Lance Morrow: “We Live In a Golden Age of Stupidity”

From a Wall Street Journal column by Lance Morrow headlined “You Are Living in the Golden Age of Stupidity”:

‘Stupidity,” Jean Cocteau remarked, “is always amazing, no matter how used to it you become.”

We live in a golden age of stupidity. It is everywhere. President Biden’s conduct of the withdrawal from Afghanistan will be remembered as a defining stupidity of our time—one of many. The refusal of tens of millions of people to be vaccinated against the novel coronavirus will be analyzed as a textbook case of stupidity en masse. Stupid is as stupid does, or, in the case of vaccination, as it doesn’t do. Stupidity and irresponsibility are evil twins….

Stupidity is one of life’s big mysteries, like evil, like love, an ineffable thing. You cannot exactly define it, but you know it when you see it, as Justice Potter Stewart said of pornography. It takes many forms. Stupidity is entitled to no moral standing whatever, and yet it sits in a place of honor at the tables of the mighty; it blows in their ears and whispers promises.

Stupidity reappears as a perennial theme of literature and history: King Lear breaking up his kingdom in the first act, or the entirety of World War I, from Sarajevo to Versailles. In her 1984 book, “The March of Folly,” Barbara Tuchman examined four grand stupidities: the Trojans’ decision to accept the Greeks’ big wooden horse and move it inside the walls of the city (an illustrative myth), the Renaissance popes’ failure to deal with the complaints of Martin Luther and others that led to the Reformation, England’s boneheaded policies under George III that lost it the American colonies, and the Americans’ mishandled intervention in Vietnam.

I have always thought that the 1960s, besides being the gaudiest and noisiest and most entertaining decade, was one of the stupidest, with its stupid war and stupid ideas….The grown-ups had made a stupid mess in Vietnam; the young swarmed onstage, too numerous for their own good, and, being on the whole vastly inexperienced in the business of life, made stupid messes of their own. The counterculture became the culture….

Most of the tragedies of that time, in fact, were stupid: the war, the murders of John and Robert Kennedy, to name three essentially meaningless phenomena that have, in time, passed over into what Thucydides called “the country of myth.” Is it possible that stupidity—far from being a shallow, comic thing—is at the heart of historic tragedy?

I’ve been working on a Unified Field Theory of Stupidity. My hypothesis: Stupidity dominates in our time because of the convergence of many seemingly unrelated elements that—mixed together at one moment, in one cultural beaker—have produced a fatal explosion of brainlessness. What are those ingredients?…

My nominees will seem eccentric at first. The subversion of manners and authority (two great casualties of the 1960s) prepared the way for the death of privacy, which would eventually be ensured by the stupendously intrusive capabilities of Big Tech in the 21st century. Manners (and in a different way, authority) depend on respect for the privacy of others, as well as one’s own. Manners depend on reticence, even mystery. When those ingrained regulations, those protections of the individual mind, are gone, then you may open the floodgates to (among many other things) pornography, which is a massively lucrative assault on individual dignity and collective decorum—an assault on the manners of a society and, if you will forgive my saying so, on the divinity of the individual.

The death of manners and privacy, I argue, are profoundly political facts that, combined with other facts, lead, eventually, to an entire civilization of stupidity. It’s a short ride from stupidity to madness. Soon people aren’t quite people anymore; they are cartoons and categories. And “identities.” The media grow feral. The sexes subdivide into 100 genders….

At the Tower of Babel, the Lord—whatever his reasons—confounded the languages of the peoples of the world. I suspect he has found he can achieve the same effect by making everyone stupid.

Lance Morrow is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. His latest book is “God and Mammon: Chronicles of American Money.”



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