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Unburdening Yourself from Yourself: Our Thoughts on the Basic Laws of Human Stupidity

In 1976, Italian economic historian Carlo Cipolla wrote a lengthy essay called The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity. Having just read this book in 2021, it has never felt more relevant, timely, and not-at-all dated. In fact, if you had told me that Cipolla wrote it yesterday, I would have completely believed it, which goes to show that we, as a population, have been in our own way for a very, very long time.

Cipolla’s book outlines five basic laws of human stupidity. I’d like to show them to you today, because human stupidity applies to us all, myself included, and has a very specific place in creativity. Before we get started on how, where, and why, take a look at Cipolla’s chart on the matter:

From: Cipolla's book, The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity

Let’s start with the fact that on this continuum, there’s a good chance you fall in the intelligent quadrant, where you are a benefit to yourself and a benefit to others. I’m basing this assumption on the fact that creative people read blogs on creativity, and creative people are usually smart people.* Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, Cipolla’s five laws follow as such:

1. “Always and inevitably everyone underestimates the number of stupid individuals in circulation.”

The numbers are always more than we think, and sometimes, there are stupid individuals in circulation that parade as people who initially exhibit understanding. They may reveal their true nature when it’s least expected or most inconvenient for your creativity. Do not let these people, their thoughts, or their Dunning-Kruger-like characteristics get in the way of allowing you to accomplish your goals. As a rule of thumb, they don't know what they don't know.

2. “The probability that a certain person be stupid is independent of any other characteristic of that person.”

Maybe it’s a family member, maybe it’s a cat, maybe a long-lost friend from elementary school for whom you hold a particular fondness: these may be wonderful beings that are generous, kind, and loving. They can still be stupid when it comes to what you are trying to accomplish in your creative life. Do not let it stop you. Keep doing the thing you do, for they know not what they say; they know not what they do.

3. “A stupid person is a person who causes losses to another person or to a group of persons while himself deriving no gain and even possibly incurring losses.”

Reasonable people often have difficulty when faced with circumstances of unreasonable behavior. Unreasonable behavior follows no particular pattern, no conscionable laws or actions, and, typically, makes no damn sense. There are going to be people that want to rain on your parade for no good reason. Let me repeat: for... no... good... reason. In addition, they may rain on your parade while deriving no gain for themselves, and/or tarnishing their own reputation. Maybe this looks like a 1-star book review when they haven’t even read the book! (Why?) See, you can’t ask why. There is no why. There is no reason. It’s the power of stupidity.

4. “Non-stupid people always underestimate the damaging power of stupid individuals. In particular, non-stupid people constantly forget that at all times and places and under any circumstances to deal and/or associate with stupid people always turns out to be a costly mistake.”

If the unreasonable person is going to do the unreasonable thing, like crap on a book they didn’t actually read with a crappy review, the reasonable person should be aware of the draining effect it will have to fight back. Fighting back against unreason almost always results in a loss. It could even drain your creative well, which is a massive risk. You know what you are capable of. Your supporters know what you are capable of. Go forth and prosper. Stupid people are going to lose out in the end.

5. “A stupid person is the most dangerous type of person.”

See reason number 4. Rise above. You have the power of creativity, and creative superpower beats stupidity every time.

*and smart people read Loud Coffee Press.

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