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You’re An Idiot (Just Like Me)

Spencer Morrison (2L)

You’re an idiot. I know it, your friends know it — everyone knows it. It’s all anyone talks about (behind your back, naturally). And deep down, you know it too.

But you’re in good company. I’m an idiot too. Every one of us has intellectual blind spots, or gaping holes in our knowledge that make us, well, dumb. Very dumb.

Here are 3 reasons why we’re all morons:

1. Hate to break it to you, but you’re an idiotic ideologue. You’re a zealot.

Yes, I know you go to university—you’re at one of the best programs at one of the best schools. Yes, I know your mom is very proud of you. And yes, I’m well aware you consume your news from a variety of sources, from the Daily Wire to the Washington Post.

The fact is that you spend your life imbibing the thoughts of others, consuming copious quantities of secondary sources. You’re a walking, talking, intellectual Etch-A-Sketch — you haven’t had an original thought since you were a kid.

It’s great that you can parrot Ben Shapiro, or Robert Reich’s opinions with savant-like fidelity, but that’s not what independent, critical thinkers (insert whatever buzzword you like) do. That’s what lazy idiots do. If you want to smarten up, you need to think things through for yourself. Put down the paper and read a book, pick up a pen.

Look at the facts and figures. Read primary sources , not what people are saying about them. If you did, you’d be surprised at how much BS the media and pseudo-intellectual professors and politicians are spouting. Here’s my advice: sit down and think about things, from scratch. Do it (and do it honestly), you’ll learn more in one hour than you would reading for ten.

2. Here’s the deal: you know a lot of stuff. We all do. You’ve spent a long time learning things, everything from Venetian art to astrobiology. Maybe you know a lot about one specific thing (you’re an expert in property law), or you know about lots of random things (you’re everyone’s favorite sounding-board). Here’s the problem: you know all the wrong stuff.

Yes, you know a lot of facts, but what connects them together? You never stopped to look at the big picture — you don’t even know what a forest is, you’re a thoroughbred tree-guy. If you could plot your knowledge, it would look like a bunch of islands, totally disconnected. Everything is domain-specific. This isn’t very useful.

It’s better to be like Socrates: sacrifice some of your specific knowledge for a general appreciation of the process of attaining said knowledge. Look at the process. Learn history — contextualize your knowledge, don’t compartmentalize it. A plastic mind that knows how to solve problems is more useful than one which has memorized as many answers as possible. Stop learning what to think; learn how to think.

3. Intellectual arrogance is the gravest sin one can possess. It’s what separates a truly wise man from a pretender to the throne.

If you recognize how little you know, and how dumb you are, you’ll be forever curious. You’ll stay hungry. Not only that, but you’ll think about things as they are, devoid of pretension or theory — you’ll be free to actually look at the facts, regardless of what “experts” tell you.

Some of the dumbest people I’ve ever met were the most well-educated. Why? They thought they knew it all. They never bothered to look at the data or the facts, they just assumed they knew what they were talking about. They trusted their theories. They’re what my favorite modern options-trader cum philosopher Nassim Nicholas Taleb calls ‘intellectual yet idiots’.

Drop the “I’m an expert” act and realize you’re a fool, just like the rest of us. You’ll be the better for it (and you won’t be so damn insufferable).

Last point. Don’t worry, I’m an idiot too. I’m such a big idiot, I wrote this article. Nevertheless, I think we can agree on a few points. Let’s agree that we should both try to pay more attention to the primary sources, the raw data, the facts — let’s ignore the rhetoric. Let’s admit that we need to spend a little more time learning how to think, not what to think. It’s great to know stuff, but neither of us know enough about how we know stuff. Finally, let’s agree that we’re both idiots — it’s too much work pretending to be smart anyways.