Idiots, or Not Idiots — That is the Question

I got this most interesting letter from a reader:

This is True and your “extra” commentary really exacerbates the conflict I have between my philosophies on the nature of people. This has especially come to light now, as I got behind in my reading of TRUE because I had been out of town A LOT lately. So, I read about 4 or 6 back issues and went to all the extra links, too. First, I have to say, you are a smart man who deserves recognition of your skill to keep the discussions relevant to the points being made. I would get so sidetracked and distracted with all the name calling and personal attacks. You are a big person. My philosophies that are in conflict with one another are whether people are idiots or people are not idiots. I see so much stupidity being perpetrated and perpetuated by people, I think to myself “people are idiots.” Then, I go read your writings and the postings of intelligent people who have responded to your expanded discussions and think to myself “there are a lot of people out there who are not idiots.” And so the battle rages on; one day people are idiots, the next day they are not. I guess reading TRUE and HeroicStories helps me keep the balance between sides, but now I am ever in a state of conflict. Do you have any suggestions on how to end this perpetual, personal, philosophical conflict? If so, would you share them? Thanks for the good work and keeping the pendulum somewhere close to the middle. –Brian, Colorado

Interesting observations, Brian. I could be flip and say most True readers are non-idiots, and most non-readers are idiots, but that would be too flip.

Men racing motorbikes around a flaming pit.
Not everyone featured in True is an idiot. Sometimes they’re just people doing stupid things. (Photo: Domino via Unsplash)

Your problem, I think, is being too general. Some people are indeed “idiots,” but most people aren’t. Luckily, there are indeed enough people doing idiotic things that I have never had a shortage of material, and the moment society makes something “idiot-proof” a bigger idiot steps into the picture.

But one can quite assuredly get a skewed picture of humanity looking only at the idiots, which is why I started HeroicStories in the first place: while True is (mostly) about dumb people doing dumb things, HS (as well as the Honorary Unsubscribe) is mostly about cool people doing cool things that enhance your life.

People are entertained by reading about people who are much dumber than themselves in True, and are enlightened, even inspired, by reading about how absolutely awesome people can be in the Honorary Unsubscribe.

That’s how I keep balanced, anyway!

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I spun HeroicStories off to a new publisher in early 2003, and as of 2023 it is still being published.

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12 Comments on “Idiots, or Not Idiots — That is the Question

  1. I wonder if the writers of “Men In Black” ever realized just how profound that line was: “A PERSON is smart; PEOPLE are stupid.”

  2. A suggestion for Brian: Forget philosophy: take a statistics class.

    Not only will you feel like an idiot when you start, you’ll feel like a genius when you complete it!

    In the process you’ll also realize that within one deviation of the mean intelligence of the population (which can be pretty deviant and mean, even on a good day) is where the majority of us are. But by actually exercising our brains with intellectual debates and philosophical discussions, we on the higher end of the scale help to bring up the average, so the fact that he has a dilemma at all is a good thing. Some of the most important questions about human nature have been raised by people who became uncomfortable with the opinions of the masses.

    Besides, as I tell my children, rest on your ass, not your assumptions.

  3. Just as we each have the potential for good or evil, we have the potential for genius and idiocy. While I can be very smart, I have more often than I like to admit asked myself “What were you thinking?” over some stupid thing I did. We have some control over our status. People are marvelous creations. We have opposite qualities within ourselves, and can do amazing things, both good or bad.

  4. I think the main point here is to keep in mind that the world is full of all kinds. I like the idea of the statistics class. The bell curve shows us that most fall in the middle. Fortunately, those who make the dumbest mistakes fall at the thin end of the curve. UNFORTUNATELY, the smartest, most mature, and creative of us (like Randy) also fall at the thin end of the bell curve (the other end). So, I suppose, to generalize, go easy on the generalizations. But, at times, I can still hear my late father grumbling “People are no damn good”.

  5. Wherever you land on the bell curve, You’re going to have “one of those days” one of these days. I consider myself to be somewhere off the center of the bell curve – in a good way, that is – but every once in a while I do something totally boneheaded and spend the next day or so wondering if maybe I’m losing some marbles. Hey, but I’m not alone. I’m sure Albert Einstein had his bonehead moments, and Helen Thomas, and … well, need I go on.

    We all make mistakes, and sometimes compound a first mistake with a second mistake whilst trying to compensate. I did that yesterday while driving in an unfamiliar neighborhood – wound up driving on the wrong side of a divided roadway for a short distance – fortunately with no traffic coming – no harm done. Now imagine if there were traffic coming! I could have made the pages of “This is True”.

    So yes, some people are habitually boneheaded, and some only rarely. Shtuff happens. We all suffer from the same condition – we’re humans. The brightest of us can be a jackass now and again – without budging one bit on the bell curve.

    Exactly right. If we’re smart we learn from our mistakes. If we’re really smart, we learn from other people’s mistakes. -rc

  6. Hey I don’t mind being glib; I think perhaps that the well known maxim, “The reason that you can never make anything idiot proof is because idiots are so ingenious” applies here or perhaps my own corollary to that “Human beings are infinitely perverse”.

    More seriously I think that given that human beings distribute themselves normally for just about any ability/proclivity you care to name, evil we hope will be balanced by good and stupidity by insightfulness. One thing is guaranteed though – Variety! Which is great for readers of “This Is True”. I love the fact that amongst all the heart breaking foolishness are the wonderful unsubcribes to remind us of those extraordinary individuals who make a difference in a positive way. Thanks Randy.

  7. Why does it seem there are so many idiots? 1) Because we hear so many stories about idiots we overestimate their true numbers. Think “Florida Man” who we hear about because Florida’s public record laws are not as strict as most states. 2) Because we take turns being the idiot. My rule of thumb for driving is “Be careful. There are a lot of idiots out there, and sometimes you are the idiot.” Also, consider Gell-Mann amnesia. This is illustrated by you reading an article in the newspaper regarding a subject on which you are knowledgeable. As you read you realize the reporter has got the basics so wrong the entire article is of no value whatsoever. Then you turn the page and read an article about something you have little knowledge and accept that the reporter knows what they are talking about. The act of turning the page has induced Gell-Mann amnesia, and you gone from not trusting to trusting.

    Your driving rule is absolutely excellent. It’s likely that it applies to everyone. -rc

  8. Heck I’ve read a “This is True” story or two where people did downright Heroic (and very correct) things. I’ve even interviewed a few of those folks post publication so I know for a fact they story was true.

    Yep. TRUE is social commentary using weird news as its vehicle so that it’s fun to read. “Stupid” isn’t part of that description, but it IS often a part of “weird news.” Other times, something can be wacky yet very, very cool, or even heroic. It ends up being a wonderful mix. (For others: John is a retired police dispatcher, so I believe him when he says he’s interviewed some of the story participants!) -rc

  9. There’s a sign on a motorcycle pub wall where a dear friend took me out for my 69th birthday while i was in the midst of chaos due to a couple of stupid decisions I made. It let me know, ‘Life is like a motorcycle: To keep balance, just keep moving!’

  10. and the moment society makes something “idiot-proof” a bigger idiot steps into the picture.

    Or as my dad used to say “It is impossible to make anything fool-proof, as fools are so ingenuous.”

    When you fall over the idiot-edge, stop, recover and have a good laugh at yourself. And hope Randy isn’t around to comment.

    Randy, thanks for all you do to try and keep us sane and laughing.

  11. There are idiots and there are extremely smart people.

    All do things without thinking them through.

    The percentage of things not thought through is higher towards one end of that spectrum and the amount of damage varies the the same manner.


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