September 12, 2011

The Rise of the Dimwits

So I'm not a very smart person.
Some people think I'm intelligent… but NO one thinks I'm sharp.

In high school I was sent to this Young Leader's Conference.
Which turned out to be a glorified summer camp mostly.

And, there, someone asked about what my thoughts were on the death penalty.

I drew a big blank.

I was all of 16 years old and all my philosophical thinking, thus far, had been limited to pressing questions like

'How does my mom's college photograph have the same hipster jeans that I wear?
Does history really just repeat itself?'
'Hipster' jeans were 'in' in the late 1990s.

Anyway, the smart, sharp thing to do would be to go with what everyone else was saying. Everyone seemed to be against it.

Repeat the same idea in different words and I'd have made a contribution to the discussion.
Scraped through as a "young leader" with a vision for the future.

But … idiotically… I didn't do that.

I think my exact words were:

"I think I'm okay with it. A little. Maybe."
Tee. Hee.

For those of you who have their mouths open in disbelief…
It happened.
I…  *sigh*…  giggled.

That put an abrupt end to my budding 'young leadership' career.

By the way, that's the day I lost all respect for that saying:
'It's better to be silent and be thought a fool, than to talk and remove all doubt.'

How on God's green earth can you be silent, when a question is directed right at you?!?!

I'm as sharp as the day is dark.
Except in Antarctica.
During summer.
Where you don't see the sun for months… even during the day.
Does knowing that count as sharpness?

This lack of sharpness (hereon referred to as bluntness) is also responsible for my failure in the school debating team and my dreams of becoming a lawyer.

I'm often too busy listening with rapt attention to the information, statistics and quotes cleverly woven into my opponents eloquent speech to jot down arguments to defend the point of view I'm supposed to be defending.
Give me a logical argument and information I didn't previously have, and I'm yours.
Or at least until I come across something more logical and informative.

All this has contributed to my present condition where my lips twitch nervously, my intestines tighten into knots and my chest caves inward like one of those buttoned cushions, every time I am at a social gathering where the conversation leads to an information intensive topic.
Like history.
Or war.
Or history of war.
Or religion.
Or history of religion.
Or war of religions.
Or any other combination of the words religion, history and war.
Oh yea.
And of course, the death penalty.

If I'm lucky, I can ask a few intelligent questions during the discussion but mostly, I try to keep away and go to my happy place.
And it's neighboring territories… Superfast Metabolistan and Calorie Killer County. 
It's not that I'm stupid or that I'm incapable of thinking.
I can think pretty well, I think.

But, I'm uncomfortable in talking about things in which I don't have complete information. 

I have an opinion, based on my information set.
But give me some new information and I'm back to being lost and undecided.

So this intellectual fickleness, coupled with the knowledge of the fact that I can't possibly know enough to form an irrefutable opinion…  has earned me the label of a dimwit.

I have spent most of my life believing that my brain was a snail in it's previous life.
That's the only explanation for the sluggishness of my brain.
And my love for Gary the snail from SpongeBob SquarePants. 
And I know I'm not the only one.
Maybe the only one with an unexplained liking for slugs.
But NOT the only one who's been labeled a dimwit for these reasons.

I'm not the only one that gets nauseated by the people who use obscure jargon and fancy-shmancy words to establish their intellectual superiority.

And I'm not the only one that's disgusted by the constant deification of the virtues of 'confidence' and pig-headed insistence of one's point of view, even in the face of new information or logic.

But then I read this book.
The Black Swan.
I'm still reading the book, but the parts I've read contained this idea.

And I want to talk about this idea, because it glorifies the Dimwit.

Not only does it free us from the dark dungeons of perceived stupidity but, it in fact, asserts our intellectual superiority over conventional intellectuals.

At least that's what I understood of it.
Now I'm having doubts about my interpretation of the information I've read.

I dwell in a never-ending vicious circle of doubt.
It's an ugly place to dwell.

But for the purpose of this post, let's pretend I don't dwell there.
And while we are on the subject of pretending… another request.

The author, is this really smart person.
And he's against quoting.
He says that if you look hard enough you will always find something written or said by someone which seems to confirm your point of view.
So quoting anyone from anywhere is basically useless and doesn’t prove anything.

So let's pretend he didn’t say that.
Coz I'm gonna quote him.
This post is practically an excerpt from his book.

Moving on.

I'm not sure about other professions, but I know this about the banking world.

The guy that feigns confidence- even about something that is blatantly wrong-
He wins.

The one that expresses doubt is the loser.

It better to make something up that's wrong- than admit that you don't know.
To say 'I don't know' is a one-way ticket to unemployment.

And that's how it is with most intellectual circles.

Just the other day I was having an argument with a self-proclaimed smart person, who prided herself on her breadth of knowledge of all things spirituality related- on *shudder* religion.

I admit it.
A part of the motivation for this post is to get back at her.
She doesn't read my blog.
But I'm pretending she does.

I said that I didn't agree with her claim that a religion could be inherently evil, it's all a matter of interpretation. But I can't tell her my interpretation because I haven't really read the holy text myself. And any book I read on the subject, is only going to be someone else's interpretation. There's just going to be too much lost in translation. 

To which she replied, 'That's just a really nice way of complimenting yourself. You've effectively excused yourself from any discussion on the topic by saying you don't know enough and those who do discuss it, have no right to unless they've read the holy text.'

And herein, says the Black Swan, lies the 'toxicity of knowledge'.

Side note: Considering the geniusness of the author, a PhD, quant trader, and everything else I felt the moral obligation to accompany as many of his words as I could, with a smart graphical representation of the same.
Also, I had a lot of free time.
And it was fun.
For example:
'We are demonstrably arrogant about what we think we know. We certainly know a lot, but we have a built in tendency to think that we know a little bit more than we actually do.'
'The problem is that our ideas are sticky: once we produce a theory, we are not likely to change our minds. So those who delay developing their theories are better off. (…) Remember that we treat ideas like possessions, and it will be hard for us to part with them.'
'We are not predisposed to respect humble people, those who try to suspend judgment. (…) Think of someone heavily introspective, tortured by the awareness of his own ignorance. He lacks the courage of the idiot, yet has the rare guts to say 'I don't know.' (…) This does not necessarily mean that he lacks confidence, only that he holds his own knowledge to be suspect. I will call such a person an epistemocrat. (…) To me, utopia is an epistemocracy.'
'Alas, one cannot assert authority by accepting one's own fallibility. Simply- people need to be blinded by knowledge.'

'Once in awhile you encounter members of the human species with so much intellectual superiority that they can change their minds effortlessly.'
I seriously wish it was possible for me to type this whole chapter out- to rub my intellectual superiority in my self-proclaimed intellectual friend's face- but, I can't.
But I would.
If I could.

The Pious Hippie translation for all of the above is this:

Dimwits are better than idiots.
Dimwits have guts.
People who deride Dimwits are blind.
Dimwits are intellectually superior.
Dimwits rule.

So here's my message to all the dimwits of the world:

Don't be afraid to say 'I don't know'.
Don't be afraid to change your mind if you want to.
It's the mark of an open-minded person.


I realize I haven't mentioned disco anywhere.
But I just really wanted to say 'shmisco'.
I like the sound of the word.

When I get a dog… I'm going to name it Shmisco.
This is to notify the readers that this is not an advertisement for the book.

Dr. Taleb, the author of the book, has no idea of the existence of my blog. In all likelihood, if he ever reads this post, he's not going to like it. He might even go on to say that I missed the point of the book completely.
I'm pretty sure, it wasn't to celebrate dimwittedness.

But I don't care.
It's still the most awesomest book I've ever read.

If anyone reading this knows Dr. Taleb, please tell him I said this:
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