The power of stupidity?

Hi all,

I found an interesting set of papers by Giancarlo Livraghi on human stupidity and an effort to rationalize and understand it. he hasnt bothered to defines stupidity for reasons he gives. And I found it quite funny too - well written. Dunno if this has been discussed here before though.

Check it out at:

There are a couple of followups to the page (same author) and the links are on the site. They’re called “The power of stupidity part 2” and “The stupidity of power”. Do pay the site a visit and tell me what you think…

I have to say it made me laugh when I read the essay. Although, my suspicion about topics like this—what would you call it, unconventional book topic—has always been that a lot of times, it is hardly scientific or well researched and so they provide examples that are dubious or exaggerated to make a point, like the one below:

One of the many examples of stupidity is that intrigue and powermongering are called “machiavellian”. Obviously nobody has read his books, as that is not what old Niccolò meant.

Actually, in my academic experience, those who have read the book of The Prince are responsible enough to know what’s in the book or what isn’t said. Those who I know haven’t heard of or read the book, don’t say anything at all.

Yeah, it sure was funny…

Yes Marie, I agree that it may not be really well researched, and that does take a bit of the credibility out of it. However, to call it an unconventional book topic is to perhaps hold a prejudice. Though Im not saying that such prejudices are wrong - they help further greater validities; openmindedness is a requisite for reading stuff like this. Avant garde openmindedness like Livraghi displays is necessary for widening our mental horizons and the field of mental possibilities.

In the essay he does seem irrevocably subjective and full of himself, but that can’t be wrong, because I believe that we can’t truly express something impersonally, when it requires analysis from only our viewpoint. That is another reason I detest the concept of perfection (non-cynically), but that is after all another debate.

However, is “stupid” subjective? Do we judge people based only on our decisive games or do we judge them based on perceptive fallouts of our previous successes and failures (legacies, so to say)?

I knew that “machiavellian” gave the import of cunning control, but the dictionary definition says:

1. of, like, or befitting Machiavelli.
2. being or acting in accordance with the principles of government analyzed in Machiavelli’s The Prince, in which political expediency is placed above morality and the use of craft and deceit to maintain the authority and carry out the policies of a ruler is described.
3. characterized by subtle or unscrupulous cunning, deception, expediency, or dishonesty: He resorted to Machiavellian tactics in order to get ahead.

Livraghi’s view of the world seems cynical. He seems to scorn at the existing shibboleths and believes sincerely that people who follow the “crowd” are “stupid”. He may be wary of this same thing at another level though.

What I wanted also was your opinion on the laws he frames by the end of that essay. What did you think of them? Unarguable and hence difficult to refute, or are they refutable?

Livraghi’s corollary:

First Corollary:
In each of us there is a factor of stupidity, which is always larger than we suppose

I can believe this. I have always believed that there are only two things in this world that are infinite—stupidity and greed. And it turned out these things are ones relevant in Cipolla’s theory. I wasn’t surprised, though.

Second Corollary:
When the stupidity of one person combines with the stupidity of others, the impact grows geometrically – i.e. by multiplication, not addition, of the individual stupidity factors

There is certainly some empirical evidence that could support this. Many years ago, there was a crime in New York where a woman was being beaten by a stranger in the alley surrounded by apartments. Obviously, this was a working class neighborhood and correlatively, where many stupid people lived. She yelled and screamed for help—it was nighttime and some of the residents opened their windows and looked down to see what was happening. They watched and did nothing. No one called the police nor got down to help her. She died later. Upon investigation, the police found out the reasons why the residents did not help her. These are their reasons: 1) I thought they were lovers fighting with each other, 2) I thought somebody else had telephoned the police already, so I did not bother, 3) I thought that they would eventually stop, 4) I did not want to get into other people’s business. DUH!!!
This stupidity was real and became one of the known cases used in psychology to study behavior of people—make that stupidity of people.

Third corollary:
The combination of intelligence in different people has less impact than the combination of stupidity, because (Cipolla’s Fourth Law) “non-stupid people always underestimate the damaging power of stupid people”

The combination of intelligence in different people I think could make as much damage as that of stupid people. Take the 9/11-terrorist attack in New York. The CIA and the FIB are what we usually call intelligent people—Hey! Central Intelligence Agency!!! The word is even in their name. But what happened? Please explain this discrepancy. They combined and lo and behold!!!

Hi, and sorry for the late post.

I found your examples interesting. I sympathize with the NYC victim but it must be said that our social systems leave much room for thinking like that on the part of those who were spectators to the incident. The rules of today’s society infuse no common good or no sense of helping self and others. This is the reason why a complacence towards helping society extends itself towards a complacence towatds helping oneself. Its just that we are not immediately knowledgeable about the impact which other events seemingly unrelated to us will have upon us, because we are part of this society and will depend on this or some other society for our living.

I think these early lessons are easily forgotten in most people.

The combination of intelligence and stupidity exists in the same system because of the information they have to make decisions, but this is ofcourse assuming that they both have the same initial abilities. Interesting point.

thanks i’ll link that page to my website:

Didn’t Einstein say something, I forget the actual quote but the gist is, ‘the difference between stupidity and genius is that genius has its limits?’

I have to disagree with that. You can’t compare the two because the opposite of stupidity is wisdom and not genius. Very genius people can make very stupid mistakes because they are not wise, experience-wise. Besides, genius cannot have limits or we’d know in all it’s entirety the meaning and purpose of life and understand this universe and why we can’t travel it far and wide and everything else. Ah! Ha! Does it mean that because genius is infinite or has no limits, we can never understand this life and universe fully? No! I’ll never forgive God if that is true, I need to know everything. :smiley:

Yes what Einstien was trying to say was that genius has its limits, but stupidity does not. I think I agree with the general idea he is trying to present. Basically what he meant was that genius (though I would have referred to it as intelligence) is a conscious effort to have a positive effect on self and society, and as a result has control over a certain finite number of things which it usually monitors and controls. While stupidity does not need to think. This means that as many conflicting things can happen in something stupidly attempted, as compared to when someone with some thinking ability attempts it.

This is not to say that stupid people do not think - rather, like you have said - stupid people exist amongst all hierarchies of intellectual and non-intellectual establishments to the same degrees, but stupid people tend to influence key decisions by non-thinking decision making. That is what I think he was trying to imply.

As for epistemological thinking, it is difficult to disprove. I admit that I find more romance in what we don’t know, as long as it is bound to be that way. But thats a subjective assessment.

And Ive heard of no rational explanation to why there must be a reason for man to know everything. Maybe at some level, information forces uncointrollability on us. The universe, however, is vast enough as it is, and we will spend time trying to understand a lot many things…

Really? Boy oh! Boy! I agree with you totally on the fact that stupid people may go a long way in the decision influencing process whereas the genius may not have as much of a say. However, if stupidity does not have limits then wisdom cannot have limits either, it’s a fact of life. But if genius figures in this wisdom somehow I don’t know. I do sense this much, if genius is infinite then we’ll never know everything about the universe and life. But wait a minute, who is to say that we need genius for that, perhaps we don’t, perhaps we only need wisdom. But then wisdom is also infinite. I give up! :cry:

Well Beena, what i had in mind was my interpretation of the paper and its context in Einstien’s quote. Livraghi did say that stupidity doesnt need to think in order to act. It is with that idea that I said that there are no limits to what one can influence if one is stupid - for the simple reason that he/she does not need to think before doing something…while the intelligent ones think before they act. So in a given situation, an intelligent incapable person may not act, but a stupid person will act and cause harm to both himself/herself and to whats in it for the rest. This is what he means I think

You had just said in the other post that genius is not the opposite of stupidity so Wisdom and intelligence, you meant I think, in teh place of genius.

Livraghi also says that he never attempted to define genius, and he decided that stupidity didnt have a good definition either. Please refer the subsequent links from his paper.

Wisdom to me seems to be the same as intelligence, you could probably point out to me how they are different…

Is wisdom a characteristic of a person, intelligence being just a capacity of the person? Is it i this sense that you mean it?


I got the jist of what you were saying but just didn’t mention it 'cause you made it so obvious in a simple way and so I assumed that you would understand.

Here it is - You are saying that when EInstein said that, he meant that, when a situation calls for action the stupid will act without thinking and were the genius to act without thinking, think of what a blunder that would be. Therefore, Einstein said it is a blessing that, ‘where stupidity had no limits, genius did.’ Okay? I got it, just didn’t mention it you know.

And wisdom is not the same as intelligence. You can be very intelligent but can’t you still make a very stupid mistake? In this sense you are still intelligent but un-wise (just for that situation). Wisdom comes from experience, intelligence does not.

Okay I thought about the two terms and maybe there is a better definition of intelligence than genius and hence we enter the murky realms of definition when we’re talking about genius. I think we may be embarking on to a debate of language and linguistic concepts.

Please read this:

Carlo Cipolla says that at whatever level of human society we take the study up, the ratio of ‘stupid’ people to the total number of people in that hierarchy is the same as that in other hierarchies. So it doesnt matter whether the person in question is a genius in the field of quantum physics and there is a fire in the lab when he has to alert the right people, failing to do so in a lapse of considering some information on his part is certainly stupid. I think that was clear in my mind from the beginning, apologies if I have given you any other impression.

I am not under the impression that intelligence is inborn, I am of the opinion that intelligent thought is learned and is experiece to put it in a terminology, but admittedly a limited and different sort of experience, early in our childhood.

Wisdom comes from conditioning and astuteness, I think. Intelligence is a prerequisite to wisdom if you ask me.

Is there any possiblitiy that un-learning intelligent thought could be the key to wisdom? Lots of intelligent people who don’t appear to have collected much wisdom. :unamused:


" A stupid person is someone who causes damage to another person, or a group of people, without any advantage accruing to himself (or herself) – or even with some resultantself-damage.
But stupid people don’t know they are stupid, and that is one more reason why they are extremely dangerous.
Which of course leads me back to my original, agonizing
question: am I stupid?
I have passed several IQ tests with good marks. Unfortunately, I know how these tests work and that they don’t proveanything.
Several people have told me I am intelligent. But that doesn’t prove anything, either. They may simply be too kind to tell me the truth. Conversely, they could be attempting to use my stupidity for their own advantage. Or they could be just as stupid as I am.
I am left with one little glimpse of hope: quite often, I m
intensely aware of how stupid I am (or have been). And
indicates that I am not completely stupid. "

The quote above is the key to understanding.
All the posts preceding are basd upon the assumption that none of the correspondents are stupid.
How can we knpw?

Stupidity may not have been discovered by someone who has unlearned intelligence. In fact, I think that anyone who understands stupidity is necessarily intelligent, when it comes to understanding stupidity. However, they may be stupid in another situation. This is why I gave the example of a scientist in a lab fire. He may be incredibly clever at doing things which laymen may try in his field and benefit mankind (or his society, in general) overall, but he might be at a loss in such a situational. It then follows that there is no one form of intelligence, and intelligence is entirely situation dependent.

But yes, I couldnt conclusively say that unlearning intelligent thought is the key to wisdom. It may be, if intelligence fosters in us traits which are conflicting to wisdom. I can imagine if the scientist gained wisdom at some point from his experiences, and knew how to act. I cannot imagine how he’d do that by shunning all intelligent thoughts of his.

Yarrum: it seems to work both ways. No one can underestimate the stupidity in oneself or others. You have a point, and in the larger case, our discussion may be irrelevant indeed.

But I think since we have a fair definition in front of us we should try to use that definition - collective mutual gain indicates intelligence and collective mutual loss indicates stupidity. If we were to analyse and understand this thread for what it has given us, then that would perhaps be a fair estimate of how intelligent or stupid this has been.

Also if in a dangerous situation, this discussion suddenly happens to come to your mind and you then happen to do the right and practical things and guard against misinformation and stupidity, and do all the practical things to set things right, you have certainly gained, and so have others. So mutual gain was benefited from this discussion, and hence the discussion was an intelligent ploy.

It is immaterial that the individuals in the discussion are stupid. What matters is the outcome, I think. What may seem intelligent to do in a fire in a mall - run out in an “every-man-for-himself”, without analyzing the situation, may actually be bandit behaviour or rather stupid. The solution to the problem may have been very simple and someone else may have helped out - in which case you stand to lose because the premise for personal gain in escaping the fire was lost because of a more intelligent effort. So it is sometimes worth staying on and fixing the problem. So inspite of the bandit behaviour on the part of some and some hapless people stuck in the fire, there are intelligent ones who find a solution to the problem.

Could you please explain to me what you mean by, “un-learning intelligent thought?” I don’t know exactly what you are saying or implying. How can you un-learn a thought or intelligent thought? Also, can you please complete your second sentence 'cause to me it seems incomplete. Like are you saying that, “[There are] Lots of intelligent people who don’t appear to have collected much wisdom?”

My comment about un-learning intelligent thought was a tongue-in-cheek observation that intelligent thought may impede or obscure that which is wisdom. Too many people of intelligence seem oblivious to the fact that their precepts are controlling their percepts and proceed to act in ways contrary to their obdurate reality. Stupidity may not be the result of a lack of intelligent thought. Indeed, intelligent thinking may be one of the causes of stupidity.

It is possible that wisdom comes from seeing directly, without pre-conceived ideas (intelligent thinking), and then acting accordingly.

I apologize for the incomplete sentence. I sometimes type what I’m thinking - and I don’t always think in complete sentences.


No, intelligent thinking cannot cause stupidity, but stupidity or lack of wisdom, lack of experience, lack of knowledge or just plain frustration can cause a stupid mistake and this could lead to a brilliant discovery. You know that guy who threw that magnet in the wires in frustration, well, he got a deflection when the magnet landed in between the wires, he wasn’t getting it otherwise and all this was because of his frustration or stupidity.

Guys! If any one of you has the guts to make the MOST STUPID MISTAKE in the universe, you will discover the ultimate TRUTH. Be daring guys, it’s the only way to get to the ultimate truth. I am not kidding at all. Who dares to make a mistake like that? I think I’m beginning to understand God a little bit.

Einstein said that, ‘stupidity has no limits but genius did,’ and I thought how is that possible? If stupidity is infinite then wisdom and genius have to be infinite too. And so the most stupid mistake should bring us the greatest gift of all. Do you see the power of stupidity now? Would some of you like to be called stupid now my dears or would you still find that an insult? :smiley:

P.S. Now don’t go and deliberately start to make mistakes in life guys, the mistake has to be a mistake nothing deliberate. Jeez! I’ll never forgive God!