Yesterday I went to another event that involved Bazon Brock. Since the event took place in the office he is running, he was the host, but officially not the main feature of the evening. Nevertheless, he apparently has a lot to say. So he was pointing out who he thought is stupid. Person here, person there, all stupid. This group of people. This idea, everything stupid. Once I kind of answered his philosophers mating call by giving him a short reply, even I became part of this illustrious group of stupidity.
It is extremely tempting to say that a person or a group of people is stupid. But I would argue that this is almost never true. It would make things so easy, but unfortunately there are not that many stupid people around And those who are don’t leave a big imprint into human society or history of thought. Being stupid lets you loose access most forms of communication beyond your personal sphere.
And Mr. Brock was definitely not talking about this kind of stupid people. Rather he was talking about certain thinkers, scientists and ideas in general.
Ever since I stumbled about the word antinomy in my youth, this word and its meaning are definitely amongst my favorite. Antinomy refers to two or more opposing ideas, that taken just for themselves can be understood as true. But they oppose each other and when clashing, it is impossible that both are true at the same time. So could we call one of the ideas stupid? I would say no.
I think ideas can be wrong, shortsighted or flat out dangerous, but upon closer inspection, very few turn out to be just stupid. I think what Mr. Brock is really referring to would be ideas that just would not fit into his own thought cosmos. By calling such ideas stupid, he outed himself as lazy at best, ignorant at worst. He shouldn’t agree to every idea he encounters, but the people who came up with these ideas might not be too different from Mr. Brock himself.
I realized how important this is, while doing a lot of research on the concept of relics. Not so much in a contemporary sense, but really the medieval stuff. Dead bones, fabric and stuff. At first the way the people back then treated these objects could look naïve. What’s the point of worshiping some random of collection of bones – especially when most of it is definitely fake? But once you realize that the people back then were not that different from you. The situation they lived in differed, but their mental capabilities were not that different from yours. So if there was no element of stupidity, that has disappeared since. What is different then? Now it gets interesting, since now you might be able to realize that almost nothing is different. Sure, most of us don’t go to church. And even of those who do go, most do not really worship the bones presented in some catholic churches. But we do worship the brand of clothing we wear, the smartphone we carry or the brand of car we are driving.
So in this example, the quick conclusion “that is stupid” could have easily been drawn, but not drawing this conclusion actually helps us to better understand our own behavior. Sure, you are not always going to find clear similarities to your own thinking, when inspecting others thoughts and sometimes looking at the thought processes of other can even be painful. I don’t get it when people are racist or misogynist and looking at these people and their logic is definitely not fun, but being ignorant about them does not help either.
Unfortunately even Hitler was not stupid, nor was my grandfather, whom I never met and who was apparently a very proud Nazi. And no, his ideas weren’t stupid either. I’d love to say they were. They were wrong, everything about them was wrong – they were dangerous, and terrible and hateful and everything else. But they were not stupid.