Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

July 1, 2011

Stupidity – The Next Pandemic?

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on July 1, 2011

(Nick Catrantzos — who has written for Homeland Security Watch before — wrote today’s post)

Events on the world or national stage must surely cast doubt over educator Ken Robinson’s assertion that we should not so much be asking how intelligent people are as how they are intelligent (K. Robinson, The Element, NY: Viking, 2009, p. 43).

Look at Greece’s economic meltdown accompanied with strikes and entitlement protests only making matters worse.  Or consider sports fans like those rioting in the streets of otherwise sedate Vancouver because their team lost the Stanley Cup (not as in misplacing the trophy but as in being decisively outplayed by Boston).  Then turn to the TSA’s latest ham-handed faux pas in a screener’s browbeating of an ailing, 95-year-old passenger who had to surrender her Depends undergarment or miss her flight.

How is this intelligent, indeed?  Perhaps the better questions to ponder are, “How are we stupid?  Or how are we this stupid?”

Next look at how TSA managed damage control on the foregoing story by crowing that they did not actually strip-search the woman or take away her undergarment.  No, they just gave her options like not being able to make her flight unless she abandoned it (per CNN’s June 27 account at http://www.cnn.com/2011/TRAVEL/06/27/florida.tsa.incident/index.html).

This public relations statement makes things better?

Now the questions become, “How stupid are we?  Or, how stupid are we supposed to be?”

Toleration for stupidity is growing in proportion to its global spread, and there are common threads running through active practitioners of such stupidity.  One of the threads is the tie between this kind of hostile behavior against innocuous targets and the power and status of those responsible for the stupidity in question.  [For illumination on this subject, see J. C. Magee and A. D. Galindky, “Social Hierarchy:  The Self-Reinforcing Nature of Power and Status, The Academy of Management Annals, Volume 2, August 2008, pp. 351-398.]

It is a safe bet to infer that the agents of stupidity have relatively little status in their respective worlds.  Jobless anarchists, drunken sports fans, and even the vast majority of hard-working but eternally vilified TSA inspectors enjoy the relative status of whale droppings – which must be at the bottom of the ocean.  Having no status in the public eye, some nevertheless retain a certain power to compensate.

It is the power of the small to take out their frustrations on people or objects unable to defend themselves.  If you can’t win the game, you upset the checkerboard.

So these displays of maleficence, or stupidity, linger and proliferate, absent an injection of adult mind into the swirl of adolescently botched events.   The situation recalls the favorite aphorism of my business law professor in an MBA program:

“This life’s hard, but it’s harder if you’re stupid.–George V. Higgins:  The Friends of Eddie Coyle

But wait.  There is more. Could things actually be getting worse?

One New Yorker, in subtle refutation of the title of a New York Times reporter’s faith in The Wisdom of Crowds (J. Surowiecki, NY:  Anchor Books, 2004) recently drew attention to the subtle trend for the benefit of responders.

Writing in Watchline (Issue 06.23.11), a weekly one-pager created for enhancing fire fighter situational awareness in New York that has since gone quietly viral in the response community, FDNY’s Captain Sean Newman had this to say about the phenomenon:

Researcher Determines that Stupidity is Contagious

An Austrian psychologist has released a study in the journal Media Psychology claiming that being exposed to “stupid” behavior, in this case reading a story about soccer hooligans, lowered a test groups’average test score compared to a control group, according to the Wall Street Journal.  Students who read the hooligan story, and did not have mechanisms to distance themselves from the protagonist, scored 5-7 percent less than the control group on a “difficult” test covering geography, science and arts.

Assessment:  Scientists have proposed the infectiousness of behavior (and ideas) since at least the late 19th Century. Gustave LeBon introduced the concept of contagion theory to describe crowd behavior, which he postulated was driven by the unconscious mind. Later, convergence theory took hold, claiming that participants share a common disposition in close proximity. These theories suggest that the crowd collectively accepts a new norm, which justifies behavior that they would not normally practice. Today, crowd mitigation efforts focus on the Elaborated Social Identity Model (ESIM), stating that temporary identity with the crowd becomes “salient,” or prominent. ESIM has caused a shift in crowd management away from aggressive police tactics, such as challenging mobs with riot gear, which may provoke the group, to more subtle forms of behavior modification such as crowd “self-policing,” identity transfer, and police/crowd education efforts.

What do all these events communicate to a security professional?  Two things:

  • Job security, for the essence of stupidity is that it will always stimulate the demand for protection from its expression.
  • A rueful nod to this wisdom seen in Pike’s Place Market, Seattle, on a T-shirt for sale among tourist trinkets:

Stupid kills – But not near enough.


Share and Enjoy:
  • Digg
  • Reddit
  • Facebook
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Google Bookmarks
  • email
  • Print
  • LinkedIn


Comment by John Comiskey

July 1, 2011 @ 7:47 am

Homeland Security policy (and near all public policy) strives for universality in the interest of efficiency.

At the 10,000 foot level all or at least most of us doing the same missions (or near-same missions) at all times and places the same way (or near-same way) arguably promotes efficiency.

While the 10,000 foot view, typically, allows for some wiggle room, it typically [emphasis] maintains a “oh someone will de conflict the policy and make sense of the 10,000 foot view and just make it work.”

Notwithstanding, the above qualifier, the 10,000 foot (again typically) does not facilitate the deconfliction process. Instead, the 10,000 foot process all too often imposes rigid instructions like the current TSA screening guidelines.

Consider TSA’s primary front at the airport.

Vigorous screening policies because:

1. Terrorist brought knives on planes and hijacked planes and crashed the planes into 3 buildings and tried for a 4th and committed mass murder.
2. At least one terrorist concealed an IEDs in his shoe.
3. At least one terrorist concealed an IED in a water bottle(s).
4. At least one terrorist concealed an IED in his undergarments.
5. Many terrorist are currently scheming to commit terrorist act on planes.

So we have a rigorous screening process that cannot and should not exempt babies, children, the infirm, and the elderly.

BUT, the above in many cases should be given special treatment. TSA’s website demonstrates a pilot program to facilitate autistic passengers.

That is not a stupid idea. That is a smart idea and perhaps a smart practice that might be used as a model for special passengers.

First, empower on-scene TSA supervisors to tactfully and effectively screen passengers.

Second, educate the consumer and target special customers. Having had the experience of traveling during
peak times and notably to Disney during the Winter Break, I have observed inexperienced travelers
struggle with a system that might be managed better by both TSA and the consumer.

Homeland Security Era requires an understanding of the process. Ask not what TSA can do for you, rather
what you can do to have a safe trip and enjoy Disney.

While we are countering a lot of things, i.e., counterterrorism, counternarcotics, counterproliferation, counterradicalization, and other counters, why not a counterstupidity strategy.

BTW, Disney does a great job of managing a lot of people doing a lot of things. Perhaps another smart practice that TSA should look at.

Comment by Dan O'Connor

July 1, 2011 @ 1:50 pm

“Stupid is as stupid does” Forrest Gump.

With appropriate notation given to Forrest, stupidity is an activity, not an appearance. It is a matter of deed or demonstration not a mere appearance. Forrest’s version of the saying means that stupidity is not just a surface thing derived from a person’s appearance.

Stupidity manifests itself in overt political correctness. It manifests itself in malevolent and boorish behavior being explained away as a form of self expression. It manifests itself in the degradation of civility.

If you look around and with not much effort you’ll find lots of articles on Christians being stupid, Muslims too, Catholics, Atheists etc.

Liberals/conservatives, black/white, North/South, Gay/straight, newscasters, reporters, Generals and Admirals, teachers and leaders; all stupid.

Homeland Security is stupid.

Everybody and everything is stupid to somebody, or so it seems.

And let’s not leave out our legislators. It’s very easy to surround them with all that they do as being stupid.

Stupidity is championed by writers and entertainers as well too. Men or more specifically fathers are fodder and lampooned as buffoons. In their book, Spreading Misandry: The Teaching of Contempt for Men in Popular Culture, authors Paul Nathanson and Katherine Young argue that misandry in all forms is largely tolerated in our society. In fact, in the movies, sexism in the form of misandry is considered “politically correct,” they write, creating a double standard among the genders. So does that constitute stupid? Is the increase of stupidity inversely proportional to the decline of civility?

Scholars, religious leaders, and cultural observers have long decried the increasing rise and intensity of incivility, particularly as it affects and diminishes the lessening of public discourse.

Democracy, or at least our brand of it is losing its battle to the vulgar, mean, caustic, and indifferent. Since the 1960s, critics both from the liberal dispositon to the conservative political spectrum have voiced concerns about the health of civility in Western democracies. If its not dead its dying.

It should not be lost on anyone that much of the demise of civility is married to the age of self expression, enlightenment, exploration, and excess. Again it may simply be a coincidence.

“Civility,” wrote New York Times opinion columnist David Brooks “is a tree with deep roots, and without the roots, it can’t last. So what are those roots? They are failure, sin, weakness and ignorance.” If Brooks is correct, the roots of civility are hard to uncover in the 21st century. Where has civility gone and has it been replaced by the cultural promotion of gluttony, indulgence, narcissism, license, and immodesty.

Civility, according to Brooks, is the opposite of self love, and the problem over the past 40 years or so is that “we have gone from a culture that reminds people of their own limitations to a culture that encourages people to think highly of themselves…”. The elevation of the self over the tribe so to speak.

In our sociological messaging of self over the group something has become lost. If John is correct and “Homeland Security policy (and near all public policy) strives for universality in the interest of efficiency.” How can policy be efficient it is attempting to be all things for all people?

In striving for universality in this diminishing expectation of civility and the amplitude ever increasing of self importance it’s no wonder we find ourselves here today; nearly crippled by debt, ideology, fear, and stupidity.

Our social civility is dying or maybe already dead. In the book Bowling Alone, Robert Putnam, a sociologist at Harvard, offers a thought provoking supposition; our society’s health is being threatened by the erosion of relationships, networks, and interactions, what he refers to social capital. Not unlike financial capital or human capital, social capital is created by human interaction, which is often fostered by clubs, organizations and other forms of interactions. It is fostered by being social.

In the quest for individual significance, focus on self, complete autonomy, lack of accountability, technology, and a variety of social justice and politically correct montages, we are or have effectively ceased being a collective body of Americans and instead become a series of demographic focus groups, socioeconomic groups, targeted by pollsters, marketers, and messages.

On some ephemeral and alternatively long term sense, we will cease being who we thought we once were. There is great irony that this posting was written so close to Independence Day. We have grown so dependant on and of government, programs, systems, assistance, safety, security, and expectation that we no longer appear capable of facing uncertainty with any independence at all.

It has to make one wonder; if we celebrate Independence from tyranny, oppression, and brutality annually why have we become so shallow, bitter, and insecure and dependant?

The precipice we find ourselves looking over is very high and steep. It requires sacrifice, commitment, and vision. Our obsession with Wiener, Bridezilla’s, Mob Wives, hooligans, and other superficial idiocies are mild compared to what lies ahead. When do the gladiators roll in? So how stupid are we becomes the secondary question.

How stupid are we willing to become?

“ …that is the question: Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer. The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, Or to take arms against a sea of troubles, And by opposing end them?”


…the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, Or to take arms against a sea of troubles….

Stupid is as stupid does…

Happy Independence Day and thanks for your posts.

Comment by God Bless Our Beloved Republic!

July 3, 2011 @ 5:53 pm

God Bless our beloved Republic! God Bless all who have served and today serve in military uniform and as first reponders.

Unfortunately, it is not stupidity, yet rather selfishness which has my branding the “beltway bandits” – so, so perplexing to see those we have “entrusted’ by precious vote to represent us and to uphold their oath and to see how partisan each of our elected officials engage the process of governing – their self agenda.

Also, We know this nation was founded on a Judeo-Christian platform and We are a christian nation, yet we are not stupid, yet rather too point the finge r at another instead of repenting as all before the eyes of our Creator!

The world is not stupid, yet rather dysfunctional and today more than ever before, selfish – and for this reason, whether it be the pols, the bankers, the locals, neighbors and the churches, We no longer have the integrity to stand tall and before God, we are failing so blatantly in every way —

God Bless America!

Christopher Tingus

Comment by William R. Cumming

July 4, 2011 @ 9:01 am

Well few invest in community anymore and the first tell tale of that fact is the decline in civility.

Don’t ask for whom the bells toll?

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a comment

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>