This week I’ve been sampling a number of TV series on Netflix and Acorn TV. For the most part I haven’t managed to get through a single episode. The reason is simple: stupidity. Apparently, when you can’t think of a clever plot device, you can always fall back on stupid. In some cases, it is a case of portraying a group of people as buffoons — a village of idiots, for example, with our hero as merely the brightest of a bad lot. This is bad enough — a form of offensiveness that is akin to racism. The stupid as stereotypes. Most people aren’t stupid but they can be easily portrayed as such (or made to act that way).

But what really irks me is stupidity portrayed as any number of supposedly sterling qualities. It may be determination — the need to forge ahead based on firmly held principles, despite there being obvious evidence they are wrong. It may be portrayed as bravery or as rebellion against authority. All reasonable characteristics in fiction but, usually it would all fall apart if someone simply asked a few questions. Does that make sense? Is there an alternative explanation? Have you thought about how things will look tomorrow? Don’t you think that is unnecessarily risky?

These types of questions — requiring rational analysis and careful consideration of future consequences are never asked. The heroes and villains blunder forward and I switch to another channel.

I so wish I could do that in real life.

There is a current in popular “intellectualism” (and, yes, the quotes are ironic) that suggests reason isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, that we would make better decisions if we relied on our instincts  and came to conclusions in the ‘blink’ of an eye. This is often called common sense (nothing so uncommon as). Not surprisingly these “ideas” are often put forward by people with remarkably right wing opinions on most things.

First thoughts are not always the best ones. There is a highly successful means of treating depression called cognitive therapy. What it shows is that our first thoughts are driven by our emotions and instincts — our moods — and most often lead to depression, anxiety, rage and guilt. Sounds like a formula for Tea Party membership, doesn’t it?

It is true — reason is hard work, it is time consuming, it can make mistakes but ultimately it is the only tool w have that will let us live together in peace and solve the big problems that a mass society will inevitably have. Reason is the basis of science, after all. Which may be why so many conservatives hate science.

Instinct is great if you live in a state of nature — the war of all against all where life is nasty, brutish and short. But, frankly, that doesn’t interest me any more than stupidity.

But that’s ten minutes.


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