by Garret Keizer published in Harper's Magazine
Read original on Harper's Magazine's website
Keizer contemplates the rise of "stupidity" in mod...Show description
Posted 610 days ago
This was a very difficult, delicate subject to write about. How do we address the elephant in the room without sounding like pompous intellectuals? One of the core beliefs of modern "stupidity" is, in fact, to completely ignore anything and everything that comes from pompous intellectuals. So how do we critique this and open the floor for dialogue without slamming the door shut on the first sentence?
I don't think that Keizer really achieves this; but, at the same time, I don't think he really tries to either. You can definitely feel his contempt for "stupid" people, which feels weird to read in a professional magazine, but also comforting to see that we are not alone.
From the troglodytic inanities of entertainments such as the Instagram account Girls Getting Hurt (894,000 followers) to the pyrotechnic disasters of gender-reveal parties, stupidity is everywhere we look, not least of all in those who look for it everywhere but within themselves.
This seems harmless at first, but Keizer believes that's related to how we evaluate stupidity. Looking at silly memes and internet pages doesn't register as harmfully stupid, more like silly, because they don't necessarily have the power to make change. But when it comes to the President of the United States, are a sufficiently large voting majority, silliness becomes outright stupidity. This is crucial for the foundations of a democratic system:
So what prompts people to embrace stupidity and cling to it even if it kills them—might we at least be able to understand that? Anyone who believes in popular government had better try. A natural ally of all authoritarian regimes, stupidity threatens progressive democracy in two ways: first by impeding its initiatives, second and more fatally by undermining any faith that those initiatives are possible or worth the effort. What good is “power to the people” if the people are dolts?
Keizer ultimately concludes that Marx was right about the alienation of workers, and suggests that the people who participate in the most stupid things of today correspond with a serious form of alienation. He suggests that we look at their employment history, and that it would reveal something very important:
If we accept that stupidity comes from a loss of reality, and if we acknowledge that reality asserts itself most reliably through that creative interplay of mind and matter called work, then might one step toward our liberation from collective stupidity be a militant insistence on full, remunerative, and purposeful employment, the lack of which accounts for much of the simmering grievance that demagogues like Trump feed on? (If we could see the complete work histories of half the sad-sack insurrectionists who stormed the Capitol last Epiphany, we’d have a more illuminating epiphany than most of us deserve.)
I agree that this would be a worthwhile investigation (perhaps Harper's should send somebody to do this!), but I don't actually agree with it. I think an important piece that is missing here is resentment. Keizer mentions faith at the end of the article, pretty weirdly, and I think many people who are labelled as stupid are really employing faith in a counterculture insurgency to win back their power. Their stupidity, then, is calculated. Who knows though.