In my very first post I defined stupid behavior as that which increases the vulnerability of the individual and others. But I didn’t define stupidity itself.
Merriam-Webster defines stupidity as being slow of mind, given to unintelligent decisions or acts, or lacking intelligence or reason. Those are all good. But I heard a better definition once: stupidity is not understanding how much you don’t understand.
Stupidity flows from what Daniel Kahneman calls fast thinking, i.e. snap judgments based on dubious assumptions that serve us well most of the time, but nowhere close to all the time. When our cave-dwelling ancestors noticed a rustle behind the bushes, they didn’t stop to analyze whether a tiger was about to jump them. They assumed it was a tiger and ran. That’s fast thinking.
When they realized the rustle was just their friend Ug, they either laughed at themselves or blamed Ug for scaring them. Either way, their fast thinking didn’t hurt them.
But sometimes fast thinking is harmful, not just to the fast thinker, but to those around the fast thinker. Which makes that fast thinking stupid.
The mistakes of fast thinking are usually corrected by slow thinking, which requires the hard work of analysis. Slow thinking is unpopular. Even those of us encouraged our whole lives to think slowly do so reluctantly — and often lazily. But slow thinking is essential if we are to minimize stupid acts or ideas.
The first time The Fabulous Wife and I went to Europe, we spent our first few days in Amsterdam. We were walking down a side street and saw three tall young black men coming our way. My first thought was “We’re unsafe, we need to cross to the other sidewalk.” But we kept going straight. The three men passed us without incident. In fact, they didn’t even notice us, chattering in animated Dutch.
That’s when the slow thinking kicked in and I realized American racism runs so deep it’s even in a nice, well-meaning liberal like me.
Thinking fast, I had reacted in accordance with my cultural conditioning, which had subtly and sometimes unsubtly taught me to fear young African-American men. But these were young African-Dutch men. I hadn’t considered that possibility. Nor had I reminded myself that 99.9% of my interactions with young African-American men had been benign, even positive.
I thought back on that experience as I read an article about Trump rally-goers called “We’re All Tired of Being Called Racists.” If Trump is racist, by implication they are too, and they don’t like that. They always have proof they’re not racist: I can’t be racist because I did missionary work in Thailand; I can’t be racist because I have biracial grandkids and kiss them all the time. And so forth.
Let’s overlook for a moment that telling people from a different culture “my god is better than yours” is fairly racist, and that having biracial grandkids wasn’t Grandma’s decision. Let’s focus instead on what the same people say when comfortable with a reporter. Do their remarks reflect fast or slow thinking? If the former, is it helpful or harmful to self and others?
Asked about Ilhan Omar, the Muslim congresswoman from Minnesota vilified by Trump, the Grandma says, “I don’t want her stinkin’ Muslim crap in my country. She is a Muslim through and through . . . she wants that all [Sharia law] here.”
Omar has never advocated Sharia law in America. To the contrary: she told the Council of American-Islamic Relations that she calls out oppressive Muslim regimes because “it doesn’t matter if that country is being run by my father, my brother, my sister, I will criticize that country [if it is] violating basic human rights.” (Go to the twenty-minute mark of the speech.)
Many of Trump’s supporters think they, not minorities, are the victims of discrimination. After the 2016 election, only 22% thought African-Americans face “a lot” of discrimination. And as for Muslims, despite no immediate threat — and the First Amendment’s prohibition of any government endorsement of religion — eight states that voted for Trump (Alabama, Arizona, Kansas, Louisiana, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Tennessee) have specifically banned Sharia law.
That’s some pretty fast thinking, if you asked me. Way too fast. But don’t call it racist. Or, for that matter, stupid. They’re tired of that.