24. II 2021
Sanity is a small box; insanity is everything. (Charles Manson)
Two erotic modes of modernity
The real genius of Kafka was to eroticize bureaucracy, a non-erotic entity which in the early 20th century had already acquired a divine dimension representative of another order beyond earthly reality. A century after Kafka, Sarah Palin rose from virtual anonymity to become an unlikely icon of eroticized stupidity, another force of the new order. She impassioned America and brought a new Eros to politics. In a series of carefully coordinated public appearances she struck resonance with a large body of the American population (mostly white middle aged men) and emerged as the Franz Kafka of right-wing populism. Embraced by the conservative elites who quickly recognized the political value of the ridiculous, she became, practically overnight, the new face of the Republican Party.
Sarah entered the scene as an emblematic representative of de-complexified post-femininity and a self-declared champion of the American underclass. She stood as a reminder that you can be ignorant, stupid, and, at the same time, aggressive and still occupy a high public office. She embodied “post-feminist” femininity without a complex, uniting the features of mother, primary-school teacher (with her glasses and hair in a bun), public person, and, implicitly, sex object, proudly displaying the “first dude” as a phallic toy (and don’t forget the “drill, baby, drill!”). The message was that she “has it all” — and that, to add insult to injury, it was a Republican woman who had realized this Left-liberal dream.
Sarah Palin’s figure resides on the end point of continuum of eroticization of the non-erotic that spans one century from Kafka’s castrating power of bureaucracy to Palin’s castrating power of stupidity. But she didn’t come out of nowhere. For decades, stupidity had been cultivated as a precious commodity, its value well recognized and used in politics, business and media. After considerable efforts have been invested in its rise and widespread acceptance, the harvest time came in 2016. And what a harvest it’s been. In the last four years, the circle has finally closed: Kafka’s world of eroticized bureaucracy gradually gave way to the eroticized stupidity of Sarah Palin, and finished with a fully bureaucratized stupidity of Trump’s GOP.
Creative potential of stupidity
You can’t get lost in one dimension — you go either left or right. On a plane, that is easier, but it comes with no penalty. Penalty comes with gravity and the third dimension.
Until recently, ignorance and stupidity were allowed only transient intrusions into public life. There was always a certain stigma attached to stupidity — people used to be embarrassed to display it. Sarah Palin changed that forever. Stupidity is here to stay; it is now being promoted as a virtue and has acquired an elaborate cultural cross-dressing aimed at anesthetizing the public to its omnipresence and, at the same time, encouraging stupidity to come out in its full glory.
The last four years ushered in a new age when stupidity infiltrated every pore of public life. Stupidity has become ubiquitous and unavoidable, assumed many forms and developed a level of granularity it hadn’t had before. Every segment of society has been touched by it. From those unemployed and socially dislocated, to political lobbyists, conservative think tanks, Congressmen, Senators, ministers, lawyers, media personalities, epidemiologists, cabinet members, economic advisors, and the First Family, stupidity always managed to have its voice heard. In its everyday acceptance, stupidity now demands a new framework — it requires to be properly identified, stratified, nuanced, and contextualized. Not everything is equally “stupid” – there are shades, depths and texture to it.
The space of intelligence is not a one-dimensional spectrum consisting of intelligent, stupid and everything in between. Intelligence, wisdom, ignorance, stupidity, or idiocy are not just points on a line, but destinations, paths, and directions on a multi-dimensional landscape.
The word intelligence comes from inter-legere, which means choosing-between. It is not entirely free as it is caught in a between. Intelligence has no access to outside because it makes a choice between options in a system. Therefore, intelligence does not really exercise free choice: it can only select among the offerings the system affords.
Intelligence follows the logic of the system; it inhabits the “horizontal plane”. It is conditional: A given system defines its own intelligence. (Having a PhD degree in abstract algebra has little value for survival in a prison.)
In contrast, idiosyncratic takes leave of the prevailing system — it abandons the plane of intelligence and operates along the “vertical” dimension perpendicular to it. The reign of intelligence is slavery to the existing order of things. The idiosyncratic means overcoming the intelligence; it is a rebellious act of removing the shackles of intelligence and emancipation from its confines.
Idiots reside on the idiosyncratic axis. Theirs is a missionary role: They traverse between different intelligence planes of the systems of knowledge.
In his Treatise on idiocy, Clément Rosset points out that unlike intelligence, which is thought to be attentive, nimble and alert, stupidity is understood as sluggish, anesthetic, and mummified. However, there is nothing as attentive, nimble, and alert as stupidity. Boundless openness and receptiveness is its main distinctive feature.
Ignorance means not understanding the rules and options of the plane of intelligence. Ignorance is a poverty of experience: It closes doors and refuses to recognize the existing paths to knowledge.
Stupidity, in contrast, is opened to anything; everything is an object of notice. It confuses different contexts and assumes knowledge and extrapolations of previous experiences to contexts where those do not belong and often cannot hold.
Ignorance is static — it means being stuck. Stupidity is dynamic — it implies being ill equipped, fearless, and lost.
When ignorance is set in motion, it morphs into stupidity. Stupidity is ignorance on the move. It is revealed by getting out of the cocoon and exploring unknown territory, applying knowledge and experience to the context where it doesn’t apply. Stupidity is open to conspiracy – it represents an assault on probability: It doesn’t recognize the impossibility of the improbable, but takes the unlikely as probable. This susceptibility to the improbable is not a sign of open-mindedness or critical thinking, but a trademark of stupidity.
Wisdom, on the other hand, means understanding the domain and boundaries of your knowledge and experience and avoiding terrain where those do not hold. It is the ability of not losing your way.
I followed the road less travelled and now I don’t know where I am
Illegal immigrants caught voting should be stripped of their citizenship (Ben Carson)
Stupids and idiots are fellow travellers. Idiots have perfected a way of looking clever to stupid people. They seduce and confuse; stupids are their victims. By creating bridges between different layers of knowledge idiots open gateways to new territories, new rules, and new experiences. But, in that process, they create entropy and increase the possibility of getting lost. With idiots’ help, stupidity finds the shortest path to self-destruction.
The encouragement of idiocy never ends well. Kafka’s bureaucracy, at its peak when it used to decide who existed and what the truths were, gave birth to another order and, with it, created fertile ground for the rise of idiot leaders, which, by the mid-century, produced totalitarian regimes of various kind and wars which shaped the entire century.
The post-Reagan war on bureaucracy, under the banner starve-the-beast/drain-the-swamp, was nothing else but a political maneuver of replacing the old bureaucratic machine of self-indulgent inefficiency with a new one – stupidity. Its core followers were, at the same time, its main victims.
Like the early 20th century bureaucracy, stupidity of the 21st century has become inefficient institutional machinery caught in its own circular self-pleasure and delight. The true aim of the technology of stupidity, its commodification and proliferation, is no longer to pursue an ideological goal, to solve problems of governing increasingly fragmented society, but to repeatedly re-create or even magnify the underlying problems and reproduce the reasons for its own existence and growth. Stupidity confronts us now with a new form of addiction in terms of paralyzing surplus-enjoyment: The enjoyment generated not by fulfilling its official goal (e.g. mobilizing populist votes), but by self-reproducing cycle of its own movement.
Idiot: The man of the future
The old idiot wanted truth, but the new idiot wants to turn the absurd into the highest power of thought (Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari)
In Lars von Trier’s movie, The Idiots, a group of perfectly intelligent young people decides to express their reaction to society’s cult of aimless, non-creative and irresponsible conformism by living together in a commune of “idiots”. Their main activity consists of going out into the world of “normal” people and pretending to be mentally disabled. They create chaos and anarchy with a ritualized practice of enacting spastic tantrums of agitated mental derangement in public spaces, fast food restaurants, coffee houses, or movie theaters. These actions generally stop normal flow of things and generate discomfort by drawing attention to the perpetrators. They disrupt, shock, and anger the spectators caught in these situations. The turning point in the movie takes place on the occasion when the commune members, during their public display of voluntary idiocy, encounters a group of mentally disabled adults on a daily field trip from their nursing homes.
Following that encounter, one of the members goes involuntarily into a spastic tantrums and her act is noticed by the rest of the commune members as more genuine and is recognized as the letting of her inner idiot out, a novelty the others haven’t had the ability to do.
And as if reality has caught up with the movie more than twenty years after its release, there is an undeniable vibe of déjà vu in the current ritualistic practice of the American right-wing politics that strikes resonance with von Trier’s Idiot commune. Republican senators no longer engage in politics in terms of serving the needs of their constituents. Their main preoccupation has become the self-indulgent surrender to stupidity. Like von Trier’s Idiots, they function through enacted episodes of spastic tantrums and idiosyncratic stupidity in public, Congress or in Senate. And there seems to be a real competition among them to outdo each other – whose outburst would be more both more shocking and, at the same time, more convincing and genuine.
What does it mean to be stupid and what does it mean to pretend to be stupid? Who are these politicians who have had elite education and credential, but act like ignorant folks, and can the two meet? While enacted political stupidity is about role-playing, at some point, it raises the question: Is the individual a persona, a mask or his stupidity is real? These are questions about identity, authenticity, and character as well as about politics as a medium and as tool.
In addition to being an act of protest, the practice of deliberate and ceremonial display of political idiocy has become a ritual, which highlights the inner idiot in a man. This is the situation when role-playing becomes indistinguishable from the real thing and when going overboard with idiocy is a way of getting rid of one’s false self and becoming a different person, one who can, by stepping out of the confines of intelligence, foster change.
Stupidity as a political tool is a new chapter in the history of civilization. The stupidity project is production of human bodies without human reason and the idiot as the man of the future. The release of idiocy is a way of displaying the hollowness of conventional behavior and a method of provoking consensus and status quo. It stands as an ideological critique of the existing social condition and frames stupidity as a rebellion against the tyranny of intelligence and a tool that is used to prevent reality’s intrusion on the entire stupidity project.
This brings us closer to answering the nagging question that just won’t go away: Why are madness and stupidity embraced as a tool of political alchemy? The answer is surprisingly simple: Because stupidity is efficient.
There is something cathartic about absolute surrender to the singularity of bottomless spastic tantrum of mentally unstable rage, with total disregard for consequences, whether it is in a fast food restaurant or on the floor of the US Senate. It is a true idiosyncratic event, the missionary task of idiots, which creates a situation of unconditional attention and maximum unpredictability, like stepping into a black hole and exiting on the “other side” to a new universe with no possibility of return.
Black holes are objects of absolute coherence. Information that is absorbed by the black hole does not disappear, but its apparent loss and increase in entropy is converted into an expansion of the black hole’s event horizon. As the event horizon extends after each spastic event, a larger fraction of the universe becomes captured inside the region from which return is impossible, and the growth of stupidity, like that of entropy, never stops.
 Slavoj Zizek, The Courage of Hopelessness: A Year of Acting Dangerously, Melville House (2018)
 Jacques-Alain Miller, Sarah Palin: Operation “Castration”, lacan.com (2010)
 B. C. Han, Psychopolitics, Verso (2017)
 Clément Rosset, Le Réel. Traité de l’idiotie, Paris: Minuit (1977)
 We encounter this surplus enjoyment in everyday life: We often engage in shopping, not only because we enjoy the object we would acquire, but because we enjoy the act of shopping itself.