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The concept of intelligence describes cognition that results in an ability to function in the world, adapt, and achieve goals. Some say human intelligence is the skilled use of knowledge and reason. Others define it as the ability to learn from experience and use that knowledge to deal with things skillfully. Intelligence is also the power of thought and reasoning. It is our capacity to recognize patterns, solve problems, plan, and innovate. It’s our ability to learn from experience, recognize problems, and solve them. Depending upon who you talk with, there are as many as a dozen different types of intelligence.

The opposite of intelligence is stupidity

Let’s begin with economic historian Carlo Cipolla’s essay, The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity. These are Cipolla’s five fundamental laws of stupidity:

  1. Always and inevitably, everyone underestimates the number of stupid individuals in circulation.
  2. The probability that a certain person (will) be stupid is independent of any other characteristic of that person.
  3. A stupid person is a person who causes losses to another person or to a group of persons while himself deriving no gain and even possibly incurring losses.
  4. Non-stupid people always underestimate the damaging power of stupid individuals. In particular, non-stupid people constantly forget that at all times and places, and under any circumstances, to deal and/or associate with stupid people always turns out to be a costly mistake.
  5. A stupid person is the most dangerous type of person.

The more serious the consequences, the more stupidity becomes a problem

  • Stupid people are the most dangerous people in the world. They are not aware of how their decisions and actions harm themselves and others. 
  • Stupid people are dangerous because reasonable people find it difficult to imagine and understand stupid behavior.
  • Stupid people harm others. Those who harm themselves through their stupidity are super-stupid.

What is stupidity?

Stupidity is a lack of intelligence, reasoning, understanding; an inability to learn or to gain from experience. Stupidity is a consequence of the failure to be aware of one’s own limitations, and this type of cognitive failure has a scientific name: the Dunning-Kruger effect.

Traits that drive stupidity

  • Absentmindedness
  • Impracticality
  • Inability to control emotions
  • Ignorance
  • Overconfidence

The last two go together. Because they are blind to their own blindness, confidently ignorant people undertake activities for which they lack the necessary skills.

Characteristics of stupid people 

  • Poor listening skills. 
  • An inability to read body language or understand nonverbal communication.
  • An inability to control their emotions.
  • Resistance to change.
  • An inability to learn from mistakes.
  • Exhibitions of poor judgment and bad decision-making.
  • They lack critical thinking skills. 
  • They lack empathy.
  • An overconfidence to the point of arrogance.
  • A resistance to personal growth and an avoidance of self-improvement.


Nancy and Frank Sinatra sing Something Stupid

Theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer said

“Against stupidity we have no defense. Neither protests nor force can touch it. Reasoning is of no use. Facts that contradict personal prejudices can simply be disbelieved — indeed, the fool can counter by criticizing them, and if they are undeniable, they can just be pushed aside as trivial exceptions. So the fool, as distinct from the scoundrel, is completely self-satisfied. In fact, they can easily become dangerous, as it does not take much to make them aggressive. For that reason, greater caution is called for than with a malicious one. Never again will we try to persuade the stupid person with reasons, for it is senseless and dangerous.”  

In an article in Psychology Today, Joachim Krueger asked “Why don’t stupid people smarten up and realize how stupid they are?” He says education and training were invented to combat stupidity.

Stupid people lack the capacity for critical thinking

They are not able to objectively interpret, evaluate, and analyze facts and make reasoned judgments. The best way to deal with stupid people is to become a critical thinker who refuses to accept information at face value.

Critical thinking skills are our ability to effectively analyze information and form judgments

This includes actively questioning and challenging ideas and assumptions. To become a critical thinker, you must use a rational, objective, and self-aware approach, learn to be fully aware of your own biases and assumptions, apply consistent standards, and evaluate sources critically.

Critical thinking skills help us:

  • Determine the credibility of our sources of information.
  • Identify, consider, and assess alternative viewpoints.
  • Evaluate positions and respond to challenges.


Professor of Leadership Development and Organizational Change Kets de Vries says people who behave stupidly seem to be—temporarily or otherwise—unable to properly navigate the domains of reasoning, planning, problem solving, abstract thinking, complex ideas, and learning from experience. In a working paper titled Understanding Human Stupidity, it is de Vries’ opinion that the present age resembles a post-truth era, one in which, thanks to the machinations of social media, stupidity appears to be celebrated. Elaborating on this observation, it considers the influence that supposedly stupid people exert over large groups, all too easily setting the stage for collective stupidity. As will be shown, people who are able to harness the power of other people’s stupidity can have an enormous impact. Aside from stupidity being, at times, downright dangerous, it can come with the additional difficulty of being somewhat contagious. 


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