For well over a year now, one word has dominated my list of pet peeves. In all honesty though, I rarely think of it as a pet peeve. It is not merely a word I find annoying, or one I wish people would not say, though it is definitely both of those. It is a word which I firmly believe is the single greatest modern tool of Satan in causing division and preventing civil conversation and reconciliation between any two people or groups who disagree about something. The subject matter is irrelevant. It could be anything from theology to anthropology, to geology, to political psychology. When two people disagree, particularly in casual conversation, they will often dismiss each other’s view as irrelevant or disregard it with one simple word: Stupid.

But what is wrong with stupid? If someone is somehow intellectually handicapped in such a way as prevents them from achieving a reasonable opinion on an issue, doesn’t that invalidate their opinion? And wouldn’t it then be thoroughly appropriate to disregard their opinion and end that conversation by calling them stupid? The simple answer to these questions is no. No opinion can appropriately be dismissed as stupid, and therefore no conversation is so valueless as to warrant its premature demise to stupid. Using stupid is a crime.

I emphasize it is a crime because thinking of it this way might facilitate a change in perspective. As with all crimes, it violates common moral standards, especially those pertaining to civility. It also violates certain unspoken understandings and contracts between conversational participants, as I will demonstrate later on. But most importantly, – though it is likely the first point some will disregard – utilizing stupid is in most cases far from a victimless crime. It robs both the person who says it and the person who is dismissed by it of intellectual growth potential, and potentially robs the entire world of ideas which, if not for certain people’s arrogant disdain, could quite literally change the world. The entire world suffers under the oppressive proliferation of stupid. That is why it is a crime.

By Cartoonist unidentified [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Cartoonist unidentified [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

At the very least, calling a person or an idea stupid is generally a criminally premature dismissal. This dismissal generally falls into one of two situational categories. First, I may use stupid to dismiss an idea on a topic with which I am entirely unfamiliar or only moderately familiar. But if I am not deeply familiar with the subject matter, how can I even have confidence in my knowledge base to say an opinion is wrong, much less saying the idea is beneath reason and intelligent discussion. Using stupid in this situation is a very common example of arrogance.

But what about the topics I am deeply familiar with. What about a subject to which I have dedicated significant amounts of time and effort to educate myself, so I can have a more accurately informed opinion on the topic. I am a master in this category of discussion, so I certainly have the knowledge base to determine many opinions are factually inaccurate. But deeming an idea or person stupid is so much more than saying the idea builds on inaccurate facts or a faulty logical progression. This statement devalues the mind which generated the idea as well as any mind which even treats it as reasonable. Therefore, by referring to any idea – even one which truly follows a factually or logically flawed path – as stupid, I am devaluing the time I have spent educating myself on that topic. If anyone who does not know the information, which I know only by virtue of extensive study, is stupid, then all my study and pondering of the subject has merely made me a step above stupidity.

Unfortunately, part of the criminality of calling a person or idea stupid is that I forfeit almost all immediate likelihood of further educating either myself or the person who proposed the idea.  This is because calling the idea stupid is saying it is beneath reasonable discussion. I know this because if the idea warranted further discussion, I would give a well-reasoned logical or factual critique of the idea, explaining why it might be faulty. Instead, I call it stupid which effectively ends the conversation. The person whose idea I derided can only become defensive of their idea, submit in humiliated awe beneath the power of my non-existent intellectual argument, or perhaps make an argument which might make me think this idea might have some merit. If they accept their humiliating intellectual defeat, then the conversation ends. If they become defensive, then their mind and arguments are tainted with bitterness which significantly lessens the probability of meaningful discussion. And on the off chance they avoid this pitfall and proceed to make a well-reasoned argument, then, having used such a strong word as stupid to deem them and their idea irredeemably unreasonable, I will most likely feel defensive, which will poison my arguments, again, greatly diminishing the likelihood of conversational progress. In the case of any of these potential responses, the conversation ends and all immediate hope for the intellectual enhancement of either party evaporates along with the conversation.

By CostPanteley [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By CostPanteley [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

In fact, ending a conversation this way criminally violates an unspoken inherent understanding between respectful, intelligent contributors. Conversation implies a certain level of presumption on the part of all participants. All must expect and assume each contributor to this conversation possesses the intellectual capacity required to contribute to the conversation. This is not merely something which people should assume at the beginning of a conversation. It is an essential agreement inherent to all conversation. As I utter the first words of the conversation, I silently declare my belief that all intended contributors are capable of participating in the conversation. If I do not assume this, then the only reason I can have to enter a conversation is to feed my own narcissism or to feed someone else’s.

With this assumption, nothing they say ever ought to be written off as stupid. Whatever they say – however flawed – is worthy of at least a fraction of a second’s reflection and a few second’s well-reasoned response. Dismissing them or their argument as stupid unjustly removes their idea from the conversation. No person or idea is worthy of this treatment. Civil discussion retains no place for this sort of conversational behavior.

What about you? Do you catch yourself using stupid? Do you think it is a problem?

Part 2 is posted! You can check that out here!

ALL opinions are welcome to comment. However, please feel free to place all your insults, sarcasm, and incivility ELSEWHERE in cyberspace. I implore you to contribute respectfully and intelligently to a discussion that may benefit all involved by mutual education and edification.