On dumbness

Question dog

As I noted yesterday, I’m not feeling particularly clever these days. Or as Americans would say, feeling particularly smart.

This was a source of great discomfort at first. Particularly since I’m here in the States now, where everything is so smart. You have smart phones. You have smart washing machines. You have smart apps for grocery lists. You might even see a smart car parallel park itself far outsmarting you very soon.

All this smartness makes a person feel rather dumb. But feeling  dumb was not helping as I was trying to write. I was still the writer-frog staring at the big green leaf-blank page in expectation of the fly-words to come by when a thought struck me.

When everyone else is smart, perhaps the smart thing to aspire to is dumbness.

Perhaps dumb is the new smart.

Why not explore dumbness as a very important state of being in the world? Or  rather, why not explore the idea that there is merit in dumbness?

Thank god. That’s when I came up with something clever to say at last.

I aspire to dumbness. There! I said it!

If you’ve ever been interested in fiction, you know that dumbness by itself can be an interesting character trait, not just in humorous pieces but in many other genres as well.

English: The Red-eyed Tree Frog (Litoria chlor...

Those of us who have varying shades of dumbness in us mixed with some smarts are happy with mediocrity. But what I’m saying is that we are actually rather fortunate to be dumb. That’s because we are ahead of those with the smarts rather than the other way around. [Yes, I can see your sceptical smirks SmartMan!]

Mediocrity, more than any other character trait, is the meat and potatoes of society. Or the dal and rice. Depending on where you are from.

Why go looking for the rare champagne when the meat and potatoes are everywhere to be studied? Or more importantly, if those grains of dal and rice are found within ourselves that can be boiled very effectively to make a staple diet for the dumb mind?

I mean, as a writer, it’s so much more important to be dumb, or in the least, be mediocre. And you have to have elements of dumbness in you to be mediocre for sure. When 90% of the people around the writer are mediocre, the writer needs to cultivate, nay celebrate dumbness within himself to resonate, to connect, to partake in the joy around him. To inspire. To motivate. To sell.

How can you connect with most people if you are not dumb yourself?

Hence, I think every school in every country should aim to produce a mediocre writer, with a well cultivated dumb side. An easily satiated mind immersed in happy dumbness.

Say you disagree with me. You plan to be, or create, the smart messiah who will lead. You deal with extraordinary characters who stand out, who push through the system, who play the system, who succeed, who stand victorious or tragic in the end. Who deal with characters who are the opposite of dumb. A Hamlet or a Harry Potter.

You are certain that your hero is not  Everyman. At least not Mr. Dumb Everyman.

But here I contend that you are wrong. Call your non-hero-Everyman. Make him or her sit with you and discuss life over a cup of tea. Put your best foot forward. Connect word for word, non-smarts for non-smarts, dumb for dumb and you will reach an epiphany of true dumbness.

Your clever hero is, nay, has to be a huge part dumb. In a hero, what you’re dealing with really is the Everyman with traits of mediocrity that connect with the rest of us. These dumb traits are the anchors on which the extraordinary traits are moored. Otherwise, your character is going to slip away soon into never-read-land.

Cosplayers portraying Lord Voldemort, Harry Po...

Our dumb hero takes some dumb risks like we dumb readers would have but comes out victorious. Or our dumb hero has some pretty dumb friends who show him off in a good light. Stop. Think. Would our hero not have to be somewhat dumb to enjoy hanging out with so many dumb friends in the first place? Without the foil, there would be no hero, but the hero must also be his own foil. The foil must be within himself.

Our underdog heroes have to have a dumb society to push against and move upwards as gifted individuals  and we writers have to tap into the wellspring of true dumbness within ourselves to effectively paint society dumb. All the while, our individual hero can’t seem too clever to resonate with the dumb side in our audience. The category of dumbness is a necessary attribute in the writer and the audience for our semi-dumb heroes to come to life.

In another scenario,  you can write a modern television reality show where all the characters are dumb in a utopia of dumbness where all spectacles are epic shows of outrageousness that are just a teeny weeny bit more dumb than us the audience (which makes the audience feel smart).

Don’t make me name these shows. I’ve already revealed the wellspring of my dumbness as my own inner self. I don’t need to reveal outside influence.

A third option could be that you simply be avant garde, not appeal to mass dumbness and create an Everyman hero–powerless and a victim of the system. Just frankly, honestly and somewhat sadly an epitome of dumbness.

It is my contention that if you don’t understand dumbness, and mediocrity, you can be no writer. Actually, you can’t be much of anything else either without a true and deep understanding of the category of dumbness in humanity.

My belief is that if you want to be anything at all–not just a political leader in a parliamentary democracy–who, BTW,  has to understand, be, act, and appeal to dumbness periodically (by the true nature of self-government because the self, as we found out, is a big part dumb)–but an actor, a manager, a teacher, a marketing executive, you name it, you need to explore this category of dumbness.

So my vote today is for dumbness. Celebrate the dumbness in yourself. Be in touch with the true dumb in you. Cultivate it. Nurture it. It will bring rewards.

39 thoughts on “On dumbness”

  1. I love this! It made me lol. I’ve definitely been taking myself too seriously lately, this is a great perspective that can help bring people down to Earth. Sharing.


  2. Americans use the word clever, too. Just 411. That’s as far as I got before I had to comment. Now I shall read the rest. 🙂


  3. The problem with these terms of “dumb” and “smart” is that we can’t even agree on their meanings. I mean how can one even think of someone or label someone “dumb” if others don’t even know what that means? Does it mean “unable to talk,” as in “Deaf and dumb” or “surprised” as in “dumb-struck” or “Not sharp” as in “blunt” (?? – not sure about that one – gotta check it up in a dictionary – but no time now).
    Similarly, with “smart,” does the word mean “well dressed” or “wise-cracking?” Who knows? Who has time to look it up, and who really cares? It’s all so dumb, no! It’s all so smart, no! Actually these terms – smart and dumb– are all so stupid (aka dumb!) -and therefore, not even worthy of being used. Thus, I agree with your post – and I add that we should eliminate those words from our vocabulary – due to their confusing tendencies. Instead we should concentrate on whether someone is “nice” or “funny” — because those words have the same meaning for most people. Nice is nice. Funny is funny. Good is good. Kind is kind. And those are the adjectives I like to use to describe myself (hopefully) or others who get to be my friends. At this point, I think I”m rambling which is not a very smart thing to do, nor is it a very dumb thing to do. Nor is it a very nice or funny thing to do. And so I end this post. Good night.


    1. Great comment. The problem with popular words is that their original meaning is soon taken over by what people want them to be, which is I guess the nature of a living language. Yet it’s very dumb! You never know what might happen to “nice” or “funny” if they are overused.


      1. So true about words evolving and changing their meanings over time. I ignore them (or try to!). I have heard people refer to a “nice” person as somewhat of a “nerdy” type. “Oh – they are soooo niiiice…ya..” —or “oh you are soooo funny!” (read: weird, strange…). In those cases, what can I do? I guess I can just PLAY DUMB!! Lots of luck to you on your very original (that’s a good thing!) and creative (good thing!) blog!! Perfect for all of us – fans of playing or being dumb!


  4. this may sound dumb, but your writing is the shit (unworthy american slang). americans dumbed-up yesterday though…OBAMA! of course i’m just a hockey puck hoser, so i know nothing. 😉


  5. Hmm. To dumbness indeed, but not in the writer.
    He must appear dumb, whilst collecting information from dumb and dumber. He must not let it slip that he knows what will happen next to all those hapless fools. All those characters in Friends (oh yes, that’s definitely one of those – brilliant – programmes) etc., full of dumb people, they were invented by super-clever writers who manipulated the dumbness and pulled all the strings in the right order.
    The writer has to be super clever to do what he does, which is why I find so hard.


  6. I was going to comment saying how right you are, and cite the example of the novel I am writing at the moment. Which would have made me feel smart for sharing an outlook with a popular and respected blogger, and hopefully make you feel smart too for having someone agree with you.

    Then I realised I was buying into the view that my worth could be measured by whether I agreed with someone else on one thing. Which is dumb.


  7. I vaguely remember when being smart had something to do with reading a lot and doing things that mattered. I love being dumb. Being dumb makes life so easy, and the standards are satisfyingly low. Fantastic post!


  8. Well… its still clever…I mean you wrote enough about it !! Plus, it makes you smile … how do you do what you do? 🙂


  9. I agree with what you posit and would only replace “dumbness” with “ordinariness.” It was a great relief when I woke up one day and realized that it was okay to be ordinary. It was fine not to have the answers. More than fine. Downright delightful. In a culture where we’re urged from childhood to be the best and the most and the greatest in everything we do, it’s refreshing to relax and be dumb/ordinary for a change.


  10. I laughed the whole time I was reading today’s post. Don’t we all have dumb days? Dumb moments? All it takes is too little sleep or a head cold for me.

    One of my children is absolutely brilliant, but as Aspergers. When he writes, he can’t get over the fact that all the facts contained in his own head aren’t immediately accessible to anyone who reads his homework. The resulting essays are completely unintelligible to his classmates (and occasionally his teacher). Just yesterday, I had to explain one of his grades as resulting from this problem.

    Even those of us without Asperger’s have to think, “What does the average reader need to know before s/he can understand what I’m trying to tell him/her?”

    What Jae says above about knowing your audience is right on. We can’t assume they’ll know we’re referring to Sartre or alluding to the characters of an ancient Greek epic if our target audience is a bunch of seventh graders. Or adults with a seventh grade education who watch reality TV and pro-wrestling.

    And I’d LOVE to see more average/normal/unheroic main characters. In real life, there are plenty people who aren’t smart, but they are so decent as to be truly admirable. There’s a very high-brow book (_UN-LUN-DUN_ by Mieville) that has such a central character, and I can think of some in films, too.


  11. I think there’s different kinds of smart. A very book smart person is often very dumb when it comes to common sense. The kid who majored in french lit is useless in the apocalypse compared to the guy who never finished high school, but can build anything from a heap of junk. Smart is different according to the situation. And a smart writer would know how to appeal to the very ‘dumb’ and the very smart all in one go. Take, for example, the Simpsons. When I attended film school we always talked about the cleverness of the Simpsons, and yet most people probably only think of it as that show where that fat bald guy has funny things happening to him. Those who are well read, those who know pop culture really well, have entertainment available to them from the Simpsons as well. They spoof everything and anything, and I guarantee most viewers aren’t getting even half the cultural references in every episode.

    If you don’t want to write for high brow, hurdy turdy, Ivy-league suits, don’t. Pick your audience, know your audience, write for them and write well. Never will everyone think you’re clever anyway. If you try to be clever, you probably won’t be. But if you put all your best efforts into telling a story you care deeply about, that you’re as true to the vision in your head as you can be, that’s when the true cleverness will manifest itself.


  12. Our culture has become too efficient, too smart. I often feel dumb not able to keep up. So here’s to a celebration to dumbness, an ode to mediocre in efficiency and to a slower paced life. Well done.


  13. I’m thinking you’re failing miserably at dumbness. 🙂 And how we giggle when our protagonist surpises us when something unexpectantly stupid slips out onto the page. I like the way you think.


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