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A Short Introduction to the History of Human Stupidity (1932)

by Walter B. Pitkin

But, so far as I can ascertain, not a soul has thus far given thought to the possible consequences of the slow, mainly invisible accumulation of blunders, errors, prejudices, bigotries, fanaticisms and crimes caused by dulness [sic] in the hundreds of millions of people who are by no means feebleminded nor insane nor psychopathic.

Stupidity can easily be proved the supreme Social Evil. Three factors combine to establish it as such. First and foremost, the number of stupid people is legion. Secondly, most of the power in business, finance, diplomacy and politics is in the hands of more or less stupid individuals. Finally, high abilities are often linked with serious stupidity.

Since 1929 even some cloak and suit salesman have learned that stupid folk still rule the world. Stupid presidents write messages to stupid parliaments. Stupid bankers lend millions to stupid investors. Stupid newspaper editors hide painful facts. Stupid taxpayers shell out billions of dollars for battleships, fortresses, shells, and stupid second lieutenants. Stupid manufacturers build factories three times too big. Stupid retailers sell third-rate goods at first-rate prices.

We are prepared, with spiritual fortitude no less than with scientific curiosity, to cast off the shackles of Christian stupidity and to observe, record, analyze, and appraise the fool in his folly; that we may, by knowing it and him better, deliver ourselves from savagery and superstition.
The Tabu is hereby annulled.
Annul it though we may, men will persist in shunning morology. Other trends of the psyche sweep attention. For example, most instances of stupidity are dull; and intelligent people cannot endure long pondering over dull things. There is little novelty and excitement in watching thickheads as they rove from befuddlement to befuddlement. Nor is there any cash profit in it, nor any fame. Thus the ego is hedged about with many defenses against exposure other than the tabu set up by stupid egocentrics. So, kind reader, scan these pages well! They may be the only treatise on this subject for another thousand years.

Liberalism is the last refuge of the stupid. Thither rushes every fool in trouble. He leaves patriotism to the scoundrel seeking safety, for the fool knows -- in spite of his folly -- that liberalism is founded on the rock of truth and is almost impregnable. If ever a census enumerator penetrates this temple, I suspect that he will find dwelling there five sons of Cyclops for every intelligent inmate. Worse luck for the latter!

The young adventurers of Tomorrow will be rash enough to enter the dark homes of these humanesques and treat them as if they were full-statured men. And, as ever before, Cyclops will consume them to the last bone unless youth strikes the monster blind. For between the children of light and the humanesques there can never be peace. One or the other must survive. One or the other must perish.

Which shall it be?


We are now ready to begin to write the history of human stupidity.

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(He did call the book only an introduction, after all...)

A thousand thanks to Jean for tracking down this & a number of other elusive books