One night a few years ago as I was driving down a narrow alley in downtown LA a car approached from the other direction, ignoring the conspicuous ONE WAY sign pointing in my favor. Our vehicles met and paused. It was a showdown. From the opposing car's sunroof, an athletic young man in a backwards baseball cap popped out like a jack in the box, his arms outstretched in the universal symbol of manly martyrdom popularized by Creed frontman Scott Stapp.
"It's a one way street, yo!" the young man roared. He was half my age.
I think about this moment a lot when I'm in traffic, or alleys, or being confronted by angry men popping out of things. What, exactly, happened? There are at least three meanings that could be attached to this seemingly simple interaction. The obvious reading—that Stapp Lite was too dumb to realize his error—seems a little too obvious. My gut tells me he didn't care about his error, or he didn't care about his error to such a great extent that he wanted it made clear that the error was mine in challenging him (by not immediately evaporating into a cloud of dust).
Stupid people are more complex than we give them credit for. A 1999 Cornell University study, "How Difficulties in Recognizing One's Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments," reached one inescapable conclusion: stupidity bolsters confidence to, more or less, the same degree that smartness weakens confidence. The less you know, the less you don't know what you don't know.
Classic egghead East Coast bullshit, right? The study, however, ignored one crucial distinction. People who don't know they are stupid are not necessarily the same as people who shamelessly flaunt their stupidity. Bush 2, Sarah Palin, and Rick Perry (the governor, not the candidate) all made careers for themselves by playing up their stupidity as a denial of eggheadishness. Secretly, of course, they conceded to their pals that they were terribly smart by allowing us coastal eggheads—the true dummies, in an intuitive, down to earth sense—to believe that they, the alleged dummies, were, in fact, dumb to begin with.
It's complicated! Making things even more complicated, there's plenty of overlap between Self Aware Stupids and Stupid Stupids. Pundit Michelle Malkin scolds bookworms for their bookworminess, but she also uses the word "idiocracy" without acknowledging the recent movie of the same name which depicts, in graphic detail, what would happen to this civilization if she and her buddies were allowed to continue pooping all over everything. Millions of stupid people buy books (Arguing With Idiots, If Democrats Had Any Brains, They'd Be Republicans), written to make them believe their stupidity is morally superior to prevailing smartness. Every week, some nationally elected goofball wins supporters by treating a Colbert or Onion story like a bona fide outrage. The Get A Brain Morans guy could absolutely run for office on the strength of one simple typo.
As for Sunroof Bro, I had a vision that night in the alley; he would someday work in the hospital or Hospice I would reside in as an old man. He'd still wear a backwards baseball cap. Years of violent, sexual workouts would have made his body lean and hard, so that he would tower over my feeble, bedridden figure while exclaiming, for the sake of his chuckling buddies, "check out this fucking egghead."
And when I looked up, a single tear rolling down my wrinkled cheeks, he'd puff his chest out and be all like, "WHAT!?"
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