For some time I've been puzzled by the way we seem to think of intelligence or the lack thereof as a morally relevant trait. That is, we seem to think that stupidity is a moral failing, rather than simply a lowered intellectual capacity. For example, most of us think nothing of saying "Anyone that stupid deserves to get ripped off!" Yet we'd not talk that way about other weaknesses: "Anyone that short deserves not to be able to reach things on the top shelf!" or "Anyone that slow deserves to be caught and eaten by a pack of wolves!" Why is this?
One reason might be that genuine stupidity is so difficult to confirm, in contrast to many other handicaps. Most of us will quite cheerfully hold a door open for someone in a wheelchair, or fetch things from the top shelf for someone who can't reach as high as we can, because it's visually obvious: she's in a wheelchair, and he's shorter than I am. If we were to discover that the person in the wheelchair could, like Guy Caballero, stand and walk and dance just fine, but just liked having other people do things for her, we'd resent it.
So people who make stupid decisions might be suffering from genuine cognitive handicaps, but they might also just be too lazy to think things through for themselves. What's more, for some of us, thinking is something that just comes naturally, and doesn't seem to take a lot of effort, so it's not always easy to identify with someone for whom it's difficult. Certainly it's frustrating to try to deal with someone who can't (or won't) understand and apply what appears to be a rather simple concept, but why should this be different from getting something down from the top shelf for someone? It's not THAT high, why can't you get it yourself? Are you REALLY that short?
I suspect that's a big part of why we tend to judge stupidity in moral terms, while we are more forgiving of other defects. Another part of it may be rehabilitative; most of us learn by making mistakes, and when a mistake is embarrassing, the lesson is that much more effective. In other words, in the normal course of events, ridiculing or chastising someone for doing something stupid is a natural part of helping to make them smarter. But in any case, our tendency to stigmatize stupidity in moral terms actually has some rather nasty side effects.
First, however therapeutic it might be to the not-yet-smart, it's terribly unfair to those who really do suffer from cognitive defects. There are genuinely stupid people out there, who would really love to be smarter than they are, but something about the way their brains are wired or their neurotransmitters are secreted just won't let them. The genuinely stupid are handicapped in one of the worst possible ways, and suffer tremendous disadvantages as a result; they deserve our help and our sympathy, not our moral contempt. (Of course, one of the disadvantages of stupidity is that you don't necessarily know you're stupid, and you may not be able to recognize or appreciate when someone is being helpful. This makes it especially frustrating to try to help the genuinely stupid; they often reject what they need most.)
Second, though, is a backlash against smart people, or perhaps more precisely against people who give the impression that they think of themselves as smart. If we attach a moral stigma to being stupid, it follows that we imply a moral superiority to being smart. Yet this goes against deeply held egalitarian values; no one is just better than anyone else. And so there is in some circles a powerful resentment against intellectuals, nerds, brains, or other elitist scum who think they're better than the rest of us. This is also unfair; many smart people do not think of themselves as being above anyone else. Indeed, a good many smart people steadfastly refuse to think of themselves as smarter than average, much as Socrates stood in disbelief of the Oracle's claim that none was wiser than he.
The backlash against smarts isn't just unfair, though, and even the unfairness is more than balanced by the natural advantages of being smart. The real problem, I think, manifests in the choices we make as a society. When we vote for a candidate because he or she is just a regular guy, someone we might have a beer with, rather than a highly educated and intelligent solver-of-big-problems, we hurt ourselves. And when we treat it as a social faux pas to win an argument with facts and reason, and take it as a personal offence to be shown wrong (rather than a valuable opportunity to improve our own understanding), we discourage meaningful and constructive discourse, and the means by which we all become smarter.
So I'd like us to de-stigmatize stupid. Being stupid isn't a good thing by any means, anymore than any other handicap is something we should willingly choose. All other things being equal, it's better to be smarter. We should all be ready to admit that we're not as smart as we'd like to be, and strive always to become smarter, without vilifying those who aren't as smart as we are, or who have hit the wall in the quest to become smarter. And, equally, we should not resent those who seem to be (or think they are) smarter than we are, but encourage them to demonstrate their intelligence if they've got it (and be willing to constructively, respectfully and critically assess their claims). We're all morally significant, and we all have things to learn from each other, even if some have more to offer than others. Let's all try to get smarter together.