What Have Stupid People Ever Done to You?

Earlier this week, Bryan Caplan took elites to task for their hatred of the stupid and the ignorant.  He wrote:

Out of all the reactions I’ve heard to Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids, the most disturbing are all variations on “Except stupid people. They shouldn’t have kids.” I could snark, “You mean people like you?,” but that would be dishonest. The latter-day proponents of negative eugenics have reasonably high IQs. But their misanthropy is still morally and economically mistaken.

Morally, I just have to ask the high-IQ misanthrope, “What did stupid people ever do to you?” Their complaints are pretty petty: The dumb kids asked annoying questions in class, made fun of your Star Trek costume, etc. Are these injuries even remotely awful enough to outweigh the fact that a human being gets to exist and enjoy life? In any case, once you reach adulthood, people of all IQs generally leave you alone if you leave them alone. If you want to give your kids a better childhood than you had, use your brains to make some extra money and move to a nicer neighborhood.

Larry of Rust Belt Philosophy put it to his readers as an open discussion question, but it turns out my thoughts on the matter were a little long for a comment, so I’ve decided to do a full blog post.

As I’m sure is unsurprising to anyone who knows me offline, and as may be apparent to online readers, I was not popular in middle/high school.  For a variety of factors (a school where classmates looked at each other as competitors, my semi-Aspergers tendancies, etc), I didn’t just feel alone but profoundly alien.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say I was depressed, since, outside of school I had plenty of wonderful things in my life, but I did feel like my existence and my personality was profoundly off-putting to everyone around me.  Unless I made a profound effort to cover up my enthusiasms, my interests, even the way I spoke, I was intolerable to everyone around me.  And I was sure (after seeing reactions replicated at school, at summer camp, in after school activities) that it would never, never change.

What I was being attacked for was my existence as an intellectual, someone who loved learning and loved sharing what I learned.  Yes, my enthusiasm could be oppressive (the Little Professor Syndrome seems apt), but instead of being encouraged to get better at sharing my passion, I was encouraged to shut up.  The things I loved weren’t appropriate, weren’t what normal people liked.  And I shouldn’t expect anyone to put up with me.

And then, thankfully, I went to CTY.  CTY is a summer camp full of strange, smart, enthusiastic, crazy, creative people.  For the first time, I believed I wasn’t an aberration or a changeling, and that, eventually, my life could get better.  And it has.

But even now, the anti-intellectual ravings of Sarah Palin set my hair on end, and not just because she’s using them to hurt the political causes I support.  Her contempt isn’t just for my beliefs but for my being.  And every time I hear her, I can’t help but remember the students who, perhaps unknowingly, seemed to be urging me to negate myself by hiding every aspect of my personality in public.

The ‘stupid people’ took away my comfort with my own existence.  They left me always a little on edge when I meet new people, concerned that, if they really knew me, they’d find me just as intolerable as I always was.

And I got off pretty easy.

Many LGBT students across the country spend their high school years in a state far worse than isolation.  In Indiana, 15-year-old Billy Lucas killed himself after being savagely bullied for being gay.  Even after his death, anti-gay slurs were still being written on his facebook page.  Billy never got a chance to get away from the stupid people or even wait for them to grow out of their ignorance.

Sex columnist Dan Savage wrote:

Nine out of 10 gay teenagers experience bullying and harassment at school, and gay teens are four times likelier to attempt suicide. Many LGBT kids who do kill themselves live in rural areas, exurbs, and suburban areas, places with no gay organizations or services for queer kids.

“My heart breaks for the pain and torment you went through, Billy Lucas,” a reader wrote after I posted about Billy Lucas to my blog. “I wish I could have told you that things get better.”

I had the same reaction: I wish I could have talked to this kid for five minutes. I wish I could have told Billy that it gets better. I wish I could have told him that, however bad things were, however isolated and alone he was, it gets better.

Dan Savage has set up a new page on YouTube (the It Gets Better Project) for LGBT adults to tell stories of how much different real life can be from high school, to give students like Billy Lucas hope.  I’m very thankful for this project, but, in a better world, it would be unnecessary.  This kind of torment persists because ignorant students are unrestrained or even encouraged in their hatefulness by stupid parents, teachers, and other adults.

That’s why we’re upset, Bryan Caplan.

Dan Savage’s “It Get’s Better” video, hopefully the first of many, is below.

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  • I think the problem here is not stupidity but hate. Don't equate the two. And don't equate stupidity with anti-intellectualism, misinformation, and deliberate ignorance, either. IQ is not itself the problem. It is of course related, but it's not responsible. There are plenty of good, tolerant, unintellectual, unintelligent folks out there. They just don't make the news.

  • NFQ

    I have really vivid memories of one of my friends at CTY breaking down into tears after the last dance one summer, some combination of terrified and heartbroken about having to go back home to real life. I wasn't thrilled either, but clearly she encountered a lot more explicit teasing and bullying than I did. And I've often cited CTY as the reason why I survived middle/high school. It was lonely enough as it was … I don't know how I would have responded if I had no idea that there were smarter people out there.@Christian H: I'm sure there are plenty of good but unintelligent folks. Almost everyone's well-intentioned. The problem is, when you're not smart enough, whether you pick the "good" beliefs and actions or the "bad" ones is really just a matter of luck. And if you know anything about probability, you can extrapolate how likely it is that someone who's barely reached the concrete operational stage comes up with *all* good stuff, every time you roll the dice.I know it sounds elitist. And it kind of is. But at some point, a degree of elitism has to be acceptable when it's true.

  • Aristarchus

    I'm with Christian that some of the stuff you talk about isn't really stupidity. I've seen kids at CTY and similar programs get made fun of pretty badly too – smart kids aren't all super nice (though I think there is a small correlation, at least).I think, though, that you've only really begun to scratch the surface of what harm stupidity does. 🙂 Every little simple daily interaction is made better if the person you're interacting with is smarter. The meetings happen faster, you get the right change, the waiter brings you the right food more frequently… it's just too much to really measure in any clear way.I think the biggest thing, though, is voting. A lot of controversial issues really are questions of values with no clear right answer, but some things are – among those who are reasonably intelligent and study the relevant issue – no brainers. Raising gas taxes and reducing payroll taxes equivalently is just a good idea. Eliminating farm subsidies is just a good idea. The fact that these things get played by politicians to make them politically impossible is just one big testament to how stupid most people are, and things like that have very big, very serious consequences.By the way, the single biggest thing I know of that can be done to raise average intelligence (rather than education) is to prevent fetal alcohol syndrome. It is actually insanely common and results in measurable IQ changes for the population as whole. It's a massive problem that's mostly ignored.

  • The part where you talked about school and CTY could have pretty well been written about my life. As I suspect it could have for many CTYers.