Somewhere in the world of the internet, I found an article in which someone made the statement that 50% of Americans are stupid. I try to avoid the word, because I don’t think of it as a scientifically certifiable condition. It is more frequently used as an epithet to demean someone who disagrees with us in politics, religion, and organized team sports. Also, the people who comment on an article like that may not include the opinions of Americans who spend less time commenting on social media.
The fallacy of usage is in our inability to differentiate when it is directed at a fellow human, rather than at a “pointless or worthless” idea, statement, or action derived from a single error in judgment or a strongly held prejudice or harmful ideology. I find no moral justification for using the word in reference to a person.
I heard a story of a prominent psychologist who was unable to start his car in the parking lot of the mental institution at which he worked. One of the patients watched as he repeatedly turned his key with no success at ignition. The patient approached the car and asked him to unlock the hood. After some time in diagnosis and undefined activity, he said, “Now, try it.” The doctor thanked him as he was about to drive away, and expressed some surprise at the mechanical skills of the patient, who replied, “I’m here because I’m crazy, not because I’m stupid.”
In our political correctness, we limited our defamatory language to adults in public life and positions of prominence who appear to be “in a dazed or stunned state.” While it may have some degree of accuracy, the word often loses its validity in the ensuing dialogue between individuals with similar incoherent verbal skills.
In the field of education we sometimes use the designations “failing schools or failing students.” Our State Legislature targets inner city or remotely rural school districts designated within the lowest 5% based on standardized tests. One of the definitions of stupid is “slow to learn or understand.” This label has no place in the discussion of the merit of standardized tests, which measure a percentage of correct recall of information on specific subject material. Nor should it be part of the evaluation of the educators employed by one of those school districts.
Nobody would suggest that we are born stupid, but we all agree that the acquisition of intelligence is incremental, and over our lifetime is also cyclical. Having forgotten is very similar to not knowing, but more likely to be forgiven by your spouse and children. Also, intelligence is inversely proportional to the infusion of misinformation. This might come from network television, religious fanatics, a crazy relative, or conditioned resistance to new information or innovative ideas.
Intellect refers to the ability to “learn, reason, and understand.” We like to believe we teach all three skills in public schools. I remember a time when, “reading, writing, and arithmetic” were the measurable factors that defined public education. Success was measured by our need to learn what we needed to know in order to succeed at what we were destined to do in life.
Intellect is not easy to measure. It includes pragmatic skills essential for career objectives and economic success, and also has contemplative or aesthetic value. We tend to assign disproportional value to the information or belief system which validates our worldview. We still have a distrust of abstract or philosophical thought, or exploring “what we think about the things we don’t think about.”