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The Psychology of Stupidity – tekijä:…
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The Psychology of Stupidity (vuoden 2020 painos)

– tekijä: Jean-Francois Marmion (Tekijä)

JäseniäKirja-arvostelujaSuosituimmuussijaKeskimääräinen arvioKeskustelut
181944,038 (3.25)-
Jäsen:booktsunami
Teoksen nimi:The Psychology of Stupidity
Kirjailijat:Jean-Francois Marmion (Tekijä)
Info:Macmillan (2020), Edition: Main Market, 384 pages
Kokoelmat:Oma kirjasto
Arvio (tähdet):***1/2
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The Psychology of Stupidity (tekijä: Jean-Francois Marmion)

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The book promises a lot but really doesn't deliver...The back cover suggests that stupidity is all around us ..including the former school friends posting conspiracy theories on facebook ..and why smart people sometimes believe utter nonsense. Ok, I thought, I'd really like to know what it is in the brain or environment or upbringing etc that leads to these situations. But instead of a coherent, logically organised narrative, we are given a series of very short essays with not even a coherent view of what we are talking about. Some people seem to confound stupidity with bad manners; some people think it's poor memory, or an inability to exercise rational thinking.
In short, if this book is "the number one international best seller" then a lot of people, like me, have fallen for a con trick. One needs to read the "edited by" (in small print) on the front cover to realise that it is not actually written by Jean-Francois Marmion and, it has been translated from the French...which in its turn introduces a series of complexities. The word "stupid" (in my experience) doesn't translate all that well. For me, it is quite a strong term and one which I would hesitate to ascribe to most people or to their actions. But I recall my neighbours in Spain would tend to use it fairly actively in their speech (when using English). Admittedly, English was their third language; German, Spanish, English in that order......but it was pretty clear that when they said something was "stupid" it didn't necessarily have the same force for them as it did for me.
Much of the book is a series of short (and therefore, inevitably it seems) superficial essays on aspects of stupidity...such as (p106) why intelligent people (like Bill Clinton) continued his "inappropriate relationship" with Monica Lewinski...therefore ACTING stupidly. So you can be intelligent and act stupidly. There is some investigation of the various sorts or intelligence ...and rationality is the capacity to make decisions that help us achieve our objectives. So it's possible to accept that a person might be intelligent, yet simultaneously be capable of committing stupid acts. ....But what could be the motivation: emotion maybe? But there can be stupid actions without strong emotion. Another tack might be to blame cognitive bias (all swans are white) ...it's the quick thinking part of the brain (more or less). So intelligence doesn't protect us from bias .....or stupid decisions. But the author, in this case, (Yves-Alexandre Thalman) has an "each-way" bet: that many stupid acts are creative and original...so stupidity is subtler that it seems. It can't be reduced to a lack of intelligence.
I must say that I was expecting ...and hoping for.... a much more thoroughly argued case the explained a lot more about how the brain works, and maybe the ways in which emotion in decision making over-rides the rational component.....and, the way brains actually arrive at decisions.....the evolutionary reasons for this process or the conditioning that influences it etc.
At very least, such a project would require some standardisation of terminology. And, at least one of the essayists wishes to distinguish "stupidity" from "foolishness"...and states that "ignorance" is not "stupidity". And what about the various forms of stupidity: moronic, idiotic, cretinous, silly, dumb, foolish, imbecilic, clueless, inept, and that supreme qualifier "fucking stupid". Somehow, none of these come close to the sort of "stupidity" that I find profoundly fascinating and that is the ability of people to believe the most complex and outrageous conspiracy ideas (and come up with justifying reasons when their conspiracy appears to founder or to be disproved); for people to believe in UFO's and alien possession, for people to believe vaccination causes autism...when the perpetrator of this idea was found to have fabricated the evidence, the believers in the extraordinary claims of the QAnon conspiracy, for people to deny climate change despite the overwhelming evidence for it. (In fact, I don't think it's stupid to question the majority view, but to totally disregard all the evidence or to come up with supernatural explanations for some of the evidence does seems to be to be getting close to the kind of ideas that I'd hoped this book would provide). Why do well educated people still believe in god and in an infallible scripture (which contains obvious contradictions)? How can people believe in reincarnation when the worlds population keeps doubling every 50 years? ....ok we can assume that an equivalent number of insects had to die but it seems to be engaging in similar apologetics to those people who happily explain away how the god of the old testament will visit the sins of the fathers on the children ...unto the 5th and 6th generation (seems a bit unfair). It's not that I mind god for being tough on crime.....but then we have the nice "soft-guy" god of the new testament who looks after the sparrows of the field ..so how much more is he going to care for us (humans). But this changing, unchanging-god (the same yesterday, today and forever)....seems to be quite happily believed-in and worshipped-by huge numbers of intelligent people. Why? They will even go to war and persecute people who have different beliefs to these.
Now this is the sort of thing that I was hoping Marmion might have explored. It's not that the individual essays are not interesting. They are. and I actually learned quite a lot from them. It's just that the book lacks a coherence that a single mind might have brought to the problem. Maybe there is the wisdom of the swarm (or of the group) that might emerge from this .......but I hoped for this in vain.
Yes our brains often don't work like proper logic machines; yes we sometimes make decisions from an emotional reaction rather than from some sort of cold logic (maybe mostly make decisions based on emotion)., and the emotions are seated in our own evolutionary history (fight or flight, revenge, hunger, lust etc). And sometimes we make fast decisions (fight or flight) and sometimes we make slow decisions....(what sort of car to buy, perhaps).
One of the most interesting essays for me was by Sebastian Dieguez of the university of Fribourg and it's titled Stupidity and Post-Truth. He happily adopts the terminology (as have a lot of the essayists) of Harry Frankfurt who talks about "bullshit"....and the essence of bullshit is indifference to the truth. And "to speak from the heart", to speak man-to man" to be "forthright" and "trustworthy" ----- these constructions, these contemporary values are much more prized than rigour, prudence, precision..and to some extent can replace them. The immediate corollary of this definition is that whoever does not share our opinion is , de facto, wrong, is trying to manipulate us , is profoundly immoral and does not respect our beliefs which are our truth". ....."These mechanisms of stupidity have little to do with intelligence....on the contrary, intelligence is readily called upon to support this system through the establishment of a personal epistemology. that amounts to ...the belief....that knowledge is a question of intuition that something is true". It is really the antithesis of what Socrates called "the examined life".
So, what I understand Sieguez to be saying (in my own words) is that people are prepared to believe bullshit because it aligns with their intuitions (however formed...but certainly susceptible to media manipulation and "group-speak"). I recall, once, when writing a philosophy thesis that I was seeking a definition of "belief" and it was extremely hard to find. Most of the philosophical dictionaries skipped over it and writers about belief never bothered to define it. But, it seems here to be rather key to understanding "stupidity" (in terms of accepting bullshit as real or as fact). And, for one reason or another, our brains are rather resistant to changing beliefs. It's not that we can't change out beliefs but we seem to be more inclined to seek alternative explanations for "inconvenient facts" rather than changing the belief that the facts would contradict.
Anyway, nowhere in this book did I find any deep investigation of the brain and beliefs nor why people would happily adopt bullshit as a core belief....and seek confirmation for this belief rather than objectively weigh the evidence.
Overall, an interesting book but I don't think it delivered on it's promise. 3.5 stars from me. ( )
  booktsunami | Feb 9, 2021 |
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