On the Issue of Stupidity

I’ve probably said out loud (at least once) that conservatives as a class are stupid. As in not the brightest bulb in the pack, three bricks shy of a load, easily led by the nose, three dollar bill stupid.

Oddly, their stupidity does not inspire my pity. Their stupidity makes me angry. Positively wrathful, in fact.

Now there’s a truism that when you find yourself angry with other people, particularly a whole class of people, you’re reacting to something in yourself that is similar to them — a similarity you dislike about yourself, or that has caused you great pain in the past.

It’s a truism, not a truth: that is, a useful idea that’s mostly true often enough to warrant giving it a good chew before you spit it out.

So what is this wrath that I feel?

It feels like the kind of anger that follows betrayal. It’s the same anger you might feel when you learn that your own daughter has been stealing from you, or when you find your spouse in bed with your best friend, or when you discover that your retirement fund has been embezzled by its trustees, who are now living a life of ease in the Cayman Islands while you’re looking at foreclosure and bankruptcy.


Dante placed the Betrayers at the deepest level of Hell, frozen in contorted, painful positions for eternity beneath the surface of an icy lake. It seems appropriate.

Thinking about this, it’s immediately obvious to me that I’m a trusting and somewhat credulous sort of person. I don’t automatically assume that everyone I meet is a liar who is out to take advantage of me. This is mostly temperament, I think. I won’t make the mistake of trying to say it’s good or bad. It’s just the way I am.

The downside of being a trusting sort of person is having your trust abused.

It’s happened to me more than once, as you might expect. I’ve been cheated of money. I’ve been lied to, and I’ve believed the lies to the point that I’ve stuck my neck out for a liar and had it (my neck) shortened a fingerspan or two when the lies finally came to light. My credulity is one of the many reasons that I’m not the most successful businessman in the world.

Heck, you might even say I’ve been pretty … stupid. As in not the brightest bulb in the pack, three bricks shy of a load, easily led by the nose, three dollar bill stupid.

So the truism would appear to have a nugget of truth in it after all. But there’s still the question: why do I pass this particular self-loathing off on conservatives? Why not the liberals? Why not blame the French? Why not despise left-handed violists who wear tennis shoes to a concert?

It has to do with the lies, I think. Lies lie at the heart of any betrayal.

It isn’t the lies the conservatives tell. It’s the lies the conservatives are told. The lies they so credulously accept. The betrayals they apparently don’t see coming. The betrayals that they screw their eyes up tight against in denial, as they pursue the fallacy of sunk cost.

In case you don’t know what the “fallacy of sunk cost” is, it’s the fallacy addressed by the expression “Throwing good money after bad.” It’s the belief that after “investing” so much in a failure, you have no choice but to continue with even more investment because otherwise you are somehow “dishonoring the sacrifice” you’ve already made. It’s doubling-down on a tanking stock portfolio. It’s giving your lying, cheating spouse a seventeenth chance because you’ve invested twenty years in the marriage. It’s mortgaging your house for a doomed business to honor the hard work you and your employees have already put in. It’s continuing to fight a losing war to “honor” the soldiers who have already died.

It’s continuing to vote Republicans into office long after they’ve betrayed everything you’ve ever believed in.

The fallacy of sunk cost is a very human thing. And it’s really quite stupid. Three dollar bill stupid.

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me three times, thank God for term limits.

I went through years of thinking that Social Security was going to “run out of money.” Then I did the least little bit of actual research — I went to the Social Security website to see how the damn thing worked, and how much money they actually had left — and discovered the lie. It’s a whopper.

The truth? Social Security is income redistribution. It won’t “run out of money” unless everyone stops working and paying taxes. It does have a “rainy day fund” that is going to fall short of covering all the Baby Boomers at full benefit levels starting in 2033 because the Republicans have stopped them from fixing a minor problem. It’s a leaky faucet in the kitchen, and rather than simply buying new washers for the faucets, the Republicans have prevented anyone from touching the sink. They’ve instead moaned about the inevitable basement full of water, rotten floorboards, and total structural collapse of the house. Social Security is doooooomed. Dooooooomed, we tell you!

The Republicans want us to sell the doomed house. Because of a leaky faucet. So to whom should we sell? Glad you asked. The Republicans have some friends who would be happy to take it off our hands…. They’re called Wall Street. You know, the guys who brought us the 2008 recession? The guys who have been manipulating LIBOR? Yeah, those guys.

Getting taken in by that lie, even peripherally, left me feeling kind of … well, stupid.

Just a couple of weeks ago I was agreeing with some conservative about how Congress has robbed Social Security blind. I even started a blog entry about Congressional theft from the Social Security Trust Fund, which forced me to do the least little bit of actual research — and I found out this is utterly false. It’s based on the twisted argument of someone who has no clue what a Treasury Bond is — or who knows perfectly well but just wants to tell a lie to frighten people and take advantage of them.

Again, I felt pretty stupid.

I’ve wasted a lot of time and energy in the last ten years researching bullcrap.

  • Social Security is a Ponzi scam: bullcrap.
  • Environmentalists are the cause of rising gas prices: bullcrap.
  • Illegal immigrants are stealing American jobs: bullcrap.
  • High US taxes suppress investment: bullcrap.
  • US financial regulation inhibits economic growth: bullcrap.

The list could be extended to many, many pages. All bullcrap.

It isn’t bullcrap because I’m a liberal and I disagree with it. It’s bullcrap because it isn’t true.

Conservatives are stupid because they have fallen for these lies.

Just as I have.

That’s why they make me so angry. They remind me of me, back in the day when I was young and stupid.

Like a few weeks ago.

2 comments on “On the Issue of Stupidity

  1. Timnathjohn says:

    In psychology, we call that fallacy of sunk cost the overjustification effect. I use the example of Vietnam vets who believe that that war was justified because they had put so much time, blood, sweat, and tears into it. They think, ” I wouldn’t have taken that risk for nothing, I’m not stupid!”


    • So what is it that makes some people incapable of recognizing they’ve made a mistake, while others have little problem with it? 

      It’s never easy to say, “I screwed up,” but I’m having no deep anxiety admitting that the Republican lies have taken me in, that I’ve started businesses that I should never have started, that I’ve made a gazillion (really bad) mistakes in love and romance throughout my life. 

      Is this a personality trait, or does it have something to do with the magnitude of the second-thoughts?


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