Posted by: Millard J. Melnyk | October 25, 2011

Idiots

I’m an idiot. I think that you’re an idiot, too.

If that bothers you, your judgment is premature at best, because you have no idea yet what I mean by an idiot or why I think that we are a couple of them. For all you know, what I mean could be absolutely right. You just don’t like the sound of it, and you don’t like what it means to you. That is, you don’t like what it would mean to you if you had to agree. On that basis, you might already have decided to disagree, maybe adamantly. Your initial reaction to being called an idiot might be, “No, I am not!” or something like that, and I’m sure that I’d agree with you if I understood what you meant by the idiot that you are not and why you think you are not one. But the fact would remain that you still have no clue about what I mean.

I am always intrigued when I encounter people who don’t like what they hear and reject it solely for that reason, without taking the time to find out if they heard correctly, let alone to consider if value lies in what they don’t like hearing. They seem oblivious to the possibility that the speaker meant something other than what they took it to mean. Especially if they hear something that pushes some negative emotional button in their idiotic psyches, they react like simpletons and, in one fell swoop, conclude that how they took it was how it was meant, and how it was meant was wrong. If the speaker objects that they misunderstood, they can be so smug as to argue that the speaker doesn’t know his own mind: how they took it was what the speaker really meant. Even apparently intelligent people who don’t subscribe to such crude and archaic paradigms like “right and wrong” backslide into crudeness and stupidity when you push the right buttons. I have found that this is surprisingly easy to do.

If you’re still reading, my rant might seem farcical, even idiotic, haha! That’s OK; I don’t deny it, but I hope you’ll read on. Or, you might give me some tentative credit and wonder if my opening claims were rhetorical, and if I’ll disclose my reasons for trying to provoke you. In fact, calling us idiots was rhetorical, but only partially. I knew that it might get a reaction, and I definitely wanted to get a reaction out of you. But thinking that I don’t really mean that we’re idiots would be a mistake. I genuinely do think that we’re idiots. We are completely inept, bumbling, fucking morons. I know that I am. I’m pretty sure that you are, too, and I’m not even sure who you are. There’s a slight chance that you aren’t as much of an idiot as I am, because there’s a slight chance that you are more aware than I am of how thoroughly idiotic we are. Barring that, you are every bit as much an idiot as I am, maybe worse. In fact, if you feel offended at this point, I am quite sure that you are a worse idiot than me.

I’m not a hater. I don’t throw insults around to hurt anyone. Insults are unpleasant but necessary in societies that put inordinate energy into protecting ego. Saving face is a game in which we all agree to pay attention to the pretty masks and not peer behind them, or even to pretend that they aren’t masks with something else behind them. We wouldn’t hide our faces if we truly liked them and thought that others would like them, too. We wouldn’t feel a need to save them if they made us feel powerful. As it is, we must feel fairly ugly and weak. I don’t use insults to rip masks off faces, but to remind people that their masks are just masks that might be hiding something worth seeing. After all, our faces are all that’s really there to see, ugly and weak or not. I’m not after advantage, either, and I don’t particularly like people getting pissed off at me, which they invariably do.

I’d much rather have an enjoyable time, but I find that awfully hard to do with so many ego elephants in the room shielding those who cower behind them, the very people I’d like to enjoy the time with. Insults can prod the cowering out from behind cover briefly, until they regain their composure, throw their masks back up to save their faces, and demand that I ignore them and pay attention to their elephants. Back they go to cowering behind their elephants, resenting my intrusion on their safety. I admit that I enjoy the sense of power that insults sometimes afford. I recognize this glee as part of my juvenile idiocy; it’s my fault and it doesn’t please me. But worse than that is how fucking easy it is to offend people. You can avoid it only with concerted care: lots of energy invested to avoid pushing buttons and comply with arcane, archaic etiquettes, prescreening everything for unintentional insults that might offend idiots who refuse to lift a finger to find out if the insult they felt was actually what you meant. That’s OK, and I’m not complaining. I’ve actually gotten quite good at navigating and filtering, so it’s not much of an issue anymore. I just think that the whole scene is idiotic. 

After all that, what do I mean by “idiot,” if anything meaningful at all? Why insult apparently intelligent people–after all, I can write and you can read–by calling us idiots? Idiots compared to what? That last question serves as another litmus test for idiocy, because many people–maybe even you–dismiss out of hand the question whether there’s any chance that they are idiots, plugging their noses against it like some noxious odor. How can you know whether or not you’re an idiot if you refuse to entertain the question? And how can you answer the question if you have no reference for what does or does not constitute an idiot? But maybe you do have a reference. Before I get to what I mean by “idiot,” let’s look at several ways that people–maybe even you–define idiocy right out of their realms of possibility.

Maybe you think you’re not an idiot because you graduated, hold down a job, and have an IQ above 70. Maybe you think you’re not an idiot because you’re a successful professional with a 6-digit salary, a few houses, a bunch of cars, a yacht, and you spend your vacation time in the Azores. Maybe you think you’re not an idiot because you’re filthy rich, or because you’re obscenely intelligent, or you climbed Everest, or you won a marathon. Maybe you think you’re not an idiot because you’re sizzling hot and everyone wants you. Or, maybe you use a sliding scale: you’re not an idiot because you’re better than all the idiots who are more stupid than you are.

My reference for idiocy is something else, i.e., none of the above. We’re all amazingly adept at lowering our bars to levels we feel competent to clear. Lowering the bar is idiotic. What if clearing our bars at such low levels is sadly inconsequential? Pretending that it’s more, not caring, and deliberately ignoring the question are just more idiocy. We are idiots to continue glibly after having failed so miserably at life and having hurt so many people we cared about, if we even cared at all. We are idiots to pretend that we have everything well in hand and to believe that the future will be better than the past. What makes us sure that it will be better, other than idiotically blind faith? How do you know? It could easily be much worse. We are even more idiotic if we delude ourselves into thinking that we haven’t failed, didn’t hurt so many, aren’t pretending and, on the basis of such idiocy, believe that the future will be rosy. If we haven’t failed, why aren’t we happier? Why, in fact, aren’t we exuberant? Why do we live on antidepressants and antipsychotics? Why don’t more people like and love us? Why haven’t we been wildly successful; did we choose to avoid it? Why do we tolerate or even hate our jobs, our partners, our lives, and pretty much everyone we know, with just a few exceptions? Why do the reasons that our lives are not far better than this all seem due to the fault of conditions, events, and other people–anything other than us? Are we just tools, just idiots, or both?

Maybe you are one of the lucky ones who doesn’t tolerate or hate jobs, partners, or life itself, at least not at the moment. Maybe you aren’t a tool and don’t feel idiotic. Maybe luck wasn’t even involved, but your wonderful life is the result of hard work, savvy, initiative, and above all, integrity. Maybe you are living in a heaven on earth right now. If so, you are one of the few, and I encourage you to enjoy it while it lasts. I truly hope you will. But you are no angel. What you have now could be gone tomorrow, taken away easily and in spite of all your hard work, savvy, initiative, and integrity. You, like me, have made terrible mistakes, abused people in your ignorance, selfishness, and stupidity, and in spite of your best intentions and efforts, are likely to do it again; maybe not the ignorance, stupidities, selfishness, and abuses you are now aware of, but others you still remain clueless about. If the gods are smiling on you now, they smile on a happy idiot who deserves far less, maybe even far worse. Be grateful, but don’t fool yourself.

Maybe you are a child or a young person, in which case you haven’t yet failed miserably at life or hurt many people you cared about. You probably don’t pretend that you have everything well in hand. You don’t want to be an idiot, but much of the time you probably feel like one. After all, your life comes replete with adults of varying eagerness who confirm your idiocy this way and that. If you’re honest and haven’t been too badly abused, you are full of questions and still have hope for the future.

I wish that we adults had better answers for you, but we don’t. We can’t tell you how to be happy. We can’t tell you what’s right or what’s wrong. We can’t tell you how to live in peace. We can’t even tell you how to find “the right one.” Most of us prove, year after year by the inevitable failure of our relationships, that we didn’t have a clue who the right one was. Most of the rest of us prove that we didn’t have a clue by the awful marriages and abusive relationships we remain in, desperately struggling to hold them together. A few of us have marriages that aren’t awful or relationships that aren’t abusive, but we can’t tell you how to replicate our meager successes, because we don’t really know how they happened. We pretend that we do, though.

All we adult idiots act like we know pretty much everything, and we’ll tell you how to be happy, what’s right and wrong, how to live in peace, how to find the right one, and how to have a successful relationship once you do. We are idiotic enough to believe that you’ll fall for it. We even force you to listen, at first, and then when you’re too big and smart to be physically forced, we force you to pay us to tell you more on pain of remaining uneducated idiots if you won’t. We could behave like intelligent adults and enlighten you out of the goodness of our hearts, but idiots don’t behave like that. So sorry. Maybe you won’t fall for it, because you know that we can’t contradict, fight, and kill each other like we do and still know what we’re talking about. If you do fall for it, you’ll become an idiot just like the rest of us.

I wish there were better news for our children. In America, we force them through an education system that touts ideals like intelligence, democracy, and freedom while it herds them into urban concentration camps where they get daily browbeatings with the proofs of their idiocy, given no voice, and stripped of human rights. They are children, after all; what rights could they possibly have beyond shelter, hot meals, and freedom from physical and sexual abuse? When some do get abused, the first reaction by adults on the scene is to hush it up and deny it until it can be denied no longer. Every enraged parent whose child was abused by someone they trusted has witnessed first hand the denial and the instinctive rush to cover up. And even though the world is now a safer place than it was 100 years ago for some children’s bodies, it’s still open season on all of their minds and self-esteems.

My advice to children and young people: steer clear of adults who claim to know. They don’t. They are idiots. Look at what they’ve done to the place. Listen to them at the risk of becoming one yourself. Instead find people, young or old, who openly admit their idiocy and ignorance, who still have hope that we can help each other and learn something together. If we truly knew so much and this is what it got us, it wasn’t worth knowing. We must discover other knowledge, wisdom that will give us better results. It’s a daunting task, but there are such people here and there in the world. Find them and try. To die trying would be better than succumbing to assimilation into the ranks of idiots.

I must not neglect all you believers out there. Maybe you have faith, so you tell yourself that you’re not an idiot, because you are forgiven for your miserable failures and the people you hurt. God or some higher power or principle has everything well in hand and will take care of your future, ensuring that it will be better than the past. You keep up a steady diet of encouragement to bolster your faith: readings, services, group sessions, inspiring and edifying activities, and lots and lots of talking. For your faith, because you have found God or the Truth or the Source or the Divine, you excuse yourself from being an idiot: innocence by association. If so, your resort to the very evidence of your idiocy, citing it as the reason that you are not an idiot, is ironic. You might not be an idiot for believing, but you’re an idiot not to realize that, compared to God or the Truth or the Source or the Divine, we’re all nothing but idiots, fools, and incompetents, fumbling our way through life while we rely on a higher power that we need to keep reassuring ourselves will keep it all from falling apart. If you find your comparative idiocy insulting, it shows how little you have understood and how unfamiliar you are with real faith. If your faith were stronger, it wouldn’t need so much bolstering. If you recognized your own idiocy, a door to real faith might open to you.

I have reasons for being so insulting and dismal, reasons that might be less than clear. I’d like to clarify two points now, if you still care to know.

First, I wanted to point out the incredibly high level of denial that is the norm in our society. If you weren’t in denial, you wouldn’t feel insulted by being called an idiot. The insult stings because the dart hits home. If you were sure that you’re not an idiot, the dart would just bounce off. If you dropped your denial instead of feeling insulted, you would look at the barely tolerable conditions we live in and realize that we’ve been idiots to tolerate them. If you’re tempted to object that our conditions are not all that bad and resort to citing even worse conditions that others live in, such as those in the “developing world,” you only prove my point with your dodge. Better doesn’t necessarily mean good. Better could just mean not quite so bad, a little less awful, or a short step shy of abysmal. Pretending that this is as good as it gets, or even that it’s good at all, is an example of idiotically lowering the bar, which brings me to my second point.

We have been abused by others and by ourselves. Denial, lowering the bar, defending the rejectable, and clinging to exceptions in hopes that we can escape the rules are classic symptoms of ongoing abuse. When abuse victims reject their victimization, cease regarding themselves as victims, and realize that they do not need to tolerate further abuse–that they in fact should not tolerate it–they commonly have reactions that include rage against their abusers and a sense that they were idiots to let the abuse happen, even more so for letting it go on for as long as it did. At that point, former victims have no problem admitting that they were idiots and that they still retain the capacity for idiocy. Idiocy doesn’t insult them; it’s just a matter of fact.

I see very little rage expressed among us. I see plenty of denial, lowering the bar, defending the rejectable, and clinging to exceptions in hopes that we can escape the rules that we wake up to every day: this world is a mess, and our lives are in a mess. We go on day after difficult day in hope that we’re mistaken, that it really isn’t as bad as it seems, that things will all turn out alright, somehow, and that it only seems terrible because we don’t see it properly. We haven’t tried hard enough yet, but The Dream can still be reached if only we put more effort into it, and everything would be so much easier for all of us if everyone else would put more effort into it, too. Such is the thinking of the abused and disempowered. And the wealth keeps on evaporating upward, and the abuse keeps showering down, as surely as weather. Some of us are determined to disrupt that cycle. Many others have already despaired, believing that nothing will improve by much. Both views testify that the best efforts of the human race have yielded results that only idiots would choose and only idiots would tolerate. If we didn’t choose them and have no choice other than to tolerate them, then we’re idiot tools who can do no better and don’t know how to become anything more. Either that, or we are hellspawn and this hell is what we wanted.

As long as we deny our idiocy, we deny ourselves the odd, surprising secret that only those who face up to themselves discover. Only when we admit our stupidity do we take the first step towards wisdom. Only when we stop denying what we see can we see well enough to actually improve what we find. Only when we stop pretending that hell is the best that we can do will we actually look up toward heaven with real hope–and real possibility–of reaching it.

I believe that there is real hope, real possibility, and that we don’t need to settle for the hell we now live in; but we’ll see neither hope nor possibility if we insist that this hell is not so bad, considering. We have a choice. We can weep and gnash our teeth now in honest admission of the hell that our idiocy created and perpetuates, or we can weep and gnash our teeth later, when we realize that it’s too late to do anything about it. Choose wisely.

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