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The Ass Clown Epoch

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

How do we define “dumb” in the Age of Stupid? Whether you call it the Anthropocene, or the more scientific ‘Ass Clown Epoch’, stupid is the defining feature of our “smart” everything society: From our phones to the lampshades and corkscrews that increasingly depend on them to function. When the greatest minds of your generation came up with the idea of enriching themselves to the extent that no one else can survive – financially or even physically – it’s time to acknowledge that we are in the throes of irreversible human cognitive collapse. Some would point to the Supreme Dotard at its apex as symptomatic of its underlying causes rather than the cause itself. After all, stupid is the fertile foundation from which both “intelligent life” and Donald Trump evolved.

Not all of us have the neural capabilities to say, drive a car, fill out a tax form, solve a math problem (ahem) or any of the other tasks required to gain access into the “normal” range of human activities deemed necessary to fully function in a capitalist society. No one will credit you for not splitting the atom, or consider this moral victory remotely significant. The only word that describes ‘stupid’ as it applies to people we consider “all smart in the brains and stuff” (leaders, “innovators”, tech gurus, policy wonks, etc.) has been retired, making it next to impossible to adequately mock them.

Are we, by omission of an offensive word, upholding the dignity of disabled individuals, or simply sparing an elite class of criminals an accurate assessment of their real world abilities? For these people, “asshole” is less an insult than a badge of honor since it denotes a rugged and “alpha” disposition. Science has confirmed that the smell of sulfur has its own aphrodisiac underpinnings if it’s emanating from someone dressed as a banker or a tech bro. By the same token, “crazy” is only an aspersion if its human host hasn’t figured out a way to turn it into an electric muscle car orbiting earth for no reason whatsoever.

Still, there’s always the risk of unfairly maligning those with actual disabilities who bear the brunt by association with those who use their intellects to devise ways of driving species essential to the continuation of life to extinction, and then talk about moving to Mars and nuking it for their own survival. We can’t call the latter “retards”, since the word still has unpleasant associations with hate speech directed at vulnerable people, yet not calling them out on their intellect-driven choices misses a valuable opportunity to reassess what it means to be “smart” and how this designation puts us all at risk as in . . . “The decision by educated and well-informed bureaucrats and corporate executives to build nuclear power plants close to the coastline of a seismically active island prone to tsunamis was monumentally . . . misguided”. As was the decision to invade Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya . . . The list is as long as our capacity to unlearn history is boundless.

Understatements like “misguided” only serve to insulate evil-doers from their evil, and even evoke sympathy and admiration for their “plight” as remorseful serial killers with the benefit of hindsight. Even “psychopaths” enjoy a sort of cult status, and considered role models in tech and banking circles. “Retard” on the other hand, still carries the stigma of powerlessness and defect. Redirected at the people who actually deserve our scorn, rather than the blameless recipients of the slur might just give them pause before embarking on yet another scheme to hasten the destruction of the Antarctica’s permafrost. An evil genius hell bent on bringing about the end of the world seems beyond our control to thwart. A more aptly, and less intimidatingly labeled phenomena, however, might just compel us to try.

The people we deem “genius”, blessed, gifted, or even capable, are too often committed to the destruction of everything or anything that sustains balance, harmony and joy for short-term, ego-driven gains that have endlessly cascading consequences for organized life on earth. Very bad ideas, once monetized, become “innovation”, while the criminal masterminds behind them them are dubbed “visionaries”. It takes a genius to devise ways to integrate banking systems, airlines, hospital equipment and vending machines so that they all crash simultaneously in some foreseeable future without running water or electricity.

These profiteering “prophets” use their full cognitive functions to make bold and necessary decisions like streamlining human activity out of the workforce, bombing a school children thousands of miles away, or making your phone a radioactive surveillance device that transmits pictures of your dick and then stores them in a “cloud”. They do this with the full knowledge of the outcomes, but somehow their clean bills of cognitive health (or their large bank accounts) exempt them from permanent exile into institutions that reward good behavior with birthday cakes.

We trust almost anyone in an official capacity, based entirely on the assumption that someone who ticks generally worthless boxes along a petal-strewn path of life, regardless of their track record, (or body count) can be relied on to make informed decisions on our behalf. Spoiler Alert: They don’t and no one survives.

We mostly nod along with them as they announce that the presence of carcinogenic pesticides in breakfast cereal is less alarming than the existence of Mexicans in Iowa, or Russians on Facebook. We assume that it’s all for the best when they blithely sign a bill for increased war spending, even as infant mortality rates and homeless numbers soar, as wages stagnate, infrastructure declines and wildlife disappears altogether. We reward them with a get-out-of-jail-free card when they prove spectacularly wrong on a criminal level. Most significantly, we only question their intelligence when their hair plugs come unhinged during a meltdown on Twitter.

If a person is somehow able to mathematically chart a course for himself to a distant, freezing planet, having helped mastermind the destruction of his own, we somehow consider this development an achievement milestone, more noteworthy than the realization that capitalism makes us dumb in ways that destroys all potential for survival anywhere. So dumb, in fact, that we are “triggered” by the only word that adequately describes it, rather than the phenomenon itself.

Human dumbness is so multi-faceted, layered, and labyrinthine that it could be compared to an ant colony designed by the bonkers heiress of the Winchester Rifle fortune, constructed entirely of endlessly winding passages leading to dead ends, and ultimately resulting in equally dead ants trapped in a sadistic, logic-eschewing maze. The surviving progeny of the famed gun maker insisted that the ghosts of individuals shot dead by its namesake product were guiding her hands as they drew up the plans for her uninhabitable, deliberately ill-fitted house of horrors. If you consider the number of victims of US made weapons everywhere around the world, then it’s entirely possible that their lingering and unappeased spirits might have had a similar influence on the architects of late capitalism.

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Jennifer Matsui is a writer living in Tokyo.

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