A story by Emily Eakin in a recent issue of the New York Times traces the history of stupidity, culminating with what she believes is its current revival.
Among the highlights: a book written in 1979 by journalist Stephen Pile called "The Incomplete Book of Failures." It includes the "worst tourist" (a man who spent two days in New York believing he was in Rome) and the "slowest solution of a crossword" (34 years).
To make her case that imbecility is making a comeback, Eakin cites the "Dumb and Dumber" movies and the unexpected success of "The Encyclopedia of Stupidity," published in 1999 by Matthijs van Boxsel.
Now available in English, van Boxsel's book is "an illustrated hodgepodge of ruminations, anecdotes, aphorisms and esoterica" that spins "a theory of stupidity while cataloging its sightings."
Among those sightings:
- Filters for water purification that turn out to be breeding grounds for bacteria.
- Suntan lotions that cause skin cancer.
- Cushioned running shoes designed to protect the knees, but at the expense of increasing stress on the hips.
- A bungee jumper who gauged the length of his rope against the depth of the gorge but forgot that the rope was made of elastic.
- The leader of a Christian sect who died after slipping on a bar of soap while trying to walk, Christ-like, on the water in his bathtub.
And now, van Boxsel's theory of stupidity:
"On the one hand, stupidity poses a daily threat to civilization," he writes. "On the other, it constitutes the mystical foundation for our existence. For if man was not to fall victim to his own stupidity, he had to develop his intelligence."
Finally, according to Eakin, von Boxsel attempts to define stupidity:
"Stupidity is not the same as a lack of intelligence ... It's a quality all its own. It's unwitting, self-destructive, the ability to act against one's best wishes with death as the most extreme consequence."
Here in the Rim country, stupidity is no stranger. Show me a Rimaroo who claims he or she has never been guilty of an act of stupidity and I'll show you a liar.
But it seems to me that our finest acts of stupidity are those that are specifically related to the unique circumstances that define life in the Rim country. Here are some modest examples:
- Like Lucy pulling the football out from under Charlie Brown, we continue to fall for Salt River Project's charade -- their insistence that if we only prove ourselves nice guys by leaving them alone they will one day come to the table to talk water with us. Meanwhile the Valley wallows in lush golf courses, irrigated lawns and artificial lakes thanks to the water that falls on our land.
- Our fearless leaders can't seem to grasp the concept that by covering the Payson Event Center we will generate enough additional revenue to pay for that cover several times over. Or the converse: that by not covering it we are slowly but surely turning people off to the idea of attending a rodeo or any other event in Payson.
- We continue to behave and plant and water like we still live in Oregon or Michigan or California. This is the desert, guys, and if we don't live accordingly we will not survive. In the same way that we must live within our financial means, so must we live within our water supply (minus what SRP takes). And if this drought still has a decade or so to run, like most experts believe, God help us
- As our property taxes move relentlessly higher, we continue to settle for less return -- allowing ourselves to be dominated by Miami and Globe despite the fact that we have more people and money in this end of the county.
- We continue to have an inordinate number of country-western music fans despite the fact that the genre has been scientifically proven to kill brain cells at a rate double that of other types of music -- except rap, the unchallenged brain-cell killing champion of all time, surpassing even Lawrence Welk.
Despite the examples above, we doubt Eakin's theory that stupidity is enjoying a revival. Nope, it's always been around.
Or, as van Boxsel puts it: stupidity is "the engine that drives our society."