I know nothing about football. I know what a football is and I did watch a game once, honest, but try and engage me on who scored what in the last Milk Cup and I will stare at you blankly.
The idea that all opinions are equally valid is palpable nonsense. My knowledge of the beautiful game could fill the inner circle of a pin-head. Should it therefore have as much merit as Gary Lineker’s? Of course not. When it comes to football, chemistry, micro-biology and the economy of Tuvalu I am very happy to admit that I’m ignorant.
Nowadays – that makes me an expert.
Over the last decade, the stock in stupidity and uninformed opinions has risen exponentially. Writing in his classic 1992 treatise The Flanshaw Infants* on the potential of the World Wide Web, futurologist Dr. Terence Dobson wrote: “with too much information at their disposal, people (might) choose to take facts as given rather than question sources or open minds to the endless possibilities of knowledge and truth that the internet will provide.”
Seven years later in 1999 social psychologists David Dunning and Justin Kruger carried out a study into the phenomenon of “illusory superiority” wherein people of low ability imagine themselves to be very good at something. The results were astounding. They concluded that:
“In many cases, incompetence does not leave people disoriented, perplexed, or cautious. Instead, the incompetent are often blessed with an inappropriate confidence, buoyed by something that feels to them like knowledge.”
The study was inspired in part by the case of a criminal who went around robbing banks with lemon juice on his face – because someone told him it made you invisible to surveillance cameras. Laugh if you like – and then type “flat earth” into Youtube.
1999 saw a huge growth in global internet usage and the theory was timely. Look around – the Dunning-Kruger effect is in evidence everywhere.
Tune into any talk radio shows any day of the week and you will have presenters inviting ordinary members of the public to opine on complex issues like global warming, or the crisis in Catalonia, or the best way to solve Brexit, or the ethics of genetic engineering. Sometimes of course a real expert might phone in – or someone may give a powerful testimony born out of personal experience – but a great deal of talk radio could be summarised as: ‘people who know very little reinforcing other people’s prejudices with unreasoned arguments, based on hearsay in an unchallenged environment.’
On social media things are a whole lot worse. Twitter and Facebook have both made stars out of stupid. Donald Trump might be the first reality star President, but he is also the first Twitter Political Superstar. That is where his supporters meet; it is where they concur it is where they look for validation of their idiotic viewpoints from other absurd twitter celebrities like Alex Jones.
If the 1930s was the age of Communism and Fascism we are now living in the era of ‘Stupidism’. As with those movements it has its Karl Marx figures, its evangelists and its exponents. The Uncle Jo Stalin of Stupid sits in the White House firing off ignorance in 140 character decrees while his Pravda-esque Breitbart and Fox News Network spread the creed. Truth was the first victim of the internet age – and every week facts and accuracy are carted off to the labour camps to join it.
Stupidism in its most populist form is a simple credo to understand. It has its slogans, its terms for enemies of the state of stupid, its own imagery and iconography.
Why bother with the reasons behind immigration into the United States when you can say “let’s build a wall and make Mexico pay!” Why trouble yourself with understanding the EU and Britain’s intricate relationship when you can brand the whole thing the “EUSSR” call all those who support it “snowflakes” and add a crying emoji.
Stupidism is liberating. Stupid is easy. You don’t even have to read a book. In fact it is the first doctrine in history in which never having read a book is a requirement. Years of pent up rage bent double under that chip on your shoulder because you failed history GCSE can be washed away with the aid of 700k twitter followers reinforcing your witlessness.
Sure you were wrong – but if enough groupies say you are right then frankly who cares.
Inveterate tweeter Paul Watson may be the Trotsky of Stupid but in Britain at least – Katie Hopkins is its Lenin.
Katie Hopkins is tongue-tied. Katie Hopkins is uninformed. Katie Hopkins is not gifted with a sense of humour or an ability to write. She claims to be a patriot but works tirelessly to undermine the country. Is that what she thinks she is doing? Probably not. I suspect Ms Hopkins imagines herself to be of very high ability indeed.
And yet – here I am writing about her. Katie Hopkins has prospered and continues to do so. She, along with Stupidism’s fellow travellers, has indeed got rich on the back of it. Stupidism is profitable because it reinforces and articulates the base ill-informed opinions of a very large segment of society. There is an eager market for it.
What can be done?
I was talking to a bloke in the pub about this on Saturday and we both agreed that critical thinking should be taught as a compulsory core subject in schools. Neither of us are experts in the field and we both broadly agreed with each other so our opinion matters.
Until the children come and save us from this nightmare, it’s up to us all to fight it. Call out the stupid when you see it. Fight stupid and we will defeat it. There is a prevailing attitude that people like Hopkins or the ridiculous Paul Watson should “be ignored and starved of oxygen” or worse that we should listen to everybody – no matter how ill-informed they are. Do that and Stupidism will prosper.
*If you want to read more about The Flanshaw Infants (and trust me you do) by Dr. Terence Dobson – it’s here