Why we shouldn’t blame the world’s woes on the stupidity of others
“L’ENFER, c’est les autres.” As France celebrates winning the World Cup and the planet returns to its accustomed diet of bad news, it is time to dig out the words of that most Gallic of philosophers, Jean-Paul Sartre: hell is other people.
As befits a French existentialist, Sartre didn’t mean it quite as we might think he did. But confronting problems such as political populism, rampant inequality and climate change, it is easy to blame others and think we are in the grip of a collective failure of human intelligence.
But humanity isn’t – yet – getting stupider (see “The truth about intelligence: A guide for the confused“). If we perceive the world to be dumbing down, perhaps that is because, as science expands our knowledge, we see a widening gap between the rational solutions it suggests and the messy reality of the world.
This magazine always champions rational thinking. But there is another key insight into human intelligence we should consider before sowing division and blaming the woes of the world on others. The stereotype of the rational intellectual is a myth, too: we are all hostages to our own biases.
This editorial appeared in print under the headline “Dumb and dumber?” in New Scientist in the 21 July 2018 edition.