If you add up the number of practitioners of the seven cardinal (or, in lay terms, deadly) sins, I doubt if the number will equal that of those guilty of stupidity. Ergo: Shouldn’t stupidity make it as a deadly, conceivably the deadliest, sin?
I can say this with some confidence, having evinced some form of stupidity at all stages of my life, the memory of which haunts me despite all attempts at expiation. To be sure one of the problems with stupidity is that it often masquerades as something lesser, like, say, laziness, as in the following example.
Back in my graduate student days I was very friendly with a fellow graduate student in Comparative Literature, the brilliant future academic, Claudio Guillen. Handsome, witty and wise, he was also the son of Jorge Guillen, one of the greatest Spanish poets. Anyway, one day Claudio asked me whether I had ever made love to a Spanish girl. These young women, he said, offer up to you their breasts on a silver platter.
Now you’d think that with such a potent incentive, I’d have embraced the nearest Hispanic girl, even a mere Latino, even if she were no Penelope Cruz or Dolores del Rio. But I didn’t, and haven’t to this day. Is that sloth or stupidity? I rather think the latter, considering that I would have settled for a mere china platter.
Stupidity! Today you see it all around you. Sometimes it is relatively harmless, such as my getting on the wrong subway train or forgetting to fully turn off the bathroom tap. And, of course, one must not confuse the incidental stupidities of an intelligent person, or even of a mere intellectual, with those of a permanent, thoroughgoing stupid individual. Which reminds me that it is a bit stupid of the English language not to possess a single-word noun for a stupid person, such as German has in Dummkopf, or Russian in durak. Granted, we have such supposed substitutes as moron, cretin or idiot, but these are really unwarranted insults to people genuinely afflicted with those ailments.
In any case, the stupidities of intelligent people, though by no means inconsiderable, are no competition for those of the born stupid, which can be colossal, stupendous, tragic. Take for instance the murderous stupidity of some who own guns, even though they shouldn’t and wouldn’t if our laws were smarter. These fellows (we read about them daily) get into arguments they cannot win except by shooting the other chap dead. There follows equally deadly vengeance.
Additionally, there is the even greater stupidity that they often shoot, through misidentification, the wrong person, a mere innocent bystander. Or worse yet, because they are not only stupid but also poor shots, they kill a nearby four-year-old girl, or some poor wretch sitting too near his or her window.
That is the gun-toting stupidity. Now take the religious stupidity, which manifests itself as some sort of fanaticism. Hereabouts it often takes the Tea Party, born-again Christian form, whereby one bombs a clinic where abortions are legally performed.
Farther east, it produces such things as Muslim fanatics, who shoot little girls merely because they attend school. Or suicide bombers, who think they will be rewarded in heaven by seventy-odd virgins administering oral sex. This is particularly stupid for several reasons.
In the first place, girls good at blowjobs usually don’t go to Heaven. But girls who make it to Heaven for not practicing oral sex, what earthly, or rather unearthly, good are they? Or if they are, after all, adept at it and in Heaven, must there not be bitter competition between those chosen and those bypassed by the dead bombers? Or, if all must get their turn, how can one dead male satisfy all seventy plus without his being worn to a frazzle and doubly dead?
One of my readers noted another problem. If I converted to Islam and turned suicide bomber, and thus went to Heaven, how would I put up with those fellationist Arab virgins, all of whom would have Barbra Streisand noses? It is, as the King of Siam was apparently given to remarking, a puzzlement.
Another major form of stupidity is stealing masterpieces of painting from museums. Never mind the unremarkable stupidity of the museums; what about the monumental stupidity of the thieves? How can you possibly sell a master painting readily recognized as stolen from a museum? Can you count on some Oriental potentate to be dumb enough to buy something he’ll have to hide from both others and perhaps even himself? And even if such a millionaire nincompoop exists, how does the thief, from the other end of the world, find and gain access to him?
Apropos hiding, this can beget epochal stupidity. Take the recent case of a dumb Romanian who, with some native Dutch help, lifted seven masterpieces from the Rotterdam museum. He left this sevenfold deadly sin in a plastic bag with his mother in their native Romanian village well behind God’s back. The brilliant woman figured out that if the masterpieces were not found, there would be no evidence. And her son, who indeed was found, would have to be released from his incarceration.
So she hid the plastic bag in ever more ingenious places, culminating in a well-covered hole she dug in her garden. But even this did not seem safe enough, so she dug up the bag and carefully burned it to a crisp in her oven. Or so, perhaps mendaciously, she claims. Now any number of experts have scrutinized those ashes, and though there is no incontrovertible evidence, what they found is consistent with burnt canvas.
It might help if stupid persons recognized their own stupidity, and so took certain precautions, refrained from some rash deeds. But anyone who recognizes his stupidity is ipso facto no longer stupid, may even justly pass for a person of rare intelligence. If, on the contrary, such abstention were a common phenomenon, the people mouthing off on television would instead shut up and so get booted off, thus causing millions of stupid TV addicts to think twice—or even just once—before turning on the idiot box. (Again, my apologies to bona fide idiots.)
Many stupidities are harmful, but, I repeat, there are also harmless ones that prove soothing to their practitioners. Thus William Buckley, Jr., definitely a very smart person, wrote that he couldn’t stand remaining alive if he didn’t believe he would be reunited with his beloved predeceased spouse in Heaven. There are, granted, those cynics who believe that he would end up in the other place, but such determinations are not my point. Similarly, Nancy Reagan firmly believed that she would rejoin her Ronald in Paradise. If I could trust such distinguished believers, I would also believe in those seventy-odd Muslim virgins and their alleged ministrations.
But enough of this and back to my initial query: Why isn’t stupidity one of the deadly sins? Presumably because unlike, say, lust, sloth or greed, it is involuntary and uncontrollable. One is born with it and willy-nilly remains faithful to it. As the German proverb has it: Born stupid and void of any added learning. Bloed geboren, nichts dazugelernt.
Yet are those officially recognized deadly sins any easier to control? Does the lecher want to be a lecher, does the lazybones choose his sloth, is the miser a clandestine philanthropist? No to all. How, when and wherefrom those compulsions came, they became destiny, just like stupidity.
Besides, intelligence and stupidity can cohabit in the same mind. Take the contestants in the TV show “Jeopardy.” They astound by instantly having the correct answers to the most diabolically contrived questions, often of the most esoteric, trivial sort. But then they will flub or be dumbfounded by the seemingly most obvious ones that anyone could answer.
What are these contestants then? Idiot savants? Perhaps. Or just smart people with certain ineluctable stupidities.