After these last few weeks of discussing stupid, some might be surprised to learn it is not stupid which I actually find so offensive and destructive. Stupid is simply the most obvious symptom of the broader belief-disease which infects our discussion like gangrene. This disease may be thought of as the belief people can be stupid. It is a humanity-wide, culturally bred individualistic arrogance which very subtly devalues other people, their beliefs, and their worldview primarily on the basis of it being different from my own.
This disease is evidenced every day in millions of discussions around the world on phones, in person, and on the internet. It often comes from people who should know better. But it is so subtle we do not even see it, even while we are calling others out for the same thing. This comes from conservative Christians who preach Christ’s love and are biblically mandated to reflect His love. And it comes from progressive atheists who rail on Christians for being intolerant of opposing beliefs. It comes from politicians and wealthy businessmen, and blue-collar workers. There is an absolutely pervasive and tragic proliferation of the genuine belief people and ideas can be stupid. And worse, many of us believe we, individually, are capable of determining for ourselves not just if an idea is correct or incorrect, but if it even is worthy of the dignity of conversation.
If you want to know why congress can’t get anything done, this disease is the single biggest reason. If you want to know why marriages are falling apart, this is often a contributing factor. Do you want to know why teenagers are committing suicide? That is too serious a problem to be overzealous in assuming cause, but the lack of acceptance and feeling of alienation from feeling stupid is often a contributing factor, guaranteed. I am not giving statistics because I do not have any – also because statistics tend to be tools of manipulation more often than they are mediums of information. But I know, deep in my bones, the single most common, disregarded, thoughtless act of unloving incivility which darkens this world is the proliferation of this disease-like belief it is theoretically possible for a person or their idea to be stupid, or beneath reasonable discussion, and we are capable of making that discernment on an individual basis.
These last few weeks I have endeavored to convince you of the seriousness of this problem. If you do not have so much as an inkling of conscience nagging you that I might be right, then the rest of this post probably will not particularly interest you. But if you agreed with me from the first paragraph of the first post, or if the weeks of reading have provoked you to think perhaps stupid, and the disease-belief behind it, need to be banished from our lives, then join me in exiling it from our speech and thought. But the ideas behind it linger in other less frequently used words, phrases, and thought patterns. Those need to be watched as well. To aid in this endeavor, I have compiled a small list of such phrases for your reflection.
The first word-sacrifice on the altar to this endeavor is common sense. Common sense is an oxymoron worthy of its own blog post, but what it boils down to is this. There is no such thing as common sense. I don’t mean “people just don’t have common sense anymore.” I mean they never did. It never existed. When people say, “use your common sense,” what they mean is, “you should know all the relevant facts which I know, and knowing those things, you should come to the same conclusion as I did, because you should think like me, just like everyone else does.” This is arrogant on multiple levels, like stupid, only more subtle. Different people have different knowledge bases, different experiences, and different thought processes. The only common sense which exists is certain facts which are commonly known and understood. But this is clearly not how many people use this phrase, because this information is also commonly either unknown or misunderstood. The common usage of common sense disregards this fact and assumes that everyone should know this information. Common sense mostly stems from the idea everyone else should be more like me, if for no other reason than it would make my life easier.
Obviously follows a similar sort of usage and problematic sequence as common sense, but people use it more passively. I make a statement and include obviously, which subtly precludes any real contest of my statement. People also often use obviously completely innocently in some contexts. Nevertheless, we ought to be on the lookout for our own uses of it to discern whether they demean the intellect of those who disagree with us, or prevent open discussion on a topic.
The word I struggle with most in connection to this disease is ridiculous. Like obviously, some of its uses are completely harmless and innocent, particularly in its adverbial form. But all too often I catch myself saying or about to say an idea or action or rule is ridiculous. What this word breaks down to – and what I mean when I say it – is just a much more specific, albeit a little less biting, version of stupid. Ridiculous: worthy of ridicule. Or put another way – beneath the dignity of serious thought or discussion.
I imagine, in the course of eliminating stupid from our vocabulary, everyone will come across a number of substitute words they use, meaning essentially the same thing. This is not truly productive. You know what you mean, and often others will know what you mean. We have to eliminate from our mind the idea any person or idea is so stupid/ridiculous/ludicrous/obviously flawed as to be beneath the value of discussion and serious thought. Discuss and discern the merits of every single idea. This disease-belief has got to stop, and the only way we can stop it is by recognizing it and eliminating it from our own mind and our own conversation. And that means catching ourselves when we substitute new words to make the same old destructive point.
If you feel especially bold, then feel free to bring others’ attention to your commitment to eradicating this belief-disease. I rarely hear someone else say stupid without politely but seriously inserting that “stupid is a mean word,” or some similar comment. Sometimes, this simple little phrase provokes a discussion that leads in the direction of this disease belief. And sometimes – admittedly not very often, but occasionally – someone will even come to the conclusion that stupid needs to stop, and the world gets just a little better for it, because stupid truly is a mean word.
In fact stupid is more than just a mean word. Stupid is a word which is copyrighted by the disrespectful, the lazy, the ignorant, and the arrogant. They alone may be expected to use it. It has no place in civil, progress-oriented conversation. It is a word belonging to a conflict-ridden past. Leave it there, and move forward with civility toward understanding and clearer communication.
What about you? How do your words subtly demean or preclude reasonable opposition? Why do you use these words? Do you think it is a bad thing? Is it worth changing?
Miss the beginning? Read it from the beginning. Go check out Part 1: The Crime
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.