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Should we be as Hard on Culpable Stupidity

as We are on Other Kinds of Wickedness?

One thing that has always shown that the English ruling class are morally fairly sound, is that in time of war they are ready enough to get themselves killed... What is to be expected of them is not treachery or physical cowardice, but stupidity, unconscious sabotage, an infallible instinct for doing the wrong thing. They are not wicked, or not altogether wicked; they are merely unteachable.

George Orwell

In reading the history of nations, we find that, like individuals, they have their whims and their peculiarities; their seasons of excitement and recklessness, when they care not what they do. We find that whole communities suddenly fix their minds upon one object, and go mad in its pursuit; that millions of people become simultaneously impressed with one delusion, and run after it, till their attention is caught by some new folly more captivating than the first. We see one nation suddenly seized, from its highest to its lowest members, with a fierce desire of military glory; another as suddenly becoming crazed upon a religious scruple, and neither of them recovering its senses until it has shed rivers of blood and sowed a harvest of groans and tears, to be reaped by its posterity... Money, again, has often been a cause of the delusion of multitudes. Sober nations have all at once become desperate gamblers, and risked almost their existence upon the turn of a piece of paper... Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one.

Charles Mackay

[During the aftermath of the Great Crash of 1929] many of the trusts used their available cash in a desperate effort to support their own stock. However, there was a vast difference between buying one’s stock now when the public wanted to sell and buying during the previous spring —as Goldman Sachs Trading Corporation had done—when the public wanted to buy and the resulting competition had sent prices higher and higher. Now the cash went out and the stock came in, and prices were either not perceptibly affected or not for long. What six months before had been a brilliant financial maneuver was now a form of fiscal self-immolation. In the last analysis, the purchase by a firm of its own stock is the exact opposite of the sale of stocks... However, none of this was immediately apparent. If one has been a financial genius, faith in one’s genius does not dissolve at once. To the battered but unbowed genius, support of the stock of one’s own company still seemed a bold, imaginative, and effective course. So to the extent that their cash resources allowed, the managements of the trusts...bought their own worthless stock. Men have been swindled by other men on many occasions. The autumn of 1929 was, perhaps, the first occasion when men succeeded on a large scale in swindling themselves.

John Kenneth Galbraith

The majority never has the right on its side. Never I say! That is one of the social lies that a free, thinking man is bound to rebel against. Who makes up the majority in any given country? Is it the wise men or the fools? I think we must agree that the fools are in a terrible overwhelming majority, all the wide world over.

Henrik Ibsen

Thoughts about Stupidity & Folly

A learned fool is more foolish than an ignorant one.


Philosopher and historian Arnold Toynbee mused at the time of the moon landing that it would strengthen human solidarity to the point that nations would dissolve and humanity would meld into a solid sheet of brotherhood.

A man who has faith must be prepared not only to be a martyr, but to be a fool.

G. K. Chesterton

A sinner can reform, but stupidity is forever.

As a dog returneth to his vomit, so a fool returneth to his folly.

Bible, Proverbs

Autonomous women make even greater fools of themselves in romantic love than more traditional women. Called “reverse sleeping beauty syndrome” when Prince Charming kisses them they don’t wake up, they fall asleep, and they work very hard to stay asleep.

Everyone is entitled to be stupid, but some abuse the privilege.

Folly is the direct pursuit of happiness and beauty.

George Bernard Shaw

Fools rush in where fools have been before.

Generally speaking, human beings are extremely tolerant of nonsense.

I think that in public affairs stupidity is more dangerous than knavery, because it is harder to fight.

Woodrow Wilson

If fifty million people say a foolish thing, it is still a foolish thing.

Anatole France

In politics stupidity is not a handicap.


It is folly to expect people to do all that you would reasonably expect them to do.

Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.

St. Thomas Aquinas said that in some circumstances, stupidity is a sin; a grave sin.

Stupidity and vulgarity are harder to put up with than sin, harder on the nerves.

Flannery O’Connor

Stupidity is a force of real power in human affairs.

John Kenneth Galbraith

Success in almost any field depends more on energy and drive than it does on intelligence. This explains why we have so many stupid leaders.

Sloan Wilson

The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt.

Bertrand Russell

The University brings out all abilities, including stupidity.

Anton Chekhov

The wisdom of man alters with every age; his prudence has to fit perpetually shifting shapes of inconvenience or dilemma. But his folly is immortal: a fire stolen from heaven.

G. K. Chesterton

There is no greater folly than to seek to correct the natural infirmities of those we love.

Henry Fielding

To be very stupid you have to be pretty bright. Normal stupidity only requires normal intelligence.

Fr. Benedict Groeschel

We think our fathers fools, so wise we grow;
Our wiser sons, no doubt will think us so.

Alexander Pope

Whenever a man does a thoroughly stupid thing, it is always from the noblest motives.

Oscar Wilde

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