On Stupidity

The rulers of the world have always been stupid, but they have not been as powerful in the past as they are now.
        Bertrand Russell, 1958 (BRWTD)

Unfortunately, Russell did not clarify what he meant by the term stupid. However, he offered a possible solution, saying, “It is important to find some way of securing that rulers shall be intelligent.” (BRWTD)

Thus, we can conclude that Russell intended to say world leaders always have or display a lack of intelligence or common sense.

Contemporary philosophical writers use stupid with a different meaning. Stupid doesn’t mean unintelligent or even uninformed. Eric Voegelin suggested that being stupid is a loss of reality. (cited in KGTTF) Garret Keizer expanded Voegelin’s definition to . (KGTTF) However, in the case of world leaders, we can extend Keizer’s suggestion to include the survival of groups or even a nation.

As a lifelong skeptic, I tried to find evidence to support or disprove Russell’s assertion, but my search produced nothing. Thus, I accept it as stated regarding the current American leadership. Since all American leaders have had a college education, I assume they have at least average intelligence or possibly more.

There is one caveat. Modern governments are complex. They administer the military, the national economy, health services, pensions, and many other aspects of contemporary society.

No matter how intelligent the leader is, having an expert understanding of all aspects of government is impossible. The result is that the leader depends upon expert advice in numerous fields. Therein lies the problem.

Stupid leaders live in a bubble that excludes the reality of the world in all its aspects. Remember that the advisors depend on the leader’s goodwill to maintain their position and income. The leader believes that his / her opinion is correct. Therefore, the advisors give opinions that support, not contradict, the leader’s predetermined opinion.

No matter how irrational the leader’s decision is, it is always accepted as correct since the decision is supported by expert opinion. In other words, government leaders are characterized by unerring stupidity.

The result is that a nation ruled by an unerring stupid ruler is led down a dark tunnel and ultimately fails. Look at what happened to recent empires: France, Britain, the Soviet Union, and now American hegemonic aspirations.

Works Cited

BRWTD    Russell, Bertrand. The Will to Doubt.

Welcome Rain Publishers, 2014. p57.

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