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The importance of being an idiot

Updated on July 29, 2012

Everybody manages to be an idiot, at some time. Idiocy is generally defined as making an easily avoidable, usually obvious mistake and doing something obviously stupid. So what’s “important” about it? Too much to ignore, as a matter of fact.

Consider an idiotic person or an idiotic act. Both are considered idiotic for a specific reason, rightly or wrongly. The idiotic person is seen as idiotic simply for their behaviour or things they say. The idiotic act is a stupid thing to do, for whatever reason.

Which leads to a basic issue- Idiotic according to whom? If everybody is able to be an idiot, at some point their own judgment could be idiotic, too. Idiotically describing someone else as an idiot isn’t a totally unknown phenomenon, either.

Could this be important? Given that idiocy is unavoidable, and that other people are able to be idiots, it’s practically an environmental issue. It’s a part of human reality. Therefore idiocy, as a fact of life, is important. It could even be a survival issue.

The conventional argument for idiocy’s place in human life is that people learn to recognize it, even if they don’t seem to learn how to avoid it themselves. In this theory, idiots are a useful warning against doing stupid things. Pity they’re not more successful, but the theory’s logic is reasonable enough.

If you see what’s idiotic about a particular action, or even a basic principle, you could learn something very valuable. This theory, however, breaks down in one area- Recognizing idiocy in oneself. Few people are prepared to consider even the possibility that they might be idiots. They’d certainly prefer not to think so.

That lack of realism, in the light of the fact that everybody is capable of idiocy, could be considered idiotically optimistic. The probability is that anyone, at some point, will be an idiot. The most intelligent, logical people are capable of acts of idiocy which would be beyond most people. They have the mental capacity to think up ways of being idiotic that simply wouldn’t occur to anyone else.

There is one way out of being accused of being an idiot- The problem is that it doesn’t work. In theory, you can claim that you were misled, didn’t really know what you were doing, etc. The dead end for this excuse is that if you were misled, you didn’t check your facts, and if you didn’t know what you were doing, you still did it, while being fully aware of not knowing what you were doing.

Dumb people- by which I mean those who are lacking in normal levels of understanding and basic reasoning powers- can’t be called idiots, in at least one way. For them, making mistakes and doing things which they shouldn’t do is quite normal. It’s what their minds are capable of, and their own nature. They’re not idiots in the same sense that rocks aren’t brain surgeons.

Intelligent people, however, can be called idiots. If they make mistakes and do things they really do know they shouldn’t do, it’s legitimate grounds for being called an idiot. They don’t have any real excuses.

If this is all adding some weight to the idea that being an idiot is important, consider this-

Idiocy comes from within.

You actually have to make a conscious decision of some kind to be an idiot.

You may have misinterpreted something external, or been given the wrong information, but the act of idiocy still involves deciding to do it.

Reassuring, isn’t it? That, to my way of thinking, is the real importance of being an idiot. You must learn to recognize your own idiocy.

If idiotic behaviour has to come from within, that also means it can only be prevented from within. Making a conscious decision not to be an idiot is perhaps not much of a help. The last 5000 years of recorded history tend to suggest that idiocy isn’t usually prevented much, if at all.

It definitely doesn’t help prevent stupidity in people who are convinced they’re geniuses. Few people are capable of the types of idiocy of which those convinced of their own brilliance can achieve. The equation seems to be that the more convinced of their non-idiocy people are, the more likely they are to do something idiotic.

Idiocy is interesting to watch. The irrefutable proof of idiocy to an idiot comes after the idiotic behaviour. They recognize it as idiocy, eventually, even if it may take a few decades. Before they recognize it, however, the idiocy is absolutely normal behaviour. This also means that a dumb person and a highly intelligent person have exactly the same basic behaviours.

Most of the “smartest guys in the room” in finance usually wind up in jail. Politicians and policy makers aren’t famous for their lack of self-esteem, either, and they’re routinely responsible for destroying entire nations with actions based entirely on their own judgement. These people are extremely unlikely to admit the possibility of their being idiots in any form.

The fact that they probably wouldn’t even understand why the subject of the possibility of their being idiots was important just might be a clue. Yes, it’s important to recognize the importance of being an idiot. In the search for self, it might just be the most important find of all.


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    • Paul Wallis profile imageAUTHOR

      Paul Wallis 

      6 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      jainismus, it's either part of the perfection process, a sort of built-in editor, or such a basic fact, staring humanity in the face that it's part of the very early learning phase. Learning to recognize idiocy in oneself could perhaps be the most fundamental of all forms of self-development.

    • Paul Wallis profile imageAUTHOR

      Paul Wallis 

      6 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      hubsy- One of the reasons I didn't add anything or set a context to the bit about same behaviour of the intelligent and the dumb was that it's really a matter of degree of separation. The dumb don't deliberately try to be dumb, and at least some of the highly intelligent people do set out to be clever, but wind up with the same result. The common factor is the key.

    • jainismus profile image

      Mahaveer Sanglikar 

      6 years ago from Pune, India

      True and interesting. I think that idiocy is a step towards perfectness.

    • hubsy profile image


      6 years ago

      Idiocy is rarely committed on purpose. One never sets out upon the goal of being idiotic, however, it's also true that often when trying to be reasonable, it comes accross as idiotic because of the context or situation.

    • Paul Wallis profile imageAUTHOR

      Paul Wallis 

      6 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      Bob, I can honestly say I wish I wasn't quite so well educated.

    • Paul Wallis profile imageAUTHOR

      Paul Wallis 

      6 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      brackenb- My instinct these days is to be very worried when I think I'm being reasonable. Much good it does me, but I do it anyway.

    • Bob Ewing profile image

      Bob Ewing 

      6 years ago from New Brunswick

      Acts of idiocy can be acts of learning and we do need to learn.

    • brackenb profile image


      6 years ago

      How true - I must admit to various acts of idiocy over the years which seemed perfectly reasonable at the time!


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