Reality and Imagination

Q: Are people really as stupid as the Sufis make out? If they were, how could society function as well as it does? How can one test whether people really do behave in such an absurd manner as some of the people in Sufi stories and teaching narratives do?

A: People really are as stupid as the Sufis make out. Society works as well as it does because not everyone is stupid all the time. The Sufi enterprise helps them by showing up stupidity to forestall its appearance at times when it blocks understanding. There is little need to test whether people really do behave as the ones in stories and narratives, because the newspapers are full of accounts of this behaviour, and hence it is displayed everywhere all the time. You do not need, after all, to ‘test’ whether a cherry is red – you can see it easily, once you know what red is.

There are, however, many people who like for one reason or another to demonstrate human stupidity. Jaroslav Hasek (author of The Good Soldier Schweik) was one of these. He wrote an article in a zoological journal, which was highly thought of, asserting that elephants liked recorded music while tigers did not. When he published a treatise on prehistoric fossilized fleas, it was such a success that many European learned journals reprinted it. When he advertised ‘thoroughbred werewolves’ for sale, he was inundated with orders for them. He put on a police uniform and told the Rector of a Prague Academy that he was under arrest, whereupon the man obediently followed him to a police station.

By these means Hasek showed that people will obey the symbols of authority, that they accept what is written in academic journals, that they will accept even ‘werewolves’ if they are offered them, that they will publish tripe at the drop of a hat.

And may I ask you a question? If people were not as stupid as they are made out to be, would they tolerate the kinds of individuals and organisations which exploit them? Who votes for the lying and improbable politicians who, remember, actually rule over so many of us?

Seeker After Truth
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