The Three Horsemen of Stupidity

Lots of folks moan and carry on about the American education system. Some people hate public schools, envisioning children goose-stepping about while befouling the flag and hurling curses at a God they are taught doesn’t exist. Private schools chafe others who see them as elitist enclaves filled with privileged children who don’t need educations anyway because of their family largesse. Of course, there are the home-schoolers, helicoptering above their kids hoping not only for a better education but also to insulate their young angels from the evils of society, i.e., other children taught in one of the aforementioned alternatives.

All agree, to some extent, that we can do better. We can achieve higher and produce generations of intellectual titans conquering the world by the sheer force of their intelligence. Maybe that’s true. Maybe not. We ignore the sad, brutal reality that a very real learning disability yokes many Americans to the oxen of mediocrity. This demon has not been conquered despite many years, centuries even, of effort.

I want to be clear about something up front here. I’m not talking about what most people call learning disabilities. For example, I once knew a guy who had dyslexia. That’s a bad deal to be sure. It makes it hard to learn to read and, once you do learn to read, it affects your comprehension. Fortunately, there are ways to compensate for this–at least to some extent.

I also know that ADHD and ADD affect people, too. Hey, if you can’t pay attention, learning is going to be pretty darn tough. Future generations may question whether addicting our children to amphetamines was the best remedy, but at least we recognize the problem.

There are people, too, with identifiable organic brain impairments which impede their ability to learn. Genetic and injury-induced impairments are well-recognized today, and we don’t expect these folks to achieve at the same level as those of us fortunate enough to have avoided the chance occurrence of such maladies.

Of course, mental illness is no impediment to learning. John Forbes Nash and The Unabomber are but two examples of brilliance developed through the fog of grievous mental illness. As we all know, serial killers are often intelligent, too.

No, I’m talking about a daunting condition which has eluded scientific treatment and continues to hamper many of us. Stupidity and its three horsemen: dumbness, ignorance and laziness. These three elements in some combination can result in chronic, untreatable and incurable stupidity.


Some people are smarter than others. I’d say everyone agrees with that. A corollary to that is that some people are dumber than others, too. Now, I’ve hit a hot button. Not everyone agrees with that. It’s become unfashionable–if not downright cruel–to acknowledge the obvious: Some folks just ain’t all that bright. We all know this but are hesitant to point it out, at least not loudly. Everyone should be able to do as well as everyone else.

I suppose when we acknowledge that some are smarter than we are, we can still cling to the idea that we, too, are smart–just not that smart. Then we can derisively note that those of superior intelligence are just plain weird. We’re smart, too, but not weird smart.

We all are less smart than someone. I have son who is smarter than I am. He is. It’s the same as him being taller than I am. It’s a fact. He studies math at a major university and is clearly far beyond my intelligence. His youngest brother laments that the oldest “sucked all the brains out of our family.” Perhaps, but it’s undeniable that he’s smarter than the rest of us. Being dumb, though, is much different from paling in comparison to someone brilliant. Dumb is dumb, regardless of the context.

We aren’t supposed to say people are dumb, of course. Perhaps they learn at a slower pace or differently or not at all. We’ll readily send the smartest kids to special or advanced classes or schools. When I was a kid, we had “remedial reading” which was pretty much an educational wasteland of some sort or that’s how I viewed it. I don’t even know if they do that anymore. It’s probably good that we don’t have dumb classes in school (assuming that’s true). School is hard enough as it is, I suppose.  I’m not talking about Special Education.  That’s a good thing, even though I was a bit frightened of the Special Ed room in high school (see my comments below about ignorance).

What happens when a child fails at school? The school or the teacher is blamed. If they would do better, so would little Johnny. Maybe, we blame the parents. But we don’t blame Johnny. We dismiss the possibility that Johnny is just a dullard. Maybe he’s dumb. Plenty of adults are. It only makes sense that kids would be, too.

If you’re dumb, learning is tough. Why? Well, you’re dumb. That about sums it up. If you’re dumb, you might not even understand why you need to learn something. Oh, someone can explain it to you, but you probably won’t get it. It just won’t make sense. You might think: “Why is that weird nerd telling me that?” or “Hey, there’s something shiny!” Lots of cloudy thinking will confuse you.

How do you know if you’re dumb? Hell, I don’t know. I’m smart, but not that smart. Even if I could explain it, you probably couldn’t understand it, anyway. We used to rely on IQ tests, but those are now out of fashion as inaccurate, culturally biased or just plain wrong. I suspect no one likes them because they demonstrate that some people are more intelligent than others. Then again, I’m not smart enough to know for sure. Not dumb, mind you, but not that smart, either. If you even suspect that you’re dumb, you probably aren’t. You have to have at least a modicum of intelligence to know that others are smarter than you are.

By the way, we took IQ tests in high school. I did alright on mine. One of my friends scored a 78. Another friend looked it up in what had to be an out-dated medical book. 78 was “high moron.” Oh, how we laughed. We would occasionally greet him with “Hi! Moron!” Like I said, school is tough enough, I guess.

I do think there are some tell tale signs of dumbness:

  • The Look: You’ve seen it. It’s a dull-eyed, vacant look. It’s in the eyes. There just isn’t much going on back there. You’re never sure if anything you say registers. Don’t worry. It doesn’t. George W. Bush has the look. So does Joe Biden. Oddly, George H.W. Bush doesn’t have it. Neither does Dick Cheney. Brad Pitt? Yep. George Clooney? No. Britney Spears? Oh, yeah. Madonna? Oddly again, no.
  • Disdain for the intelligent: “He ain’t got no common sense.” This is the calling card of the dumb. Desperate to denigrate the smart, they point to highly valued “common” sense as the true measure of intelligence. Sure, Einstein may have revolutionized centuries of scientific thought, but he lacked common sense. Just remember, the translation of this statement is: “That person is immeasurably more intelligent than I am, perhaps to the point that we belong to different species.”
  • He’s a nerd: A variation of the point above, this type of comment is designed to point out that you, although quite dumb in comparison, possess certain invaluable social traits lacking in your more intelligent counterparts. This is likely true. Why? Because the smart people are in the minority. If they were just average, they’d be hanging out with your ilk. Remember: The nerds are the ones that will sign your pay checks. Be nice to them.
  • Practiced Illiteracy: I’m not talking about literal illiteracy. Hell, if you can’t read, that’s a problem but fixable. Practiced illiteracy is the conscious choice not to read. No books, magazines or even newspapers. You might even call pornographic magazines “dirty books.” You’ll only look at the pictures in those, anyway. The advent of the internet gives you access to the same content without the need to be slowed down by type face. You’ll rarely read the newspaper, even then just the headlines. Reading is for nerds. (See point above RE: Nerds).
  • What do other people say? If you are often called names like dumbass, idiot, moron, fool, slack jaw, dullard, wastrel, lunkhead, muscle head, numbskull, nit wit, twit, git, pea brain, lame brain, brain-damaged, stupid, imbecile, simpleton or dolt, you’re probably dumb. Why else would people call you all those names?

When I was a young attorney, I took the deposition of a psychiatrist in a workers compensation case. The doctor described the claimant as suffering from “PPP.” When I asked what that was, the doctor said: “Piss poor protoplasm.” The doctor’s point was that this young man didn’t have the gray matter to do much in life. Sad, but true. He was just plain dumb.

(As a totally unrelated aside, that doctor was the ugliest person I’ve ever seen. He was the kind of ugly where you stare to try to figure out if he had some accident or cranial-facial anomaly. I don’t think he did. He was just ugly. I digress….).

If you’re dumb, you may be able to compensate for it to some degree, unless you fall prey to the other Horsemen.


“Ignorance is bliss” said someone named Thomas Gray in a pretensious-sounding work called Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College.  Dumb is different that ignorant. Smart people can be ignorant. Despite marrying me, my wife is smart, but she’s ignorant of history. She doesn’t like history and makes a concerted effort to avoid it. I could tell her that Chester Arthur was Bea Arthur’s real name before Bea’s sex-change, and my wife might believe. This isn’t because she’s dumb. She’s never tried to learn these things. She’s just ignorant (I mean that in the nicest way, of course).

I, too, am ignorant of such things as automobile mechanics. I understand the basic workings of the internal combustion engine, but that’s about it. When I look under the hood of my car, I get confused and a bit overwhelmed. Perhaps I could learn about it, I just don’t want to try. On the other hand, I have an encyclopedic knowledge of baseball history. Does that benefit me in any way? No, but it tells me that I can’t be dumb if I can remember all that minutia.

Ignorance, sadly, holds us all back to some extent. We readily recognize such vile things as racism or my fear of the Special Education room as being the product of ignorance or even dumbness. I submit that ignorance is a common thread binding us all. For me, it’s auto mechanics. For my wife, history and basic cooking skills. For you, it might be sports. Here’s the rub: For the dumb, it’s all kinds of stuff: Politics, religion, science, health, hygiene, math, world events, child care–the list is endless. The dumber you are the more likely you are to be ignorant of things. Sorry, but that’s just how it is.

The more ignorant you are the more likely you are to do something dumb. Here in Kentucky, stealing copper is quite popular, so much so that some thieves will steal electrical wiring. Now, one can persuasively argue that this is just dumb. It’s probably also a sign of gross ignorance. Electrical wiring often, by definition, carries electricity. Electricity, for all the good it does, can kill you. You need to know things like this before you steal stuff carrying electricity.

Stay ignorant about enough topics and pretty soon you’re stupid. Sorry, but that’s how it goes.

Most us, me included, write off our ignorance to lack of interest. If I’m not interested in something, why learn about it? That’s a pretty decent point, but it leads to my next topic.


Laziness is dumb’s lazy brother-in-law. Laziness gets a short shrift when discussing learning disabilities. Don’t underestimate the power of laziness. Laziness can neutralize intelligence and breed ignorance like a pen full of rabbits.

The lazier you are the less likely you are to learn anything. It’s just not worth the effort. As with ignorance, you do not have to be dumb to be lazy. Many smart folks are lazy, too. In fact, they can use their intelligence to half-ass their way through life. “Hey, if I can be average with minimal effort why wear myself out to be exceptional? Now, what’s on TV?” After awhile, your laziness and ignorance will lead to outright stupidity.

Sadly, I have suffered from laziness. Emptying the dishwasher, for example, is a daunting task for me, to the point that I am ignorant of where all the dishes go. Now, I’m not so dumb that I can’t figure it out, but it’s difficult because of my laziness.

The truly lazy have lost their ability to learn, if they ever had any. I have another son who likes to lie on the couch and watch television. School work is to him as the dishwasher is to me. His high school career has consisted of  gradually dumbing down his schedule to the point where watching television does not affect his grades. He doesn’t seem dumb to me, but it’s hard to tell, really.  His learning disability is laziness but stupidity could be in his future.

What do you do about being lazy? Getting up off your ass and doing something is a good start. At least that’s what my Dad thought.


If you’re smart, you may have noticed that this post is bereft of citations or any sign of research. That’s true, but it’s not because I’m dumb. It’s a blog, and I don’t have to do all that. So, I’m just lazy and possibly ignorant.

I maintain–and believe scientists would agree–that stupidity remains the number one learning disability in our country. Why do I say that? Because no one else will say it, even though in our heart of hearts we all know it’s true. If you’re stupid, that’s a hurdle that’s almost impossible to clear.

If you’ve managed to read this entire inane post, I have good news. You’re probably not dumb or you would have lost interest when you noticed there were no pictures. You’re also slightly less ignorant (maybe). And you’re not so lazy that you won’t at least read something. Congratulations.

© 2013


  1. A word to the wise ain’t necessary – it’s the stupid ones that need the advice. I enjoy reading your thoughts! I laugh often at the courage you display in saying what the rest of us think but dare not express it. You have a gift …. tell someone to go to hell and they look forward to it. lol

  2. Pingback: How Smart Aren’t You? | Coal Troll's Blog

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