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What Is the Opposite of Wisdom?

Jerks jerk people around with their wild-card trump cards.

Key points

  • Wisdom is knowing the healthy moves for the different circumstances.
  • The opposite of wisdom is absolute hypocrisy, which can be had by claiming that whatever you do is the best.
  • People grant themselves trumped-up (fake) trumpcards, whereby whatever they do is automatically ideal.
  • We enable "trumpbots" by thinking that they think or believe or care about anything but winning.

What folks don’t get is that there’s a good, great, even heroic time and place for every behavior in the human repertoire. People talk like you should never ever do this and always do that.

Nonsense, and, anyway, you can’t simply lobotomize out your supposedly bad behaviors. All you can do is pretend you don’t engage in them when you obviously do.

I mean it. Name any supposedly always-bad human behavior and I’ll show you a heroic use for it, a context in which it’s a healthy appropriate response. Take hate. Folks say we should never hate. Ridiculous. The more you love something, the more you hate its opposite. The more you love justice the more you hate injustice, and you shouldn’t mince words about it.

Nope, there’s a time and place for every human behavior, and my definition of wisdom is the search for the right behavior for the circumstances. It’s rational in the most fundamental sense, rational as in ratios, comparing behavioral options in context, this vs. that, with consequences in mind. As in the serenity prayer, the quest for the wisdom to know the differences that make a difference to what’s appropriate in different circumstances.

What then is the opposite of wisdom? It’s rationalizing, pretending you’ve been rational when you're anything but. It’s acting impulsively and rationalizing whatever the hell you do as the absolute best.

It’s posing as the hero when you’re really just a self-indulgent hypocrite. It’s granting yourself a wild card by which you can do whatever you want at the moment and a trump card so whatever you do, you always praise yourself for having picked the best possible behavior, the option that trumps all other possible options. I call this "trumpbotting," not after our former president (though he is a perfect trumpbot). He also happens to have a surname that means fake, as in trumped-up, and best, as in trump card. Trumpbots robotically play trumped-up trump cards. Trumpbotting is anti-wise.

OK, but we all rationalize in a pinch or when cornered. We can all come up with excuses for whatever we’ve done or want to do that make it sound like the best thing we could have done.

We all engage in some trumpbotting, coming up with fake rationalizations. But then there are some people who do it all the time. They’ve become absolute trumpbots. They’re totally addicted to trumpbotting. That’s what I think people mean by the terms narcissist, psychopath, asshole or cultist. What they mean is that they’re trumbots, people who robotically generate bullshit excuses for whatever they’re doing, people who never doubt, learn, or quest rationally for what’s best to do in the circumstances. They just rationalize.

Trumpbots stay proud no matter how wrong and evil they are. They rack up a terrible track record but pretend it’s an unbroken winning streak. We have a hard time getting them to pay consequences for their bad behavior. Don’t mistake that for a side effect. It’s the root problem, a disconnect between action and consequence, a vicious cycle, a delusional death spiral. The more they rationalize the more mistakes they make. The more mistakes they make, the more they rationalize.

They’re proud because they’re blind and blind because they’re proud. They demand freedom but most fundamentally freedom from self-doubt, freedom from ever having to learn from their mistakes. They shoot their arrows impulsively and then paint a target around wherever their arrow lands and shout "bullseye! I win. I’m the best!" They pose as high-minded umpires over every conflict they enter and always decide in their favor, penalizing their rivals for the exact same behavior. Their hypocrisy is just a side effect of their robotic rationalizing. It is always the right time and place for whatever they want to do. It is never the right time and place for whatever you want to do.

And it’s absolutely mindless, robotic. Wherever they stand is automatically virtuous. Wherever you stand is pure villainy. They see themselves as fair-minded but only because they mindlessly shout “unfair!” at anyone who gets in their way.

But here’s the thing. It’s mindless like a terrible-two toddler, which should tell us something. Rationalizing comes more naturally to us than rationality. What do you get when you cross strong convincing feelings with language? Most fundamentally and by default, a tendency to use language to rationalize our feelings. We aren’t born wise; we’re born impulsive and our first use of language is to rationalize our impulses. It takes a lot of unwelcome, often disappointing work to discipline ourselves to be rational, not rationalizing. We count on culture to help us all work toward wise rationality, but you can’t count on that help from cults. Cults cultivate rationalization.

We often hear that crime doesn’t pay. But think about it. Crime pays really really well if you can get away with it. The same goes for trumpbotting. During a trumpbot epidemic like we’re in worldwide these days, lots of people are getting away with it.

We’ve got to do better at keeping them from getting away with it or else this epidemic will take us all down a collective delusional death spiral.

How to humbly humble trumpbots? I think that’s the biggest challenge we face these days. Bigger even than climate change, nukes, and all the other priority issues, because we’re not going to make any progress on them if the world is run and overrun by trumpbots. If you have any ideas, how to grow them out of their terrible-two trumbotting, please share them. And continue to help me think strategically about what’s up with trumpbots and what we can do about them.

This article as a video:


Sherman, Jeremy (2021) What's Up With A**holes? How to spot and stop them without becoming one. Berkeley, CA: Evolving Press.

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