Friday, October 22, 2010

Stupid People Bug Me

By John Gilstrap
I don't often mix the duties of my Big Boy job as the director of safety for a trade association in Washington with the writing side of my life, but every now and then, the two converge.  More often than not, when they do, it has something to do with some stupid thing I've heard on television.

Every morning as I shower and brush my teeth, I watch/listen to the cheerful, well-coiffed network newscasters as they present what passes for news these days. A few weeks ago, wedged between reports of the latest celebrity marriage and the reasons why diets fail, my network of choice presented an in depth interview with a “courageous” young man—a “hero” no less—who had to cut off his own arm because he reached into his furnace to retrieve a tool, and he couldn’t pull the arm out again through the louvers.


Actually, he only partially cut it off. After three days of sawing and gnawing, a coworker came by to check up on him and called the fire department. The guy survived, the arm did not.

Not once during this gushing report (pardon the pun) did anyone state the obvious: That you’ve got to be a special breed of idiot to stick your arm through louvers and get it stuck. I don’t mean to pile on here, but are you kidding me?

During his interview, the victim confided to the news guy that he realized that he needed to take the drastic step of self-amputation when he thought about his family. His mother and father were coming to visit him, and he didn’t want them to find him that way. The news played it as altruism; I think it was humiliation. Who would want their parents to think they were that stupid?

I’m being harsh here because there’s a point to be made. We need to start calling stupid stupid, and we need to stop making excuses for people who make ridiculous choices in their lives.

Take, for example, a safety guy I know who brags to anyone who will listen that he gets his prized exotic sports car up to 150 miles an hour as often as he can on under-populated “back roads.” That’s 220 feet per second. Assuming perfect reflexes, he will travel 330 feet—more than the length of a football field—in the time it takes him to recognize a hazard (say, a deer in the road, or a child) and move his foot from the gas to the brake. No one would survive that accident. Or if they did, they’d likely wish they hadn’t.

What level of hubris—what kind of total disregard for others—would make someone think he has the right to put the rest of the community in danger so that he can play with his mega-horsepower toy? I don’t get it.

Coincidentally, this safety guy has problems getting management and employees to buy into the safety program. Gee, I wonder if there’s a correlation.

While we’re on the topic of stupidity, let’s talk about motorcycle helmets. (Actually, we could discuss motorcycles themselves, but I fear I'm alienating enough people as it is.) A friend of mine opposes laws requiring motorcycle helmets because he thinks they dilute the gene pool by giving people who are otherwise too stupid to live an artificial extension on life.

Come on, think about it. A moving vehicle, a shock-sensitive brain, and a world populated almost exclusively with stuff that is harder than your skull. Can you think of anything that might go wrong?

Look, I’m as moved by human tragedy as the next guy, but outside a victim’s circle of family and friends, doesn’t there come a point when self-inflicted tragedy is just plain sinful? Doesn’t there come a point where it’s okay to show anger when people show such disregard to those who love them and depend upon them for companionship and support and income?

I’m there. In the fantasy world where I'm elected king, we're going to create a colony for the chronically stupid.  Hey, we all make mistakes, but it seems to me that the village idiots should be so labeled, and we should hold them accountable for the havoc they wreak.

Or, I could be wrong.  Am I?

11 comments:

  1. I'm with you on just calling stupid, stupid. There are myriad examples out there but I get particularly annoyed by know-it-alls who come to hike here in the desert in summer and don't take enough water--then have to be rescued. That kind of stupid ought to be considered against the law.

    It may sound harsh, but often, stupidity is costly to the public at large.

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  2. I agree. The media has an agenda, and that agenda is that they're going to spin stories to fit the image they're trying to put out there. So instead of ol' Hacksaw over there being included in, say, a feature called "The Week's Dumbest Dumbasses", we have to listen to some smiling fool call them a hero.

    There have been several of these "I had to hack my arm off" stories lately, and I have to wonder how many of these people only did what they did because they had seen some other idiot celebrated for doing it? I mean, okay, I'm sure it has been necessary at times, but this dude cut his arm off to save himself the embarrassment of being found by his parents! Seriously? How is that heroic?

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  3. I have people in my circle who rail against seat belt laws, speed limits, helmets, fire retardant regulations for children's clothing--anything that keeps them from making choices that they damn well please. And of course, these same people don't want to be required to have insurance. But when things go wrong, of course, expert help needs to be there to rescue them. And hopefully, rescue the rest of us from them.

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  4. You could be wrong, but you're not.

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  5. Too bad there's not a law against stupidity. We'd have the largest prison population in the world.

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  6. Incredible. Dare I ask what news network and news show you were watching?

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  7. Kathryn, I think there's a legitimate debate to be waged over the point at which government regulation becomes intrusion into people's lives. I'd be fine with eliminating helmet and seatbelt laws so long as those who refuse to wear them are held fully accountable for the results, including surrendering their rights to sue other parties involved in the accident.

    Daniel, I believe it was NBC's Today Show.

    John Gilstrap
    www.johngilstrap.com

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  8. Your blog today cracked me up, John. I have no idea why people are so enthralled with a myriad of justifications for their stupidity--and the news has to cover it or the court system has to listen to it.

    But here is a link that recognizes stupidity as a cleansing of the gene pool. The Darwin Awards.

    http://www.darwinawards.com/

    Utterly amazing.

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  9. Here's the thing about motorcycle helmet laws, John- frequently riders survive a bad crash despite their lack of a helmet (those riders tend to have hard heads to begin with, after all), and by and large those people are un- or under-insured. So the tax burden of paying for the intensive hospital treatments they require for the duration of their lives becomes a public responsibility. And at least if their heads are protected, there's a chance those expenses won't be as significant.

    I'm with you on this stupidity thing in general, however. The latest for me was Christine O'Donnell, who not only had no idea that the separation of church and state was outlined in the First Amendment, but didn't think it necessary for a Senator to possess that knowledge, or to be familiar with ANY recent high court decisions. That's stupid.

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  10. Michelle--Your comment over motorcycle helmets really struck home with me and reminded me of a friend I had in college.

    He'd given his helmet to a girlfriend (my BFF), so she'd be safe on their ride, but after he hit a curb, he suffered a brain stem injury that left him in a coma for 2 wks. I visited the hospital every day, because his family (who lived out of town) had a hard time dealing with draining his tubes and seeing him that way. He came out of the coma, barely able to tie his shoes, and had to learn the basics of taking care of his daily needs all over again.

    No matter how informed he would be on his liability going in, his long term care afterwards would have fallen to his family or the state or whatever insurance coverage he had. Cha-ching. So I can see how this would be a hotly contested argument between personal liberties and the government stepping in to mitigate the cost of care in a not-uncommon situation like this.

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  11. Regarding Helmets I am torn. On the one side I say, cull the fools. It is better on the gene pool. On the other, I used to be an EMT...I hate using a spatula to get people pieces off the pavement.

    On stupidity in general: I work for the Federal Government....take that as you wish.

    Stupid is as stupid does...and the stupid in my agency is really busy

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