Opinion

alex beam

The right to be stupid

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When did we forfeit our God-given right to be stupid?

British Nobel Prize winner Tim Hunt has been in the news for saying silly things about female scientists. Referring to the researchers as “girls,” Hunt continued: “Three things happen when they are in the lab. You fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and when you criticize them, they cry.”

OK, that was stupid. Hunt, who is 72, was forced to resign his professorship at University College London and his post on the European Research Council. Three British female scientists, including his immunologist wife, called his remarks “stupid,” “silly,” and “inappropriate,” respectively. Each one told the Observer newspaper that Hunt has in fact been quite supportive of women’s careers.

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“I am finished,” Hunt said. “I have been hung to dry by academic institutes who have not even bothered to ask me for my side of affairs.”

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Around the same time, a St. Louis-based software conference uninvited a scheduled speaker, engineer Curtis Yarvin, because of “mind-numbing political tracts” that he published on the Internet, according to Slate’s David Auerbach. In an occasional blog written by “Mencius Moldbug,” Yarvin writes as a “neoreactionary,” part of “a small and mostly ignorable corner of the Internet,” Auerbach says.

I’ve glanced at Moldbug’s blog. It is prolix beyond reasonable endurance and occasionally nutty. He admires the brilliant, archconservative Scottish historian Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881), who hated the French Revolution, who wasn’t wild about democracy, and who wrote a famous defense of slavery. Walt Whitman called Carlyle “the most erudite and sincere mind of Europe.”

Yarvin was going to speak about his software programs, but now he won’t be speaking at all. So people think his political views are stupid; since when is stupidity a firing offense, or a mortal sin? I thought the right to be stupid was enshrined in Article VIII of our Constitution, but I’ll admit, it’s been a long time since I took a civics class.

Take away stupid, and entire television networks would disappear overnight. Oases of “commentary” would dry up immediately, deprived of their life-sustaining elixir of proto-intellectual nonsense. What would happen to the nation’s army of nutrition experts, starved of the manna that feeds their constantly changing, always contradictory pronouncements?

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Who would speak at commencements? There are just under 5,000 colleges in the United States and about seven people worthy of addressing graduates. Stupid people make an important contribution! What would happen to Oprah, and the Empire of the All-Powerful (Dr.) Oz? Let’s face it. Stupidity makes the world go round.

If being a fool was a firing offense, well, I know someone who wouldn’t have a job. I once wrote, “If you buy only one book this year, let it be ‘Cooking Without a Kitchen: The Coffeemaker Cookbook,’ ’’ which explained how to poach eggs in your hotel room’s coffee machine. I boldly predicted that the iPad — the “iToy,” I called it — would fail in the marketplace. Apple has sold 170 million of them since 2010.

Now here is a man fully apprised of divine right to be inane: Jerry Delemus of Rochester, N.H., is planning to host a “Draw Mohammed” art contest in August, the Associated Press reports. Mr. Delemus, a 60-year-old former Marine, says he “plans on having plenty of security on hand,” according to the wire service.

What a fine idea! How delightfully . . . stupid. And here I was planning to spend a few weeks in New Hampshire this summer. Suddenly Bernie Sanders’ Vermont is looking positively sane by comparison.

Alex Beam’s column appears regularly in the Globe. He can be reached at alexbeam@hotmail.com.