Escape From Stupidity
June 18, 2022
Dear CSSW Families, Staff and Friends,
At the successful conclusion of the 2021-22 school year, I am pleased to recognize this year’s graduates as they start the next chapter of their journey. As our society has become ever more complex and confusing, please allow me to impart some parting observations that may be useful in everyday life, especially for young adults.
The word “stupidity” is typically used as a pejorative, as an insult. But what if we take this thought seriously and propose stupidity as a valid concept, a tendency inherent in the human mind? When one ascribes stupidity to a stranger or to people in general, it is a form of arrogance expressing contempt. But when we advise a friend or someone we care about that they are being stupid, it is more an expression of concern, a warning to discontinue a particular path of thought or action. In this context, stupidity is transformed – not as an absence of thinking – but as a previously unrecognized form of defense.
Using a more nuanced register, stupidity is not ignorance; instead it describes a state of being struck dumb or stupefied. We become stupid when we fail to take responsibility for our ignorance or recklessness, and reflexively blame the situation on some other agent. Passively embracing our ignorance and thoughtlessness is the failure that truly constitutes falling into a state of stupidity.
The way to escape from stupidity is, as I now suggest, is the emergence of the affect of shame. When I become ashamed of my stupidity, I am already engaged in the process of overcoming it. To be truly stupid is to be unashamed of one’s stupidity, to relinquish the fight for intelligent, mature thought.
Acknowledging our shortcomings is the crucial first step in breaking the repetition compulsion that typically results in new editions of old and fixed experience patterns. The compulsion to repeat fixed patterns of thought and behavior is a lesson that each generation of young adults must learn again each time. This is how one might escape from stupidity.
At times, the future is so uncertain that the highest priority for a young adult is to stay focused on his or her objectives and to avoid major misjudgments that can severely damage one’s future prospects. Thus it become imperative to become more resilient and less fragile in the face of life’s inevitable setbacks. Popularized by Nassim Taleb, an anti-fragile position resists shocks, remains resilient and may even prosper in times of chaos. The guiding principal in this life philosophy is to recognize the various sources of fragility: occupations vulnerable to technological change, unstable or dysfunctional relationships, excessive personal debt, and impulsive or emotional decision-making. Measuring a full spectrum of resilience is essential to an individual’s capacity to withstand crisis and other compounding shocks that result in loss of satisfaction and flexibility.
Finally, as you sail off into a wild and unpredictable future, it pays to filter out the unremitting cacophony generated by our omnipresent social media culture. Pay less attention to what other people say, more to what they do, and to how invested they are in your future success.
On behalf of the CSSW Board of Directors and Staff, we wish you all the best.
F. J. Chu