Op-Ed: Let's declare a national war on stupidity, treat it as a disease

Posted Feb 9, 2012 by Bill Schmalfeldt
What if the Surgeon General were to declare "stupidity" a disease and the National Institutes of Health were to declare a National Emergency and manpower and money were utilized to eliminate stupidity from the human condition? That would be cool!
Years ago, as a young city hall reporter in my hometown of Clinton, Iowa, at the end of a contentious debate over whether or not Clinton would remain the largest city in the state without even a basic building code (it would), one of my favorite council members gave me a quote that I will never forget. As the building code ordinance was defeated yet again, the councilman leaned over to the press table and sighed these words.
"If only stupidity were painful..."
But stupid people don't like it when you call them stupid any more than racists don't like being called racists. And those of us on the sensitive left side of the aisle get a case of the heebie-jeebies when we hear someone using a negatively-charged word like "stupid" to describe a person.
When Andrew Sullivan wrote his brilliant treatise on the "dumbness" of President Obama's critics, there was disquiet in the nation.
Liberals wrung their hands and dabbed at the moistness gathering in the corners of their eyes and bemoaned the lack of civility on the part of Mr. Sullivan. "Surely, there must be some way for us to bring people together," they said in reedy, high-pitched voices until someone started pounding a native-American drum and they followed their genetic inclination to form a circle.
Conservatives threw their dirt and sweat-stained ball caps to the ground, stomped their feet and wondered who this "college boy thinks he is, sayin' we ain't smart or nuthin'?"
Perhaps a clinical approach is called for here. Perhaps it's time to start thinking of "stupidity" as a disease. Raise it to the level of a national crisis. Throw money at it. Study it. Find out why, for some people, stupidity is bliss. Get to the bottom of why some folks embrace their stupidity like a two year old grasps a comfortable blanket and will howl like a banshee when someone tries to take their "blankie" away.
When a doctor believes you have cancer, she doesn't brew a pot of tea, light an incense stick, twist a "fattie" and write a poem about how sad cancer makes her feel.
The cancer patient doesn't go to the White House with other cancer patients and hold up badly misspelled, racist signs blaming his cancer on the President, who weren't even born here anyway.
The doctor and patient work together to heal the patient, to eliminate the cancer, to return the patient to a state of relative good health. They do what it takes to eliminate the disease, if possible, before it kills the patient.
As a nation, we need to stop thinking it's a bad thing to call stupidity, stupid! We have to worry less about hurting people's feelings. We have to educate people. Make them realize that "smart" is better than "stupid."
If the doctor was loathe to refer to brain cancer as "cancer" and instead referred to it as "an overabundance of brain cells growing in a haphazard fashion," we might not be so likely to want to cure it. "More brain cells? That's good! Ain't it?"
Everyone is born with the ability to be "smart" to the level of his or her developmental capacity. Stupid people think they're smart, just like terribly un-funny people will tell you they have a great sense of humor.
So, that being said, how does one know if one is stupid? Take this little test.
Do you believe that God created the Earth and the entire universe in seven days? That's stupid.
You say that God told you to run for president? Stupid! You're stupid.
You say you know the mind of God, not only what He wants you to do, but what he wants me to do? No, you don't. That's just stupid!
You say there is no God? How can you know that? You're stupid! The only people who know for sure what's on the other side of the veil are dead. And they ain't talking, no matter what that psychic on the hotline told you.
You say God favors the United States over any other country on the planet? Rank stupidity! Why, according to your view, would God create billions of children and favor one group over another?
You try to tell me that what you believe is what I and everyone else should believe or God will display the worst of human emotions and punish us forever? Stupid, stupid, stupid! Think of your own kids. Say your kid did something you thought was bad, like -- say -- eating a pork chop. (Read your Bible. That makes God REAL mad!) Would you have the capacity to punish your own child for an eternity in fire and never ending agony such as we can not even imagine? (If you could do that, please have your children contact me so I can put them in touch with the proper Social Services agency in your state). If you could not do that, then imagine a perfect God with a perfect love for the creatures He allegedly created. How could a perfect God with perfect love condemn even one of his creatures to an eternity of utter torment? I've never been grounded for more than two weeks when I was a kid, and that was hell enough!
You claim to be a faithful follower of a religious belief that demands of you only that you love your neighbor as you love yourself, and you would let someone die in agony rather than ask the wealthiest people in the world to pay a teensy bit more in taxes? Criminal stupidity.
Being stupid doesn't mean you're a bad person. It just means you're stupid. You can do something about that, unless you prefer to remain stupid, which is about the stupidest thing a person can do in this advanced age of information availability.
If you cleave to a single radio host for your world view, a single TV news channel to tell you what to think, you are stupid and by rights should feel actual physical pain caused by that stupidity.
When you decide who the president turns out to be based on which one of the candidates you'd rather have over to grill burgers? Stupid!
When you vote against your own self interest because some millionaire told you to and your jobs get sent overseas so the billionaires who pay the millionaire to lie to you can save a few bucks on production costs, you have no right to complain when you are called out for your stupidity.
And when you refuse to vote because the smart people you voted for last time didn't live up to your expectations, that means the stupid people win the election. And that makes you stupid, too!
This is not a blanket indictment of conservatism, per se, although a true believer who believes that Ronald Reagan never raised taxes and he never raised the debt ceiling and that he single-handedly caused the end of Communism? That's plenty stupid.
But not all conservatives are stupid. In fact, not all conservatives are conservatives.
They are crafty. They will say what you want to hear, tell you what you want to believe, appeal to your worst fears, validate your darkest prejudices and bigotry to achieve their ends.
They want more of your money. And if you're kept good and stupid, you'll willingly fork it over because you believe if the rich get richer, if the government stops spending on useless things like education, health care, infrastructure and poverty, then some of that wealth will trickle down to you. They promise! They're the job creators, after all. Just look at all the jobs they've created in India, China and Mexico. If they can just have a little more of your money, they might make a job for you, too! Stupid.
We can nip this national epidemic of stupidity in the bud, starting with the next generation of children. Just like a baby has to be taught to hate, a child has to be taught to be stupid. When a child sees his or her parents engaging in brutal acts of stupidity, like nodding in agreement when Mitt Romney is against the government forcing religious employers to provide their employees with insurance that covers contraception (which, to conservatives, means Obama is forcing rubbers and birth control pills and "day after pills onto unwilling Catholics who don't want them and would never use them except Obama says they gotta now!), then some agency needs to show that child that what his or her parents are nodding their heads to is stupid! For one thing, it's stupid because Mitt Romney was in favor of that very thing when he was Governor of Massachusetts. For another thing, it's stupid because nobody is forcing anything on anybody. Don't want contraceptives? Don't get a prescription for contraceptives. Problem solved!
We need to educate children to teach them that changing the textbooks to make the founding fathers more Jesusy is not only wrong, it is stupid. It makes the kids stupid.
We need to teach the children that when they hear their parents using racial slurs to hate others who don't look like them, that is Mom and Dad being stupid! Don't be stupid.
We did a good job on anti-smoking education, when every kid would go home from school with pamphlets about the evils of smoking. Let's send them home with pamphlets on the evils of stupidity.
Then, generation by generation, our kids get a little less stupid. They realize that "smart" is better than "stupid." Eventually, we have an enlightened generation of adults and children who don't hate people because of the way they look, who don't vote against their own self interests because some millionaire on the radio told them to, who don't deny basic civil rights to people because they find their particular sexual orientation "yucky."
We can have a better world, if we start right away and call stupid what it is. Stupid.
Maybe a vaccination, like the ones we got for polio when I was a kid, that makes being stupid "painful" would do the trick. After all, we are only motivated by that which causes us pleasure and that which causes us pain. If we make it hurt to be stupid, then we're getting somewhere. Eventually, the incurably stupid will die off and we'll have a nation of enlightened Americans.
Unless we destroy the world first by electing a Republican in 2012 who thinks "climate change" is a liberal lie and then the polar ice caps melt and we all die, and then what's the point of it all?'
And that would indeed be a painful stupidity.