It’s not often that I criticize total strangers. Most of the time, I try to give people the benefit of the doubt. Maybe that “asshole” on the 101 was driving 90 miles an hour because he just got a call saying his wife was in the hospital. Maybe that bagboy at the grocery store packed the milk on top of the eggs because he was having a bad day.
When you consider how many people are alive in this world, it isn’t a stretch of the imagination to say that a lot of those everyday moments of absurdity are reflections of people at their worst, and not reflections of who they are the other 364 days of the year.
That being said, there comes about once in a blue moon a person so totally reckless, inept, mean-spirited or otherwise shitty that he or she deserves whatever passing judgment you could make about them. I’m talking about the lowest of the low here. These are the benchwarmers of civilization, the leeches on the lifeblood of society, and a few days ago, I had the displeasure of sitting in the same room as one.
It happened in the middle of a science review that had gotten off to a less-than-stellar start. The professor was reworking a problem he had stumbled on, and the class was getting antsy. Why any of my classmates thought an auditorium full of people bitching about how long the professor was taking would make him go any faster escapes me. But all of this rudeness paled in comparison to that of one girl in the class (I won’t describe her), who decided this was the perfect time for her to make a dramatic exit.
With an air of self-importance ripped straight from a reality TV show, she stomped as loudly as she could up the center aisle before stopping halfway, pivoting to face her friend in the crowd and declaring loud enough for everyone five or six rows away to hear, “I don’t know about you, but I can’t put up with this bullshit. People are stupid.” Then she turned on her Officially Pissed-Off heels and left.
Now, it’s one thing to rudely interrupt a professor in the middle of class and subsequently distract the other 200 students trying to learn. If I kept records on these things, I would file that behavior under V for “Very Shitty.” What took this girl to the next level — to the “Unforgivable” category — was her use of the phrase “People are stupid.”
It’s easy to see the fallacy here. If a game hunter came across two deer having a conversation, and one deer said to the other, “Deer are stupid,” the hunter would probably laugh his ass off. Then he’d shoot them and mount their heads on his wall. The irony is thick.
Despite this, I like the phrase, and I’ve used it more than a few times myself. It packs a strong cathartic punch, like a long run on the beach or a McDonald’s Quarter-Pounder with Cheese. We can throw it out there because, as “people,” we generally have the cognitive ability to recognize its inherent hypocrisy. The problem arises when people who don’t have this ability — people like the girl in my science review, who pronounced “people” as “pee-pal” and “stupid” as “stoopid” — use it just as freely.
I’ll say this as clearly as I possibly can: Stupid people need to stop using this phrase.
I’m a diehard fan of free speech, but when you use derisive phrases that are completely applicable to yourself without realizing it, it’s asinine at best. You’re undermining your own personal credibility and the credibility of human beings in the animal kingdom. What’s more, you’re making it less acceptable for smart people to use the phrase ironically. The line between smartass and dumbass is becoming dangerously blurred.
As a white nonreligious male, there isn’t a lot I’m allowed to say in the way of slurs or bigotry. My last bastion of insensitivity rests in my right to judge humanity as a whole, and it’s disheartening to see even this privilege slipping away.
I would ask stupid people to stop using the phrase “People are stupid,” but of course this would be a stupid request to make, as stupid people generally don’t realize they’re stupid in the first place. How do you appeal to a demographic that is unaware of itself? I would amend the phrase to “Stupid people are stupid,” if it weren’t so goddamn redundant, or “Some people are stupid,” if it weren’t so boring to say.
The only solution, it seems, is to stop using the phrase entirely. Though this is hardly fair to those of us with enough self-awareness to know when we’re insulting ourselves, it just isn’t worth being confused with those of you who can’t tell the difference.
If you feel the same, I ask you to join me this coming Wednesday, Nov. 7 in going cold turkey on the phrase “People are stupid.” I would quit sooner, but with the Presidential election looming on Nov. 6, I think we all might want to use it one last time.
Mark Strong does not have stupid moments, only brief lapses in intellectual greatness.