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Robert Levin

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Stupidity: Its Uses & Abuses
by Robert Levin   

Last edited: Friday, January 03, 2003
Posted: Monday, December 23, 2002

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As a response to the human condition, stupidity is rivaled in its genius only by schizophrenia.

It’s time to take punitive action against an
insidious and rapidly proliferating menace to our
emotional well being. I’m speaking, of course, of
“service industry” people who are embracing the
dumbing down craze too enthusiastically and who,
doubtless incapable of even masturbating by
themselves any more, regularly perpetrate
nerve-rattling, mood-curdling, faculty-numbing
and spirit-withering indignities against us.

Let me hasten to say that I value stupidity as
much as the next man. I do. Stupidity is, after
all, the best solution we've come up with to
the mother of all problems itself, the problem
of being mortal. Enabling us to recast the grimmest
of existential givens--making it possible to believe
not only that we've seen the image of John the
Baptist on two separate taco chips but that our
sightings are proof-positive of a Second Coming
and the prospect of salvation and eternal life--
stupidity is the most effective means available with
which to reduce terror and panic (the human default
condition) to a relatively tolerable disquietude.So
I respect stupidity. Okay? I think, in fact, that stupidity
has been, since the origin of consciousness,
a marvel of human resourcefulness. Indeed, as a
response to the human condition, I think that
stupidity is rivaled in its genius only by

But while my regard for stupidity is equal to
anyone’s, I also think it’s important to remember
that (if for no other reason than simple decency)
the ancient Greek admonition, “anything in moderation,”
has application even here.

I mean for all of its utility as a buffer against existential
dread, stupidity is an unruly thing that can have—when
it’s exercised intemperately, when no effort is made to
confine it to its purpose—a very negative impact on
people who are subjected to it. Yes, it’s crucial to our
ability to function at all that we not always recognize too
clearly that death is inevitable and final. But if you’re a
bank teller it can pose a major challenge to your
customer’s medication when you’ve truncated your brain
so drastically that you can’t be certain if it’s Ben Franklin
or Tom Snyder who appears on a hundred-dollar bill.
(Hold this last thought for just a moment.)

Now to illustrate my point I could discuss the
conduct of innumerable emotional shitheels who, in
just this past month, used stupidity irresponsibly
and, to grievous effect, tracked their slovenly
handling of the problem of living into my life.

I’m thinking of clerks, counterpeople and company
representatives—AND NONE OF THEM FOREIGN BORN—who
reduced my own circuits to flakes of carbon when
they obliged me to restrict my vocabulary to the
dozen or so English words they were able to

And remaining vivid in my memory are two cashiers,
one of whom insisted that $42 for a quart of
orange juice HAD to be correct because it was
“right there on the register, and the other who
demonstrated an appalling literalness.

In the case of the latter individual: After I
placed some half-dozen items in front of him and
was reaching for my wallet, he asked me
(rhetorically, I assumed) if I was taking them.
When I joked that no, I wasn’t, that I liked to go
into stores and move the stock around, he became
irate, bellowed that I must be “some kind of
weirdo” to do such a thing and demanded that I

The orange juice jerkoff caused some nasty
chemicals to spill in my brain that still haven’t
stopped flushing through me. The second bastard
triggered a twenty-four-hour period in which I
experienced a profound reluctance to leave my
apartment, answer the phone or take any kind of

No, I didn’t make those people up.

But of all the recklessly moronic lowlifes I
encountered in this brief time frame, the one that
best personified the scourge I’m addressing was
the aforementioned teller, who, when I asked her
to make smaller denominations of a large bill
SHE'D just slid toward ME, took a long look at it,
said, “Wait a minute, something’s very wrong
here.” Then said, “No, it’s okay.” Then said,
“This CAN'T be right—I don’t think he’s even on
the air anymore.” And then announced that the bill
was counterfeit and that she’d have to confiscate
it—without compensating me. (Apparently, having
touched it, I’d technically been in possession of
the bill—and no, I SWEAR, I didn’t make this
bag of shit up either.)

Since I’m focusing here on the behavior of a
specific person, I’ll let pass the fact that no
one at this venerable bank—THE SOLE FUNCTION OF
WHICH IS TO HANDLE MONEY!—was able to prevent
blatantly bogus currency from infiltrating its
stock. As disappointed as I was by this
circumstance, I’ll keep to my teller, who (her
immediate triggering of a hideous psychosomatic
rash on my chin, notwithstanding) had still not
committed the most egregious and damaging of her

Hardly. When I protested her action and was, for a
solid hour, left to watch her engage in round upon
round of whispered phone conversations and huddled
meetings, she had the temerity to come back and
tell me: “[The bank] has ELECTED [emphasis mine]
to reimburse you.”

Now I‘ll concede that, in the matter of punitive
measures, the antics I’ve described prior to this
point may not justify penalties more severe than a
modest fine and several weekends of community
service. But, in my judgment, when you add
condescension to rampant imbecility—AND CONCOCT,
ALMOST A WEEK!—you invite the most terrible of
consequences. Working for a great financial
institution, spending her days not just behind a
bulletproof shield but in a hallowed realm of
miracles like compound interest, this teller’s
come to feel invulnerable—she actually believes
that she’s in all ways protected from harm. To be
sure, so neat a self-deception is worthy of
admiration. But given her failure to curb the
arrogance her delusion has engendered (let alone
her excess of witlessness) I think she should be
disabused of said delusion forthwith. In fact, I
don’t think it would be in the least draconian to
lie in wait for her after work, rip off her face
and shove her smug countenance up her ass.

I’m sorry. I really didn’t mean to suggest that we
resort to violence and open ourselves to a
potential penitentiary situation. But if I had a
lapse there, it was due to the cumulative toxicity
of the experiences I’ve reported and it only makes
my argument. Exposure to undisciplined
mindlessness can compromise the most splendid of
nervous systems in a trice, and people dealing
with the public who abuse stupidity must be
discouraged from persisting. Collected now, ready
to take a sensible approach, I’d say that
legislation making gross stupidity in a public
context a quality of life violation (and gross
stupidity aggravated by a superior attitude a
Class A Misdemeanor) ought to serve the purposes
of deterrence and remedy quite sufficiently.

Of course, should Bill of Rights fetishists thwart
the writing of such statutes, there’s a step I’ve
been pondering that we could take on our own.
Though it might require us to keep a bottle of
Spirit of Ipecac handy (and would obviously be
most effective when we’re sitting across a desk
from phlegm-flecks like that teller), we could,
just suddenly, throw up.

I’m not talking about pinpoint, or “smart,”
vomiting that’s directed at a specific, limited
target, but vomiting which, fashioned after the
carpet bombing techniques developed in Vietnam,
permeates everything in your immediate vicinity.
It may not fix the problem, but delivering the
remnants of the Chili Surprise you had for lunch
to the clothing and workspace of a creep who’s
making your life a roiling sea of excrement, would
at least return the favor somewhat in kind and
figures to be immensely gratifying.

Plus, you’re not as likely to provoke the interest
of a criminal justice person as you’d be if you
abruptly introduced an Uzi into the proceedings.
Quite the opposite: You could be reasonably
confident that law enforcement officers would keep
their distance.

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