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The stupidity of people comes from having an answer to everything - Milan Kundera

>> 4 February 2008

How STUPIDITY makes us grow.

Certain psychological phenomena can be called "stupidifying":

The too fusional love between a child and his parents that keep him from becoming autonomous:

Because he loves his mother too much, a child can stay in his beatitude of an impotent infant, his 'baby attitude', persuaded that his mother expects that of him.

According to Francoise Dolto a child has to go through several successive separations: weaning from the bottle to discover the pleasure of the diversified foods of adults, detachment from its mother to become autonomous...

The 'stupid' child is not an 'idiot'. It is a child scared by the perspective of growing up. And when children do stupid things they follow a normal evolution: they try to oppose themselves, to separate from their parents.

A child that is 'stupid' in school often signals that an unvoiced event or family secret is a 'parasiting' on his cognitive functions.

The insecurity of the adolescent who plays the fool because he does not know yet who he is:

Psychoanalyst Paul Denis advances the hypothesis that 'behaving stupidly is a defence mechanism to face emotions that are too invading and to give one countenance'. The mask of stupidity would protect us from scary situations and never experienced social roles:

  • the adolescent in love sniggers because he refuses to admit his feelings (to himself)
  • touched or stressed by an essay he is to present to class, the adolescent plays the fool or the cool to make his friends laugh
  • the adolescent lazes around instead of confronting his intellectual limits

This 'stupid' or silly behaviour of adolescence pops up again in adult life. As soon as an adult feels uncomfortable, not in his place, not recognised, silly jokes pop up during an evening where friends and colleagues discuss subjects we know nothing about etc.

The neurosis that makes an adult regress to an infantile stage.

Freud divided childhood into several stages: the oral stage (the stage where children place every object that comes their way into their mouths), the anal stage (the stage when children become aware of their 'waste management' and all they talk about is pee, poop and fart) and the phallic stage (the stage where a child discovers the stimulation of its genitals).

Some adults regress to the anal stage, the stage where mastering and self control was the most important. They seem to like aggressive, stupid and nasty jokes and have a sick need for control. They need to have the last word, and by definition, all others are idiots. Their contradiction is ridiculous but their narcissism keeps them from recognizing their wrongs. They never feel stupid.

Some adults regress to the oral stage: they talk a lot and with assurance of everything, even the things they don't know much about. And they don't worry that better informed others might find such a deluge stupid.

For anal personalities, the other is stupid, for the oral personalities the other simply does not exist.

Other adults have complexes and are generally victims of their incapacity to detach from their parents. To educate oneself implies a transgression, a freedom of mind of which they are afraid and don't allow themselves. For parents, infantile love is source of intellectual inhibition, it prevents the child from thinking by itself and adopt personal values, it renders the child stupid.


So before we call someone stupid, let's look at our own kind of stupidy. Did we not say something too quickly without thinking it through? What is the value of our idea? Is our idea a valid one or have we just been repeating it automatically over the last years? Do we agree with something just because we are too lazy to think for ourselves or maybe want to conform with a group of people?

Obviously we cannot continuously question what we are saying before saying it . We would not be able to think anymore. So sometimes we take on a few phrases or expressions that are in fashion and seem to say it all. Like 'politically correct' for example. We run the risk however, that we do not push our reflexion any further anymore.

Cultivated people are not necessarily less stupid. Cultivated people are sometimes less flexible in their thoughts, unable to listen ot others or put their ideas to the test.

I guess intelligence rhymes with vigilance. We should from time to time stop and think about, reason with and question what we have been thinking. We should listen to philospher Vladimir Jankelevitch and 'behave as if nothing, in this world, is a given'. In order to do that one needs a lot of self confidence however, to admit that one does not know, to ask for an explanation.

In order to be less 'stupid' we should:

Solitude, isolation, habits make us stupid. Be curious, enrich your social, cultural and intellectual life.

Take time to think
The stupid thought is always the one to come out first. It is said under an emotion, it is impulsive and nervous. We often regret having said it afterwards. Take time to think. Time it the best ally.

Doubt and question
Our ready-made ideas are reassuring and comfortable but keep us from thinking. It is essential to question ones certitudes, even if we loose our maks a bit. It is the only way to stay open to contradiction, to the 'other'.

Get to know yourself
What happens to us is not always the fault of 'bad luck' or the 'stupidity' of others. It is useful to find out why and how part of us, of our desires, or our fears is connected to the events of our lives. That helps us to get our of an intolerant and vain thinking rut.

Freely translated from content of Psychologies.com magazine Feb08.

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