Are People Really as Stupid as They Often Act?

Why do people seem to make the same mistakes over and over again?

Posted Aug 21, 2020

Flickr, Lemmings by Tao Lin, CC by 2.0
Source: Flickr, Lemmings by Tao Lin, CC by 2.0

Einstein reportedly said that the definition of insanity is doing the same things over and over again but expecting a different result. In psychotherapy, we see a lot of self-destructive and self-defeating people who, by that definition, must be insane. Problem is, they are not psychotic, they are not acting this way because they are delusional. An alternate explanation: They are just too stupid to see how unproductive their chronic repetitive behavior actually is.

If you are looking for evidence of stupid human behavior, it certainly is easy to find.

But are they really that stupid? I mean, if you step on something that always causes a 2x4 to knock you in the face, you might miss the connection once or twice. But would you be oblivious to that if it happened repeatedly? Of course not! Even if you had an IQ of 70. This raises the question, why do people persist in dysfunctional behavior if they really are not that stupid?

Readers of this blog will already know how I answer this question. If someone keeps doing the same things and getting the same results, those results are the ones they are aiming to get! A good way to determine what people are really going after in these cases is looking at what I call the net effect or end results of the behavior. Of course, people claim not to know why they persist even though it becomes painfully obvious when looked at in this way. But they are lying to you — as well as often lying to themselves.

In actuality, they are willfully blind to the consequences of their behavior. Or, some might say, they are in denial. But at some level, they have to know what they are doing. They just refuse to think about it. In fact, they are acting out a false self meant to stabilize unstable attachment figures. They are playing a role. They are literally acting. To be a good actor, you have to really believe you are the character you are playing, but at some level you know you are not (the actor’s paradox).

Another way to keep one’s true self from rising to the fore is to continually devalue it with irrational beliefs as described here

Some religions, while they clearly offer much comfort to many people, may also at times encourage beliefs that feed into people devaluing themselves. They do this to enforce group conformity and, when they deem it necessary, get adherents to sacrifice their own interests for the good of the group. They preach that you should put God first, your family second, and yourself last.