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The Principles of Stupidity

  1. We always underestimate the number of stupid people
  2. The probability of a person being stupid is independent of any other characteristic of that person
  3. A stupid person is someone who causes damage to another person, or a group of people, without any advantage accruing to himself (or herself) — or even with some resultant self-damage
  4. Non-stupid people always underestimate the damaging power of stupid people. They constantly forget that at any moment, and in any circumstance, associating with stupid people invariably constitutes an expensive mistake.
  5. A stupid person is the most dangerous person in existence
  6. Stupid people don’t know they are stupid

The above has been floating around the net for a while. While it makes an interesting read I think that having a boolean criteria of labelling someone as stupid is not necessarily accurate. While there are a small number of people who are stupid, there are many more people who are good at some things and stupid when they act outside their area of expertise. There is a saying “never take investment advice from your dentist” which is apparently due to the incidence of con-artists targetting wealthy people (such as dentists) who sometimes then pass on the bad advice to their customers.

One stupid thing that I did a few years ago was to spend more effort in choosing a mobile phone than on choosing a car. I was totally happy with my mobile phone but not totally happy with my car – and the car cost a lot more… Of course the difference between pure stupidity and tactical stupidity (for want of a better term) is that a smart person who is about to do something stupid can generally be persuaded not to do it with a logical argument. If someone had pointed out to me the fact that the amount of time spent on background research for a decision should be in some way proportional to the amount of money involved (maybe proportional to the log of the value) then I would have been convinced.

So for rule 4 maybe it would be best to say taking advice from someone in an area where they are stupid is a mistake. For rules 5 and 6, if someone is known to be smart in other areas then tactical stupidity may be overlooked (until it’s too late).

Update: Don Marti commented with this link http://www.math.wisc.edu/~miller/old/incomp.txt about incompetent people being unable to judge their own level of incompetence as further evidence for point 6.

5 comments to The Principles of Stupidity

  • martin langhoff

    “Never take investment advice from your dentist” means we are all stupid — just selectively so. You are an expert in software, perhaps not that sharp in investment.

    Or dental advise.

    Or blogging about life principles!

    Happy to keep reading your blog as long as you focus on your own areas of expertise ;-)

    (BTW: Why is this post syndicated in planet debian …?)

  • Adam

    My additions:

    0. “Being stupid” is synonymous “doing something stupid”. It is not about being smart. If you are smart but do something stupid, you are stupid.

    7. *Everyone* is stupid. Even the smartest person is stupid in more unintended ways than they, or even their friends, realise.

    8. Stupidity mostly results from not thinking about something. If you are always thinking about something, you will still be stupid, as you can’t always be thinking about the *right* something every waking moment of every day of your life.

    9. So when you see someone being stupid, give them a break. It will be your turn to be stupid sooner than you like to think.

  • etbe

    Martin: Planet Debian isn’t about Debian, it’s about blogs of Debian developers.

    Adam: Some people manage to think about the things that they need to think about almost all the time, and not get it wrong in major ways. A smart person may choose the slowest line in a supermarket, but a stupid person will cross the road without looking…

  • 2.1. The smarter you are, the more time you spend figuring out how stupid other people are.

    6.1. The stupider you are, the worse your estimate of your own stupidity.

  • MS

    I really like Adams rules, but as I strive to be an optimistic person I would like to add the following rule to his suggestions:

    10. Thinking about stupid people or stupidity is not stupid.

    and to make a cite:

    11. The world is all that is stupid.