Seeing the stupid

Once upon a time, I tried to learn to play poker. I never learned to play very well, but I did learn some other interesting things along the way. For one thing, David Sklansky’s books have a lot of game theory. But on a more practical level, one of the books I read had a great piece of advice on “seeing the stupid.”

The point, as applied to poker, is this: when you learn to play poker, don’t just play online, go to casinos. This is because when you play online and you wind up playing against a stupid opponent, it can be hard to believe they’re as stupid as they really are. That’s a problem, because poker is all about taking advantage of other people’s mistakes. But when you’re sitting across from someone at a poker table in meatspace, it’s a lot easier to convince yourself they’re really that dumb. You can see the stupid.

Now here’s the non-poker application: a couple weeks ago, I was in a bar when I over heard an argument, with one guy arguing a very woo-ish position. First, he insisted that they still hadn’t found the missing link in human evolution, leading  me to regret that my iPhone doesn’t get 3G coverage in Korea, because I couldn’t show him this picture. I explained this to him, which led him to accuse me of having no idea what I was talking about. But lest you think he was arguing from a Christian fundamentalist perspective, he then switched to claiming there was scientific proof of reincarnation.

Then, best of all–I swear this is a direct quote, since wrote it down almost as soon as I heard it–he said, “What is the best way to control people? Through the media, through the food, and through the water.” This immediately led to me making jokes about “precious bodily fluids,” leading the guy (who apparently had never watched Dr. Strangelove) to respond that this was “well documented information.” Uh huh.

What struck me, though, was how differently I might have reacted had similar claims showed up in a comment on my blog. I might be tempted to say, “wow, what a stupid thing to say,” but I think part of that is a background expectation that people who comment on my blog are going to be fairly smart. Smart enough that it might be worth my while to post a long explanation of why they’re wrong. But in person? I just laughed at the dude. I could see the stupid.

In the future, I think try to follow a policy of before responding to dumb blog comments, imagine that the commenter is just some random person rambling on in a bar. Should make dealing with dumb comments somewhat more entertaining.

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