From a purely scientific view, I supposedly have above-average intelligence. I know, I know – I’m kinda surprised too. But if you look at my standardized test scores and whatnot, it’s official: I’m like, really smart.
Sadly, though, being smart doesn’t offer any guarantees of acting smart.
Even the most brilliant person has an occasional dumb moment. I remember in the early days of my first job, I walked in the break room to a waterfall of coffee making a lake on the floor. I yelled, “OMG! What IDIOT brewed coffee without the pot!!!” A PhD partner – one of the smartest guys I’ve ever met – poked his head around the corner, gasped at his creation, and said, rather shamefacedly, “That would be me.” It was a fine moment for both of us.
I think we can forgive anyone’s momentary oversight, though. What worries me more nowadays is how an otherwise clever person can adopt a whole set of beliefs that power an industrial production line of stupidity.
And I myself can provide your cautionary tale.
You see, despite my big brain, I went through a long period of my life when I ignored common sense and had a set of beliefs that defied all logic.
For several years, I was a huge fan of professional wrestling.
And when I saw I was a fan, I don’t mean that I enjoyed the athletic spectacle and the soap-opera drama and used it for some escapist entertainment. I mean that I BELIEVED. I lived and breathed the “sport”, and, ignoring all evidence to the contrary, I thought it was 100% real.
I grew up with the Dallas-based World Class Championship Wrestling. My brother and I watched it religiously every weekend. How into it was I? Well, I had a framed, autographed picture of Kerry Von Erich and his dog Bo in my room. I tried to use the Iron Claw on all of my friends from the 4th to 6th grade (it never really worked for me, prolly ‘cause I lacked Von Erich levels of hand strength…). When Fritz Von Erich was “blinded” by The Great Kabuki spitting green mist in his eyes (still one of the best bits ever), I wanted my parents to call the police.
My parents weren’t very impressed with my pro wrestling fandom. In a scene I can empathize with all too much nowadays, they watched with considerable concern as their supposedly gifted and talented son sat slack-jawed, transfixed by bad acting and laughable action.
At first, they tried to reason with me and explain that it was not real. They used things like “facts” and “logic”. That went over quite poorly. Their opposition was clearly a call to strengthen my resolve and to shore up my defense of this amazing combat sport.
So most of the fights look staged, most of the punches and kicks don’t even connect, and in a real fight people might not run across the ring into the ropes to build momentum?
Well, whatabout that time that Bruiser Brody got hit and blood was streaming down his face? Huh? Whatabout that?
I didn’t need to equal the scales; I just needed a single example to counter the mountain of evidence they cited. It’s not like I’d done a careful analysis and was just one or two facts away from changing my mind.
Deep down, I’m sure I knew there was something a bit off, but there’s a good reason that I didn’t explore my doubts: I didn’t want to! It was fun to believe. It was awesome to see my parents shake their heads in consternation. I really enjoyed people’s exasperation when they tried and failed to convince me it was fake.
Because my parents were wise, they didn’t force the issue and stopped trying to convince me. My dad, in his candidacy for best dad ever, even took my brother and me to the Sportatorium to watch it live.
I don’t know the exact day, but eventually I decided not only that pro wrestling was not real, but also that it was ridiculous. My brain worked at its own pace, but at some point, the missed hits, the repeating storylines, and the bad acting made something click. And when it did, I was done. ‘Cause with pro wrestling, you’re either in or out. There is no middle ground.
While I’m not terribly proud of my years of pro wrestling fandom, I am thankful for them. They’re a good reminder, when I’m feeling clever and cocky, that maybe I need to tap the brakes.
Wait A Minute…This Isn’t About Pro Wrestling, Is It?
We humans often fashion ourselves as rational creatures of logic and facts, but we can be seriously prone to error. Not because we’re ignorant or stupid (though those help too), but because we want to be.
While the idea that professional wrestling is 100% real is pretty foolish, it’s small beans compared to many of the crazy ideas that are embraced by thousands or even millions nowadays.
A modern factor that makes things worse is easy access to like-minded fools. A person with stupid ideas used to just be the village idiot; now they’re the respected moderator of a 50,000 member Facebook group. For many people, solidarity is a perfectly acceptable substitute for intelligence.
It’s tempting to write off folks who are embracing dumb ideas as being dumb themselves, but I’m (hopefully) proof that’s not always the case.
It’s also really tempting to want to fight such stupidity head on, especially if it’s causing real problems and hurting people. But take it from my parents: it’s not going to work. People holding beliefs that defy facts and logic aren’t anxiously waiting for you to show up and supply the facts and logic to change their minds.
So what is the right response when confronted with embedded illogic? Patience certainly helps. My parents let me have the time I needed to figure out how silly I was, and it served my vanity that I got there myself. Patience may not always work, but impatience almost never will.
And humor, as in most things, is a super weapon. While watching pro wrestling, if something truly ridiculous happened and my mom was in the room, she would try and fail to stifle a giggle. Those giggles bit hard, and, far more than any argument, started to sow seeds of doubt. Call me an idiot and I’ll fight you tooth and nail; laugh in your sleeve at me, and I’ll start to question myself.
So if it feels like the world is embracing stupidity on an epic scale, don’t rage or pull your hair out or demand, “How can you possibly believe that???” That’s what they want. Be patient, shrug your shoulders, and laugh at them a little – it’ll be good for you and them 🙂