Bob Is Stupid

Question on Quora:

Why do I find most people around me stupid and keep getting a feeling that I don’t belong here?

Here’s a true story. A man was told that he was the wisest of all. “How could I be the wisest one?” The man was puzzled and set out to prove it wrong. He started wandering around his town questioning anyone he saw about the knowledge they claimed to possess. The man soon came to the conclusion that… he was indeed the wisest of all, for a little piece of wisdom that he but no one else had: the knowledge that he knew nothing. The man’s name was Socrates.

I am no Socrates but like you I too feel the stupidity around me every once in a while. When it happens, I am often deeply troubled by the guilt for my disrespect towards others. So I set out to examine stupidity and here are what I have learned so far.

First of all, I notice that other answers here seem to focus on your “misfit” with or “disrespect” towards the social groups you are currently part of. I have a slightly different view and believe that there are more than “misfit” and “disrespect” we could look into here.

Let’s do a simple thought experiment. Standing in front of us is a man named Bob. You think Bob is stupid. Why? There could be a few possibilities:

  • Bob has a low IQ, whether temporally (e.g. fatigue) or permanently.
  • Bob lacks certain knowledge or critical thinking skill you have.
  • Bob is impetuous and his mouth opens before his brain reasons.
  • Bob is biased or prejudiced. His reality is distorted.
  • Bob is actually smart. You are the stupid one.

In the case of Socrates, Bob is stupid because he lacks the knowledge to know what he does not know. Socrates’ reasoning is simple yet legit so yes, Bob is convincingly stupid. But is Bob stupid to you for the same reason? Maybe, maybe not. What I have observed in life, though, is that stupidity (including my own) is often a result of a combination of more than one of the reasons above.

With the categories of stupidity defined, we can now devise strategies to resolve each scenario. If Bob has a permanent low IQ, or lacks certain knowledge you look for, perhaps the best thing for you to do is to walk away. Leave Bob alone unless you are willing to spend time educating Bob. Get out there and find Mary who has an IQ and/or knowledge level comparable to what you desire. On the other hand, if Bob’s low IQ is temporary or he has a tendency to act on impulse, perhaps a more appropriate strategy is to be patient and give him more time.

The most dangerous type of stupidity in my opinion, however, is if Bob is acting out of his cognitive bias or prejudice, which could precariously blind him from the truth. The documentary, Fantastic Lies, depicts a perfect example on how stereotyped racial prejudice once almost misled the rightfulness of our justice system and blinded the minds of millions of Americans in a disastrous way. So, what do we do if Bob is biased or prejudiced? Unless it’s something worth fighting for (such as the case detailed in Fantastic Lies), I would simply assert my reasoning and walk away peacefully. You can’t reason with Bob’s bias or prejudice because by definition bias and prejudice require no reasoning.

Last but not least, you might want to consider the possibility that you, but not Bob, are the stupid one and thus a victim of the Dunning-Kruger effect. Yes, Bob could be more intelligent and more knowledgeable than you are. Bob could also be the one who is calm and unbiased. So it might be wise for you to reflect for one last time before giving up on Bob: Is Bob really the one who is stupid? Otherwise, you risk of not only losing Bob as a friend but also becoming a fool like the unwise ones by Socrates’ definition.

Again, I am no Socrates but hope my framework for examining stupidity helps. Unlike others, I truly believe that you have a chance to be smarter than Bob. And I am not being sarcastic. No, really.