Functional Stupidity & Fools for Christ

I suspect that given our politically correct world, we dare not call anyone “stupid” in front of their face or in conversations that may become Sitting Lightlypublic information. We may, however, often in the privacy of our homes or perhaps among very trusted friends, wonder out aloud about the stupidity of people based on the most daft of things they do that may ruin their careers, traumatise friends and families, leave loads of people hurt and penniless. Who are the stupid people among us? We can, of course, take our pick from a range of possible candidates. I wonder, though, how many of us would have thought that people with very high IQ would be high on that list!

A recent issue of The New Scientist (Sally Adee, March 30, 2013, 30-33), carried an article titled: “Stupidity: why are humans so varied about their mental abilities? Her article did two things for me: confirmed what I vaguely thought for some time and it made me think differently about stupidity! It does not take much to agree that “stupidity is too important and interesting to ignore”, especially since the “science of stupidity is producing results that challenge” concepts of intelligence. It certainly ought to be “humbling for many of the smart people who run the world, our organisations and country!

While it may not come as a surprise to many, the article reveals that “a tendency for entertaining rash, foolish or illogical ideas is not necessarily the result of a low IQ.” as people with the highest IQ will make the most stupid mistake. The finding of cognitive scientists (which my deceased grandmother could have told them!!!) is that many of the IQ tests floating around are yet to find a way “to measure intuition and the prejudices of our intuitive mechanisms”. The implication here is that a high IQ is no assurance that we will not be “tripped up by circumstances beyond one’s control” and as a result of our many inbuilt and learned prejudices. An alarming fact is that among the main culprits is a condition termed “emotional distractions”: meaning that because the very skills one is hired for is “turned off” many organisations end up operating in a “functional stupidity” mode.

Now research has also shown that “functional stupidity was a direct contributor to the financial crisis” [33] as logically thinking people had to leave any critique or concerns they had at the door!!! This sounds like some of Church conversations we are having about the future, populated by so-called smart and wise thinkers, but who quickly fall into a “group-think” mode. They leave all their creativity and wisdom at the door!!! But back to the context of banking: the question may be asked: can it be that “banks assumed that intelligent people act logically while at the same time rewarding rash behaviour based on intuition rather than deliberation.” The so-called war and intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan reasonably suggest that our politicians – some privileged top university graduates – can do some really unimaginable things, to the extent that even though the evidence tells another story, they are unable see and acknowledge their stupidity.

And, those of us in the Church (especially at its organisational level) may do well to remember the words of Flaubert: “human stupidity is boundless”, as we mind the tendency towards “functional stupidity” while also cognisant of operating as “functional atheists”. We may be “fools for Christ’s sake”, but this is not a licence to leave our “brains” at home or sit on it!

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