What's wrong with people?
I ask that question a lot, because I think you know a thing by knowing what's wrong with it. Q: What's wrong with cats? A: They scratch, they bite, they're asocial, and I'm allergic. There -- you not only know what's wrong with cats, you know what they are.
People are born knowing how to think. They learn their parents' and neighbors' languages (even if different) faster than a Rhodes Scholar on spring break in Budapest. By the age of just 2 or 3, most know when to duck and when to be out of sight entirely, and for how long.
When I was just 5 years old I was watching one of those newfangled black-and-white TV sets that Dad had just bought and brought home. At first, he wasn't going to get one, knowing they had rays that entered your eye sockets and burned your brains out. But he changed his mind when he found out he could watch the Army-McCarthy Hearings live on one. He decided that for the privilege of rooting for Army in real time he didn't care if his brain was burned out.
Anyway, there was a show on one Sunday that was a live broadcast of a High Holy Mass at some cathedral or other, and the camera panned up to the stained-glass windows and Dad said how pretty it would be if we could see the color. And I was so smart, and could think so well, even at the age of 5, that I could see them. And said so. And everybody laughed.
But a couple years later, when I finally got a chance to see stained-glass windows in a cathedral in real life, the colors were exactly the way I had seen them on the black-and-white set! So that proved I had been smarter than the adults that laughed at me.
So if human beings are stupid, and we are, it can't be because we were born stupid. We had to learn stupid. You're smart, so you learn everything real well, but the catch is that means you also learn the stupid really well, too.
Take scapegoating. No one straight out of birth could come up with this stupid idea on his or her own. In fact, professional educators and psychologists have determined that most children don't learn to scapegoat effectively and decisively until they are enrolled in grade schools, which are PLACES OF LEARNING. So that is positive proof that scapegoating is learned.
So is reverse scapegoating. You may have never heard of reverse scapegoating, but it is actually even more common than scapegoating.
There used to be a TV show called Queen For A Day. Four women would come out and one by one tell how hideous their tragic lives were. Then the audience would indicate by applause captured on an applause-o-meter, as a hand was passed over the heads of each contestant, who had the most horrid life. She would become Queen For A Day. She'd get a crown and (red!) robe and fabulous prizes, usually including a washing machine, a refrigerator, and a lifetime supply of a brand-name laundry detergent.
The other three women, whose lives were only a shade less tragic than the winner, would leave with consolation prizes barely justifying a day's neglect of their miserable chores. It never seemed to occur to anyone in charge that the prizes could be distributed more evenly.
Exercises: Going Forth through Stupid 1. The author wanted to say that Seattle's budgeting process, as it pertains to the Mercer Project, is learned stupidity. But he couldn't think of a way to say it. What's wrong with him? 2. Compare Queen For A Day and its losers with AIG and you. Specifically, why do the executives of AIG have a lifetime supply of fat bonuses, and all you get is to watch them waltz up and down the aisle to Pomp and Circumstance with tears of joy in their eyes?