use the stupid to help themselves, devising such approaches as managed ignorance. They think the more stupid people there are around – or those that act stupid – the more money they can steal. They are wrong.

Both sides  concentrate on the stupid. Those are the people most actively causing problems. Everyone forgets the Fourth Law.

The stupid, if Cipolla is correct, simply are. They cannot be moved away from their stupidity. The bandits think they have chumps they can manipulate, in order to gain more. They think that managed ignorance works. They think they can control the stupid. It never works. Clarence Darrow described the results best:

If today you can take a thing like evolution and make it a crime to teach in the public schools, tomorrow you can make it a crime to teach it in the private schools and next year you can make it a crime to teach it to the hustings or in the church. At the next session you may ban books and the newspapers. Soon you may set Catholic against Catholic and Protestant against Protestant, and try to foist your own religion upon the minds of men. If you can do one, you can do the other. Ignorance and fanaticism are ever busy and need feeding. Always feeding and gloating for more. Today it is the public school teachers; tomorrow the private. The next day the preachers and the lecturers, the magazines, the books, the newspapers. After a while, Your Honor, it is the setting of man against man and creed against creed until with flying banners and beating drums we are marching backward to the glorious ages of the sixteenth century when bigots lighted fagots to burn the men who dared to bring any intelligence and enlightenment and culture to the human mind.

Hard to make a profit when people are being burned and culture is being destroyed. Ask those bandits who thought they could control the rabble of the French Revolution how well the Terror worked out?

The intelligent simply think that giving the stupid facts will change them into the intelligent. In contrast to the bandits who want no one else to be like them – all the better to have chumps – the intelligent want everyone to be like them. But the stupid cannot be changed and rebel at the attempt, seeing the intelligent as elites to be ignored, the first ones to be burnt. The intelligent simply wast their time and energy.

So what is to be done, if one is intelligent? 

The battle should not be over the stupid. Let the bandits concentrate on the stupid. History has shown where that leads.

Concentrate on the helpless, those that are merely ignorant. They work against their own interests because they are ignorant not because they are stupid. They have the ability to change.

A large number of the helpless are actually former intelligent who simply think they can do nothing to change things. That is what the bandits have told them. They lack power so why bother to think. Give them power and many will rejoin the intelligent in the battle against the bandits.

The battle for society will not come from winning the stupid. It will be won by making the helpless intelligent. Work on making the helpless more helpful.

Do not treat them as stupid. Remember, the stupid will not change no matter how hard the intelligent try. Only the helpless can. Do not get frustrated when people refuse to see facts. Recognize that the stupid will never see facts while the helpless might. Give the helpless tools and knowledge because they can change.

Remember that the helpless do not like the bandits either. They just think there is nothing that can be done. Show them otherwise.

Ignore the stupid and work for the helpless. Do not waste energy butting heads with the stupid but use intelligence to route around them to help the helpless.

Concentrate on those who can change, using tools that will welcome them (including respect and fairness, not disdain) and the intelligent may win yet. 

Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty. Although Jefferson does not appear to have said this (see. I’m trying to convert ignorance here), it stands as a strong idea anyway. What we need to do is not waste energy on  frontal attacks upon the bandits or the stupid. That will not succeed. And their failure may bring all of us down.

We need to make flanking maneuvers using the helpless. That may well be the way to success. 

Power to the people may be more than just a slogan. It may just be the right strategy for success.