Sunday, September 07, 2008

Human Goodness

Good people are childlike--or, rather, are like children before they become self-conscious. They are not afraid to be laughed at. They are so confident in who they are and what is right that they do not much care what others think.

...The goodness of the simple and the goodness of the child lie deep in both Western and Eastern thought. Simpleton and child are both ignorant, but their ignorance is not the ignorance of the stupid.

...And so, what exactly is stupidity? How does it differ from ignorance and slowness of mind? A comparison with a quality in young children and Tolstoy's peasants is helpful. That quality is their openness to the world, their readiness to respond without prejudice. Their very ignorance--their not-knowing (their innocence)--makes this possible. In sharp contrast, the stupid are closed to the world, and if they respond to external events it is through a rigidly held position. The rigidity itself owes less to low IQ than to anxiety and fear and, under these burdens, a slavish need to conform.
From Human Goodness, by Yi-Fu Tuan.

I want to thank Virginia for bringing this insightful thinker to my attention. Go read what she says about him. She's read much more of his work than I have. But I know I want to read more. In the mean time, you can read the archive of his Dear Colleague letters.

I am returning the book to the RB library this afternoon in case any of you want to request it.

Pennamite will be here any moment for a wardrobe refashion playdate and I need to feed Iris first.


  1. Hey now--I took a CLASS with Yi-Fu Tuan! He's a geographer, and that's the MS I got at Wisconsin. Probably in a folder someplace around here, I've got some real hard-copy Dear Colleague letters from the late 1980s--way before they were online anywhere.

  2. Small world! Do you have any of his other books I can borrow?

  3. No, I just took the one class, no texts (that's very Yi-Fu). I hung out with the historians and cartographers, and I was only there for the duration of the MS. But I always grabbed up his Dear Colleague letters, and enjoyed his spoken presentations (he introduced the department's Friday afternoon lectures).

  4. This is a pretty good working definition -- at least it's a good start.

    Last night I watched a documentary called "Stupidity." It's an attempt to analyse the phenomenon. It's not absolutely great, but sort of interesting if you're still curious. And it contains some good footage of people acting stupid.