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Monday, April 21, 2008

The fundamental laws of human stupidity

I spent half a day figuring how to answer the stupidest email I've ever received. This mail was sent to me by a person I'd been discussing with hours at least three times, and the subject was always the same: covered and hidden below a shelter of slight modifications, the goal this person wanted to accomplish was basically that I said he was right. But right about what?

Let's see. I usually don't spend my precious spare time quarreling with a person I met at most twice in my life, talking about a discussion he had with a friend of mine. Unfortunately, my "education" sort of... obliged me to sit and listen to him, even if he was wounding my friend's privacy. After illustrating my (pretty detached) point of view from the subject, which I'm no way involved with, he sent me a long email. The beginning of the mail was:
"I hope this mail will change your basic ideas about the subject. I think you're wrong."
Well, whether I'm right or wrong it's my problem, and I find pretty "unkind" trying to change my opinions, because this violates the basic assumption of human communication: communicating! I'm not interested to a three-hours one-way "communication", I would rather call it a monologue. A monologue about something which annoys me most.

Fortunately, Carlo Maria Cipolla came to my mind and solved all of my problems. My anger wouldn't let me focus about the biggest problem of all, which unfortunately can't be solved: I was (trying to) communicate with a stupid person. Carlo Maria Cipolla, an eclectic economist, published a collection of essays titled "Allegro ma non troppo". In one of them, "The fundamental laws of human stupidity", Cipolla explores the nature of stupidity. It's a funny and enlightening read, I would suggest this book to every(non-stupid)body.

According to Cipolla, these are the five fundamental laws of stupidity:
  1. Always and inevitably each of us underestimates the number of stupid individuals in circulation.
  2. The probability that a given person is stupid is independent of any other characteristic possessed by that person.
  3. A person is stupid if they cause damage to another person or group of people without experiencing personal gain, or even worse causing damage to themselves in the process.
  4. Non-stupid people always underestimate the harmful potential of stupid people; they constantly forget that at any time anywhere, and in any circumstance, dealing with or associating themselves with stupid individuals invariably constitutes a costly error.
  5. A stupid person is the most dangerous type of person there is.
Thanks to the fourth law, and because of the golden first law, I recognized the costly error I was going to make! I moved the suffered email draft to the trash, and went out for a beer with a (non-stupid)friend.

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