The Idiot Within

When my family is actually home, we live very close to the main route to the beach. Starting around Spring Break, the roads suddenly clog up with all the many, many people who just want to go to the beach and relax. Fridays and Sundays tend to be the most congested, and Sundays are usually the worst.

One Sunday, back when my youngest brother could truthfully be called “little,” we were driving home from Mass. The beach traffic was in full force. The road got a bit jammed, and as will happen with jammed roads, drivers got frustrated and did stupid stuff. At some point, my dad must have complained, and my youngest brother told him to be careful, because “it’s Sunday and the idiots are out.” Somehow or other, that became our phrase for when the traffic is bad. “The idiots are out.” Almost as though a portion of the population had been temporarily abducted and replaced by reckless morons with no understanding of basic driving etiquette.

Considering the current condition of morals, the deterioration of principles, the raging popularity of Relativism and so on, it is more and more tempting to cry, “The idiots are out!” and go find a place to hide until someday when the idiots eventually go away. I can no longer count the number of times I have read that stupid people are spoiling the world for those of us with common sense. I think that the most curious part of that statement is that the persons who say, or merely re-post this sentiment say it as though it were a new thing. I think not.

One has only to look at literature through the ages to see that idiots are nothing new. They’ve been around since the beginning. Start with Noah, the Israelites after the Exodus, the crowd that demanded Christ’s crucifixion, and follow the trail up through history. The presence of idiots and the trouble they cause permeates modern literature: there are dolts in Charles Dickens’s stories and nincompoops in Jane Austen’s novels. Then there is Narnia, wherein Professor Kirk asks, “Why don’t they teach logic at these schools?” In Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird or Kathryn Stockett’s The Help, popular opinion is tried and found wanting in sense. The Reign of Idiocy is nothing new. It has always been around, broken up every now and then by a shocking bout of temporary sanity.

It’s a funny thing that one rarely actually knows an “idiot.” It’s common to see them driving down the road, standing in lines, congregating in groups to support ridiculous causes, ranting on internet comments sections, etc. But it’s almost impossible to really get to know an idiot, because he suddenly stops being an idiot and starts being a person. This person might be disagreeable or misguided, possibly even mean, but a person nonetheless.

In The Philosophy of Tolkien, Peter Kreeft writes, “The war is not just external, between the white chess pieces and the black, but within every single piece on the board, even while there is an external war going on.” There is certainly a constant battle between good and evil, and that struggle often seems to be a case of idiots against sensible people. Because it so often appears like that, it really is easy to get mad and use “The idiots are out!” as an excuse for behaving a certain way. It is much more difficult to admit that I am just as capable of being an idiot as anyone else. Thanks to the Internet, anyone can join the crowd of idiots with just the click of a button and a few keystrokes.

Since the world is still turning and humans have not died out, Earth is still populated with idiots who do an awfully good job of messing up the simple task of being good, decent human beings. But it is not our job to condemn, ridicule, or mock them. Our task is much, much more difficult because a lot of the external war against the idiots is won only by defeating the idiot within.

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