The Enduring Power of Stupidity By Charles Platt

From: Matthew Gaylor (
Date: Sun Sep 16 2001 - 19:08:04 MDT

[Charles Platt is senior writer for WIRED Magazine]

Date: Sun, 16 Sep 2001 20:36:04 -0400 (EDT)
From: Charles Platt <>
Subject: The Enduring Power of Stupidity

The Enduring Power of Stupidity

During the past five days I have read many essays. To me, all
of them have missed a fundamental underlying point.

There are two basic forces in the world: Intelligence and
stupidity. Human intelligence generally is creative, and has
the potential to enhance our lives. Stupidity almost always
is destructive.

A month ago, the power of stupidity was demonstrated on a
routine basis when our president made an "ethical decision"
that scientists should destroy small clumps of human cells by
throwing them away, instead of using them in research to
eradicate terrible diseases. This stupidity was justified by
misinterpreting an archaic book of primitive myths.

During the half-century that I have been alive, I've seen
many similar examples of stupidity depriving us of the fruits
of intelligence. Random examples include the misapplication
of Marxism, the Vietnam war, the cold war, dismantling the US
manned space program, eco-alarmism, and the war on drugs.

No doubt every person has some favorite examples to add to
this list.

At the dawn of the 21st century, when Y2K was averted by a
lot of smart people doing intelligent things to prevent the
paralysis of modern society, I started to hope that
intelligence was finally gaining an edge over stupidity. Here
I am now, using a digital computer that not only facilitates
my creativity as a writer, but also revolutionizes my ability
to create music, videos, or graphics. Its connectivity has
changed my entire working and social life. Its power has been
almost totally beneficial, and it promises still greater
benefits in the future.

Computational molecular biology has the potential to
eradicate all hunger and disease. Ultimately computational
power should enable us to manipulate matter itself, enabling
a new era of unlimited wealth while eliminating side effects
such as pollution and global warming. We may also defeat
death: I may die, but I believe my daughter has a chance to
achieve biological immortality.

At least, I used to believe this, until last Tuesday. On
Tuesday I saw that stupidity still trumps intelligence. Those
hijacked airplanes were an amazing feat of intelligent
engineering, making the miracle of flight not only safe but
universally accessible. The World Trade Center was a
brilliantly innovative piece of architecture. Yet a handful
of thugs armed with box cutters destroyed those fruits of
intelligence within a few hours. The thugs, of course, were
acting in accordance with their stupid misinterpretation of
yet another archaic book of primitive myths.

Regulatory stupidity facilitated the terrorist acts.
According to the Washington Post, FAA regulations have always
permitted knives up to 4 inches long on domestic flights, and
all cockpit doors on all airplanes can be opened with the
same master key. In any case, the doors are flimsy enough to
be kicked open. At least 14 times since 1998, drunk or
disturbed passengers have tried to force their way into
airplane cockpits. They succeeded on 6 occasions. In 1999, a
passenger on All Nippon Airways fatally stabbed a pilot.

Thus, this country has pursued an aggressive, punitive
foreign policy that was guaranteed to create enemies, yet
took only cosmetic steps to protect its own citizens in a
situation of notorious vulnerability. Worse, in the future,
passengers will remain vulnerable (instead of being allowed
access to tools of nonlethal self-defense such as tasers),
while the foreign policy will become more aggressive, thus
creating still more enemies.

I'm old enough to remember how the unfettered, turbulent
creativity of the 1960s dissipated in the ugly stupidities of
a war in southeast Asia. I fear now that the incredible
technological creativity of the past decade may be derailed
by some equally stupid, unwinnable war in another remote,
hostile country, causing socioeconomic chaos at home.

I feel a great, overwhelming melancholy. The wonderful smart
innovations in the past decade have empowered us in so many
ways, yet we are still impotent compared with the techno-
illiterates who claim a mandate to act stupidly on our

The terrorists with box cutters, and the militants in the
U.S. government, share two traits. They exercise power
indiscriminately, and show no great love for technology. In
fact, I believe they are hostile to it because they see how
its intelligence threatens them.

Their fear is justified. In the long term, I still believe
that technology will eclipse dumb political power and render
it obsolete.

Alas, I no longer believe that I will see this happen within
my lifetime.

--Charles Platt

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