It's a Guy Thing

The utter GENIUS of stupidity

Who hasn’t watched the classic Farrelly brothers comedy ‘Dumb and Dumber’ without wishing they had worn incontinence pants? Observing the idiocy of others at close quarters whilst sitting comfortably in isolated judgment provides our egos with the propellant necessary to literally laugh out loud! Yet is stupidity, arguably a compelling human trait if based on my own life experiences, reserved just for comic relief? Or is it in fact a superpower that we should all learn to respect, and exploit the resultant fall out to its utmost? In 1928, returning from a fortnight’s holiday a bacteriologist realized that he had foolishly allowed mold to contaminate a staphylococcus culture plate. Sir Alexander Fleming’s stupidity changed the course of medicine and the resultant discovery of penicillin has probably given you the opportunity to read this piece and for me to write it. As an inquisitive kid when I unscrewed the component parts of my bedside lamp and connected the two exposed wires, culminating in a brilliant white flash, fusing the house, and propelling my flailing body to the opposite side of the room where my head acted as a buffer, maybe it was a sign of future scientific greatness? Or before repainting the garage door a few years later as a paid errand, daubing a derogatory comment about my sister that could still be seen at sunset despite being entombed in four layers of gloss was in some way preparing me for later literary fame? 

Maybe not at that moment since I was still embracing stupidity without any tangible benefits until much, much later into my life. For example, as a teenager inserting my middle name, Jeffrey, in the block marked ‘center name’ on all of my secondary school exam papers. Then there was the time when as a police officer protecting a night-time crime scene, I needed to take a piss and broke a rib in the process. In the flickering light of the torched stolen car, I retreated ever so slightly into the adjacent wooded area, unzipped, and promptly fell headfirst into a ditch lodging my aircraft aluminum baton firmly into my ribcage. But before I could really reach a satisfactory conclusion on the potential of stupidity as a route to latent genius I was curious to discover if any of my friends had experienced similar bouts of stupidity. And what better way than to harness the foolishness of two young Harvard University buddies who conceived a classmate rating game that identified those that were hot and those that were not? Whatever became of ‘Facemash’? Ah yes, the birth of Facebook which last year generated revenues of $18.7 billion. 

As the dumb disclosures from my Facebook chums rolled in I was struck with a couple of immediate thoughts. Firstly, many reminded me that I had done the same, and I wondered if there were a set of preordained rites of passage. Secondly, I was reassured that I wasn’t as unique as I had first thought. Yet, at the end of the chronicled list, I did wonder how the fuck had humanity become the dominant species? 

One friend reminded me of the fascination of car cigarette lighters. Even in the face of dire warnings from her Dad she still felt compelled to touch the red glow. Ditto. I did this too, albeit I didn’t think it was working at the time, and ended up branding my thumb with the letter ‘C’. 

Technology was the focal point when another chum, in her forties, placed a block of butter wrapped in foil in the microwave and recreated Krakatoa, East of Java (although contrary to the 1968 film it was actually West of the Indonesian island). During a metalwork lesson, another decided to give up on a potential engineering career when they firmly held a steel block and drilled into it. She discovered a couple of important life lessons: centrifugal force can often be demonic in nature and human flesh is hard to locate on a classroom floor. 

When a chum says, ‘a friend of mine did this’ you know that it was them. Nonetheless, their speech didn’t appear to be impeded even though they had decided to lick the inside of a freezer section and lost a serious outer raft of tongue (I am unsure if this episode was pre or post ‘Dumb and Dumber’). Equally, ‘a cousin’ sprayed themselves with light cooking oil when residing in cold middle England, presumably thinking that coupled with the lack of Hawaiian sun this spark of stupidity would nevertheless result in a welcome tan. It didn’t and she smelt like an industrial deep fat fryer for a week or two. 

With the classic Shania Twain song reverberating in the background of my mind, I was smiling at these acts of utter stupidity but wanted to be impressed. Was there some hardcore idiocy out there? An act of crass bonkers that would bewilder and bamboozle? Of course, there was. Having passed his driving test a matter of weeks earlier in a British Leyland 1275GT Mini my friend, who in order to save his blushes I will call Lloyd Christmas (after the Jim Carey character in our signature film), was recruited as a cash-in-transit guard in the vital role of driver. So far so good. However, the armored trucks were about four times as big and eight times the weight of his beloved Mini. Everything was going well until he lurched across a roundabout in downtown Wimbledon, a suburb of London, clipping the central curb and completely tipping the fully laden truck containing the equivalent of the Gross Domestic Product of a southern Pacific Ocean island state across the carriageway. Although he and his mate were uninjured a major police incident was declared, and armed officers protected the cargo whilst two requisitioned London buses protected the scene. Take a bow Lloyd, that was fucking awesomely stupid! Although on reflection the employer must have been barking mad too! 

After a long car journey across the United Kingdom with caravan in tow, our fifty-year-old pillar of society was in serious need of a pee. The convenience of the chemical loo was literally a short dash once the handbrake was on. Hopping into the cubicle and commencing the pre-piss dance as he wrestled with the cord around his tracksuit bottoms the vigorous yanking simply knotted the cord preventing the release of his old man. The chilly air only encouraged the bladder to yield its contents and, after a short delay easily, overcame the pinched foreskin which had blown to a party balloon size. The resultant flow followed the rule of physics and gravity led the stream initially down his legs, filling his new training shoes before settling on the floor of the caravan. 

My fieldwork was sufficient to comprehensively deduce that on the whole stupidity is a natural human characteristic. However, those willing to fess up to acts of utter folly, including me, are not obvious dribbling buffoons. Quite the contrary since all of them are successful in many fields of endeavor. So, is stupidity a necessary companion of genius? The Yin and Yang? The dark matter that holds everything together? Or as a fully paid-up member of the twat club was I simply trying to validate my daft, and consistent, behavior? I decided that I needed to consult the scientific community in an attempt to eke out a better understanding before my next bout of ground-breaking irrationality. 

Contrary to popular belief, often propagated by conventional education and reinforced in mainstream media especially when experts are called in to intellectually joust with each other, rational thought patterns aren’t necessarily our primary default position. Collective research, by amongst others Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel Laureate and professor of psychology at Princeton University, and Professor Shane Frederick of the Yale School of Management underlines this status proposing that when some of us are faced with ambiguous circumstances an inherent quest to be lazy kicks in. Information is not rationally assessed, and there can be an inclination to take swift mental shortcuts thereby heightening the frequency of stupid choices. So perhaps the calm before the storm of my moments of ‘Dumb and Dumber’ eloquence correspond to moments of uncertainty? That may be a plausible explanation, a get out of jail card that may marginally reduce the feeling of being a dullard. But are there any potential upsides? 

Surprisingly and rather reassuringly a recent study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology provides the answer I have been looking for since I became able to inflict my own brand of stupidity on the world around me. Professors Richard West (James Madison University) and Keith Stanovich (University of Toronto) suggest that brighter people are far more susceptible to errant thinking, the main rocket fuel for us committed cretins. The academic enquiry contained the following poser, mailed to nearly five hundred undergraduates (have a go before moving on): In a lake, there is a patch of lily pads. Every day, the patch doubles in size. If it takes 48 days for the patch to cover the entire lake, how long would it take for the patch to cover half of the lake? 

If, like me, your crazy lazy brain took a beeline to the bleeding obvious you may have deduced, incorrectly, that the answer is simply dividing the number of days by two to reach twenty-four. That would be incorrect. Just slow down and think this one through again since the answer is forty-seven days. A ‘blind spot’ of this magnitude may tend to suggest that flawed thinking is somewhat dangerous, and I am in agreement that it would be if I were, for example, a landscape gardener quoting for an ornamental lake job. However, the triangulated research asserted that more cognitively sophisticated participants showed a larger preference for blind spot thinking indicating that smarter people were slightly more vulnerable to common mental mistakes. Bottom line if you want creativity, potential for brilliance and a return on investment employ a nutter. Maybe the security company was a little too quick to bring Lloyd’s employment to an end. Who knows? With perseverance, he could have invented a self-righting armored car therefore protecting profits and revolutionizing traditional battlefield combat. Equally, if I had continued to explore the field of electrical engineering within the confines of my bedroom, I could have burnt the entire house down or become the next Nikola Tesla. Sometimes it can simply come down to the flip of a coin. 

Having said that, the most significant toss of a coin I ever undertook was when I abandoned the safe career path of a police officer after twenty-one years, less than a third of the way to go before claiming the platinum pension and having elevated myself up the promotion ladder. I was comfortable yet contained. Confident yet curious. Capable but not carefree. Utter boneheadedness? Bonkers in the extreme? With two kids still at school. Where was an experienced psychiatrist when I needed one? On this occasion, my apparent stupidity opened up the world of excitement, enterprise, and enchanting times. Stupidity on this occasion was splendid! Whilst extolling the virtues of stupidity, I should warn you of a few areas that should not be engaged with. For instance, long-term relationships, financial planning, and voting. The latter, especially, can throw up all sorts of shit affecting millions if not billions of otherwise sane inhabitants of the globe for fucking years! 

Finally, if you cannot cover your tracks then remember that the research is on your side and bouts of stupidity may be your way of practicing to become the next Leonardo da Vinci, Isaac Newton, Stephen Hawking or Albert Einstein. Indeed, as the latter luminary is rumored to have quipped, “Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the universe!” 

I’m off to split the atom in the bathroom with a mallet and spoon. Wish me luck! 

© Ian Kirke 2021