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Posts Tagged ‘stupid

I am going to conclude with this: It is relatively easy to overcome ignorance. It is practically impossible to solve stupid.

How did I arrive at that conclusion? 

Over the weekend, a message declaring that people will be fined or even jailed for not keeping 1m apart made the social media and messaging rounds. 

I did not get any notification because I have been keeping a distance from stupid (aka stupid distance) by staying away as much as possible from Facebook and WhatsApp. I treat these platforms like COVID-19 clusters.

Unfortunately, my wife received this message from a colleague and that triggered this reflection. 

As @mrbrown pointed out, the warning was from a news article published on 27 March 2020. The warning was from more than a year ago when strict policies were put into place and right before our lockdown.

My issue is not with the rule because it is still an offence to flout physical distancing rules. The problem is people spreading the “warning” without first checking the source. It is basic information literacy to do this.

Simply forwarding a message without first reading and evaluating its source (if it even has one) is not ignorant, it is stupid.

Ignorance is forgivable and can be overcome. It is the default state of not knowing about something because you simply do not know about it. For example, I have a Ph.D., but I am ignorant about appreciating jazz. I can learn how to do this if I need or want to, then I am no longer ignorant in this respect.

But wilful ignorance is stupid. This is knowing better but still going ahead with an uninformed action. In this case, it is forwarding a source without first checking its relevance, context, or intent.

If I had to give some benefit of doubt to whoever started the spread, it might be that they were simply trying to remind people to work together to keep COVID-19 at bay. This is in the context of the recent hospital cluster and our Prime Minister’s hope to avoid a second lockdown (aka Circuit Breaker 2).

But this does not mean relying on old habits to deal with new problems. It is old habits that create or perpetuate problems in the first place, e.g., misinformation and fluid vectors of disease.

Old habits can be comforting and they persist because we refuse to change even though we might know better. A small change could mean checking the source (published date of article) of your claim (jail/fine for not being 1m apart). This change would mean this text chain would not start, or if it did, be stopped quickly by those who practice this change.

Sadly, some choose to stay in their comfort zone even if the cognitive dissonance is small and the inconvenience is minor. We collectively look stupid if we choose to ignore better habits of mind and practice.

Photo by Plato Terentev on

It is relatively easy to overcome ignorance. It is practically impossible to solve stupid. This is why I immerse myself in the business of education and maintain a wide stupid distance.

An oldie but goodie that emerged thanks to my PLN.

While this article was written ten years ago and in the context of scientific research, it offers this broadly applicable gem:

… we don’t do a good enough job of teaching our students how to be productively stupid – that is, if we don’t feel stupid it means we’re not really trying… Science involves confronting our `absolute stupidity’. That kind of stupidity is an existential fact, inherent in our efforts to push our way into the unknown.

The “stupidity” is not borne of stubborn ignorance. It stems from being unafraid of not knowing but wanting to know more. It is not about being given answers and more about learning to ask good questions.

No stupid people beyond this point
Image source

Note: I normally use ImageCodr to search for and attribute CC-licensed images. The tool seems to not be working properly so I resorted to using other sources of CC images.

I watched three different YouTube videos recently, but I came to the same conclusion. They were all smart moves.

Video source
One of Samsung’s ideas for road safety was putting cameras in front of large trucks and projecting the videos behind of the road ahead for other road users to see. It was a smart example of using what you already have.

Video source
This was a “dance” or choreographed video with a difference. Most of the performers did not have to be classically trained in dance. Instead, they combined dexterity, coordination, and sheer hard work to create a mesmerizing performance. It was a smart case of finding your own niche.

Video source
This was a rather technical video. The central idea was that the programmer created a programme that taught itself how to play a video game. It was about artificial intelligence mimicking how we learn, but at a more rapid rate. It was a smart example of pushing the envelope.

Rising above the three videos, I would guess that most people would see the utility of the first video: It could prevent accidents and thus save lives.

The second video is a creative endeavour that is good to have, but it is not a must-have. People could take it or leave it.

The third video might create fear. I would wager that a few people might cite the fictional Skynet of The Terminator series of movies. They fear that machines will become smarter than us and sentient, and then elect to wipe us off the face of the planet.

Viewed objectively, we might use logic for the first example, choose personal preference for the second, and rely on fantasy for the third. This is despite the fact that creative and disciplined thinking gave rise to all three.

Stupid human bias holds us back. The same thing blocks empathy and prevents learning. We should not confuse uninformed bias with critical thinking. Learn to tell the difference.

As stupid does… is how the saying goes. Two things reminded me of this saying.

I read a TechCrunch article titled No, The Internet Won’t Make You Stupid. The saying also came to mind after my wife told me about an email she received.

The article was a response to a book author’s assertion that hyperlinked reading did not promote deep thinking. Like the TechCrunch author and the psychologist cited in the article, I don’t think that the Internet makes you stupid. (Based on Will Richardson’s latest blog entry, I think he’d agree with us.)

Stupid people make you stupid.

Enter the email to my wife. Last Friday, my wife had to chaperone some kids from her school to an external venue for a talk. (I won’t name the school, the talk, the organizers or the government ministers in attendance, but if you search hard enough, you’ll find it… how’s that for stupid?)

The organizer emailed my wife to ask her to select three students to ask one question each from a list of recommended questions. As an English teacher, my wife was appalled by 1) the grammar and 2) the very idea of planting questions. How do we expect our kids to think independently, creatively or critically if we provide them a list of model questions to ask?

Later on I reminded her that if she acceded to the organizer’s wishes, she would be perpetuating the practice. Thankfully she did not have to take much action because another teacher took over and a few students were able to ask questions on their own.

The same students who read from books and the WWW. The same students who are fortunate to have a few teachers as good role models.

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