Monday, April 19, 2010

Born To Be Dumb

Penn Jillette thinks owning a Hummer is stupid. But he understands that one of the keys to freedom is the freedom to be stupid. Which is why he penned his Homage to Hummer in Saturday's WSJ:

Hummers are stupid and wasteful and if they go away because no one wants to buy one, that'll be just a little sad. It's always a little sad to lose some stupid. I love people doing stupid things that I'd never do--different stupid things than all the stupid things I do. It reminds me that although all over the world we humans have so much in common, so much love, and need, and desire, and compassion and loneliness, some of us still want to do things that the rest of us think are bug-nutty. Some of us want to drive a Hummer, some of us want to eat sheep's heart, liver and lungs simmered in an animal's stomach for three hours, some us want to play poker with professionals and some of us want a Broadway musical based on the music of ABBA. I love people doing things I can't understand. It's heartbreaking to me when people stop doing things that I can't see any reason for them to be doing in the first place. I like people watching curling while eating pork rinds.

But if any part of the Hummer going belly-up are those government rules we're putting in on miles per gallon, or us taking over of GM, then I'm not just sad, I'm also angry. Lack of freedom can be measured directly by lack of stupid. Freedom means freedom to be stupid. We never need freedom to do the smart thing. You don't need any freedom to go with majority opinion. There was no freedom required to drive a Prius before the recall. We don't need freedom to recycle, reuse and reduce. We don't need freedom to listen to classic rock, classic classical, classic anything or Terry Gross. We exercise our freedom to its fullest when we are at our stupidest.

When it comes to religious matters, Penn is a prominent Triple Aer (aggressive, atheist arsehole) so he might not appreciate me weighing with an "Amen brother," but that's the response that he's getting anyway. He's right that the freedom to be stupid is a core American value. We all do things that others think are stupid; watch reality television, collect commemorative plates, ride recumbent bicycles, eat at White Castle while sober, but the beauty of America is that we all get to partake in our own particular style of stupid. When the government starts deciding that more and more things are too stupid for our own good, we move down a dangerous path of losing part of our core freedoms.

As Penn mentions, driving a Hummer may indeed be stupid. But so is not working out or eating too many donuts or skydiving or living in a 20,000 square foot house. The question is who should decide what's stupid or not. I'm a strong proponent of individual liberty and the individual stupidity that inevitably comes along with it.

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