by Edward Corless for HCE: The Idiots Issue
I was at a fireworks display on near enough bonfire night, and initially it was going well. Bombs boomed, a collective choir ahhed and loudspeakers played lilting tunes from Little Mix and Adele alongside the explosive pyrotechnics. But as I looked around at the rosy-cheeked families clutching hot donuts and sparklers, the warm mix of social classes and creeds, the celebrations of old and new traditions, and the magic of gunpowder and fire, I became aware that everyone was an idiot. It was something quite strange to encounter that kind of unwanted realisation on a cold and windy night in a school field, to realise that me, my mum and dad, my closest friends, a large, anonymous crowd of people and the whole human race were all as thick as Pritt Stick glue.
But why was I suddenly made aware? When did everyone become this way? An underclass of letter lickers, a generation of old newspaper collectors, representatives all of the philosophy behind “this statement is false”, the poet laureates of limericks, the huddled massives, the underground solar panellists, the ladies and gentlemen of the brewery, the inventors of the laser pen. Here, in a field in England, was a whole somehow less than the sum of its parts. My realisation was posited thus – whenever I had asked myself questions I could not answer, whenever I had extended my arms and grabbed mediocrity with both hands, whenever I had worried about why the sun was round but stars were diamond-shaped, I was being stupid all along. And not just me, but others! Those in the office who wonder “Why can’t they invent ice cream that doesn’t melt?” “Why am I so overweight/underweight/short/lovelorn?” “Why can’t marketing be a part of sales?” They are being the change they want to see in the world, but the change they want to see is less building work but better roads, more good old-fashioned pubs but less drunks, more money for everyone but less concern for possessions. I suddenly knew that idiocy was limitless, all-consuming and a cradle to grave problem.
Once, when I was very small, I thought about how stupid I was compared to adults. I thought about how my intelligence must improve with age, that there would be a time when I stopped caring about football scores and miniscule slights in the playground. But it did not happen, and it never will for me or anyone else. The taunts of the playground become taunts at your workplace or on the street, the football scores become football scores.
In the field, I then thought about crowds, and decided that humans together were not the problem, or at least were not more of a problem than humans alone. It was not the fact that a crowd is infinitely more stupid than a single person, or questions of mob rule and elitism. It was not the fact that it was a group of people going ooh sometimes and ahh sometimes when pretty flowers bloomed in the sky. It was just the knowing of the fact that people are stupid, people have always been stupid and people will always be stupid, and I as a stupid person had only just realised it.
Of course, I then realised my crisis in the school field was, actually, really idiotic. It could have happened anywhere, alone or in a crowd. It was good that it was happening now, not at another stage of my life. If it had happened earlier in my youth I might well have become a sceptic, too late in life and I might have become a film studies teacher or a contestant on TV panel shows. It was good that my revelation was happening now, so I could properly comprehend my own and other people’s stupidity.
I tried to console myself. Maybe, I thought, there might be one or two among the crowd who were rocket scientists or future piano geniuses. But that thought made me feel even worse, that maybe in the crowd there was someone who felt even more surrounded by idiots. I could only thank my stars that my own life was not plagued by constantly being asked what I meant by the word “inimitable” or why I didn’t wear a flat cap. I was better off being in the sty with the other piggies. We were all without hope.
And yet, I thought, what isn’t this quintessence of dust? It isn’t wallowing in faeces, it isn’t fighting in a huge brawl, it isn’t communicating by wailing. Somehow, despite being idiots, we were behaving okay with each other. Because we were all the same level of terrible we were without flaw. So I felt for my fellow man, I reached out, I loved. I decided that idiocy was transcendental, a plain of being on which man was always destined to sit. Distrust of traffic lights, asking to “borrow a teabag”, using the phrase “me personally” – these were all part of the human experience as it was meant to be. My mother had raised me to be like the other people – to be an idiot. If she’d raised me to be better than other people, always trying desperately to be more wise or verbose than others, I would have only made a fool out of myself at some stage, and an idiot is better than a fool. So I mentally begged of my brethren, as I now beg of you, to spend more to save more, to ask for more pepper on your already peppered meal, to read 2 pages of three different books every day, and to always worry why your brilliance goes unnoticed. This is how it was meant to be.