We have all done absolutely bone-headed things that make those around us --- friend and foe alike --- query not only our intelligence, but also, at times, our sanity. Teenagers, in particular, do these kinds of things constantly --- one of the most common parental refrains out there, I think, has to be the plaintively despairing cry of, “why ever would you do such a thing?” and its close twin, “what were you thinking?” And I vividly recall reading an article by a psychologist who referred to adolescence as ‘a time of transitory psychosis.’ (More transitory for some than others, I think.) But before this becomes simply a trashing of hormonal adolescents, let us assure teenagers that by no means do they have a lock on All Things Stupid. Adults… oy. (Heavy sigh.)
So, as human beings… homo sapiens… we shake our heads in despair at our own and other people’s foibles. But… as writers, though… we cackle madly with delight at these same foibles, because the Stupidity of Humanity actually makes things unbelievably easier when we write stories. The Arrogant Worms, a Canadian musical group, wrote a hilariously accurate song called History is Made by Stupid People, and never were truer words spoken (or sung). Without stupid people, we really don’t have stories. Or perhaps it would be kinder to say that without otherwise intelligent people doing stupid things, we really don’t have stories. Although the end result is the same, either way.
Cases in point: if Isildur had destroyed the Ring as soon as he got it, rather than hoard it for a family heirloom, we wouldn’t have had a story for The Lord of the Rings. If Captain Ahab hadn’t decided to go up against the massive (and deceptively cunning) white whale which dined on his leg, we wouldn’t have Moby Dick. If Voldemort had been just a little more diligent in doing his research about killing off troublesome malcontents who resisted his drive to power, we wouldn’t have the Harry Potter books. If Jadis the White Witch had killed Edmund immediately on his entrance into Narnia, the prophecy might have been confounded and she wouldn’t have had to worry about being supplanted by a bunch of teenage kings and queens. If someone had murdered Cersei Lannister… hmm, well, no, Game of Thrones would probably have occurred anyway, given the surfeit of resident psychotics and assorted murderous rabble there who all manage to make Machiavelli look like a rank beginner. (is it just me, or does it seem to anyone else that the kingdom of Westeros is largely --- mostly --- populated by sociopaths, psychopaths, and just good old-fashioned butchers? Here’s an idea that may not be as out there as you might at first think: maybe Westeros is Hell. Or at least Purgatory. And the few decent people there are doing atonement for all the bad --- and stupid --- things they did in life. Hey, stranger things have happened.) Anyway, you get the drift of my examples.
Actually, long ago, the Roman Catholic Church very helpfully categorized the major stupidities we fall into over and over again --- although they call them sins, not stupidities (you say po tay to, I say po tah to; but again, the end result is the same, either way). In fact, the church refers to them as the Seven Deadly Sins (which has rather a nice dramatic ring to it): lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy and the biggy, pride. (And perhaps there should be another one added to cover the case of the Belgian woman: carelessness.) Now, personally, I think they’re all merely subsets of egocentrism, which I would characterize as the prime motivating force of just about every evil and/or stupid thing we do. Egocentrism --- and every sin, deadly or otherwise, can really be boiled down to one mantra: I want --- frequently with the added corollary of and my wants are infinitely more important than yours. Therefore, goes the reasoning with this mantra, I will (place your chosen evil or stupidity here) because I want your home/wealth/lifestyle/whatever or want to impose on you my social/economic/political/whatever beliefs because you’re too stupid and I know better.
Funny thing about stupidity in our stories, though: you’ve gotta be careful with just letting go too much. Readers/viewers are prepared to see characters become ensnared in webs generated by their own stupidities… but not to an unlimited degree. Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, we often encounter literary and film situations where we exclaim, “No way! Nobody could be that stupid!”
Sigh. Yes, Virginia, they can. Oh, yes, indeed, they can.
And frequently are. Oh, the humanity.