(This was a post published on my old blog Parade of Rain. Jennifer really likes this piece and insisted that I republish it here on Veg*n Cooking.)
I am about to discuss a theory of mine regarding the relationship between intelligence and stupidity. First off, I should be clear about terminology because such things are easily confused. When I talk of ignorance, I refer to a lack of knowledge or information. Stupidity, on the other hand, is in reference to a lack in capacity to obtain, understand, and properly apply knowledge. Intelligence, therefore, is the opposite of stupidity as it refers to the capacity to obtain and understand knowledge. Knowledge is the possession of information and is the natural opposite of ignorance. Knowledge is a product of intelligence as is implied by my definition of intelligence. So, just to clarify knowledge is not intelligence, and ignorance is not stupidity. It is possible to be both ignorant and intelligent, being unaware but not incapable of awareness. It is also possible to be both knowledgeable and stupid, having awareness but lacking the wit to understand or properly apply it. It is this last aspect that is of interest to me. It is my assertion that knowledge increases the capacity for stupidity. In other words, intelligence and stupidity are just two sides of the same coin – knowledge. It is a product of intelligence, but it is also the precursor to stupidity.
The potential for stupidity itself is surprisingly more difficult to recognize than one might think, but ‘acts of stupidity’ produce results which can be clearly identified. For the purpose of my argument, I will define ‘acts of stupidity’ as behaviors that result in undesirable or unintended consequences. That may seem broad, but let’s face it; we’re not as smart as we’d like to think. The absolutely ignorant being which knows nothing – knows how to do nothing – it presents little potential for harm to itself. (Whether it holds potential for harm to others is not so much a question of intelligence but instead a question of morality. Although, failing to see that harm to others could potentially harm oneself is ignorance or stupidity – take your pick). A being must have some knowledge to act upon in order to act stupidly in the first place. Anything else would simply be a reflex which, in no way, implicates stupidity as the culprit; it would instead implicate a mixture of ignorance and/or lack of self-control. The knowledgeable being, on the other hand, has a vast amount of information to act upon. For it, the possibilities are endless and, in them lies the potential for acts of gargantuan stupidity.
Take nuclear fission, for example. Here is perhaps the greatest achievement of human intelligence to date, and it is, at the same time, perhaps the stupidest thing humanity has ever done. Nuclear power may be nice, but the weapons and wastes that result are just plain stupid. Our use of fossil fuels is another great example. I mean, who decided it would be a good idea to create a massively overpopulated society that is utterly dependent on finite, irreplaceable resources? Well, we may all be to blame for that one, but it should illustrate my point that many of the features of modern society we hold up as testaments to our intelligence are the very things that are likely to do us in: automobiles that spew pollution and greenhouse gases; weapons that flat-out kill anything in their path; electricity produced in ways that affect the environment in much the same way as vehicles; industrial agriculture that poisons land, sea, and animal, inflating the food supply and setting us all up for serious population overshoot; genetic engineering which promises to destroy what little adaptivity is left on this planet; you get the picture.
Now, I do not wish to be misconstrued as saying that people who are knowledgeable are inherently bound to do stupid things. Knowledge and intelligence do at least tend to correlate with one another (Remember, knowledge is a product of intelligence). What should be evident here is that those with knowledge of any sort should always proceed with caution. Intelligence could then be marked also by one’s capacity to accept that their knowledge is extremely limited and, therefore, should not be acted upon at all. Recognizing and admitting to one’s own ignorance is a clear sign of intelligence. Intelligence begat knowledge, and knowledge begat stupidity. Ignorance is just ignorance – ever present and inescapable.