Most People Think Most People Are...
October 13, 2010 4:34 PM   Subscribe

Most people think most people are stupid. I hear and read this in person and all over the internet, and it drives me crazy. I want a good retort to this kind of comment.

"Most people are stupid."

"Most people don't give a crap about..."

"Most people would rather sit on their ass than get out there and..."

"Most people have their head so far up their..."

You get the picture. I feel that I am often trying to defend Everyman to Everyman when, really, I'd just like to get people to realize that they're walking through life with the same kind of blinders on that everyone else has, because "most people" are really just trying to get by, make a living, stave off bad health/ loneliness, make it to the weekend...

I suppose that some people find a way to be tolerant, concerned, endlessly industrious and open minded on a regular basis but if that is an individual's standard for intelligent behavior it doesn't make them better than anyone else.

Does anyone have good retorts, quotations, or witticisms to this kind of comment? I'd love to hear them.
posted by alice_curiouse to Society & Culture (48 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Honestly, I think you should just chill out. Most people aren't serious about this, it's said in the heat of the moment and shouldn't be taken literally. Save your anger for things that really matter.
posted by nomadicink at 4:37 PM on October 13, 2010

Best answer: Most people hate generalizations.

You could also mention the Dunning-Kruger effect, which basically implies that the less knowledgeable someone is in a field, the higher they rate their own performance.
posted by benzenedream at 4:39 PM on October 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: "Cite, please."
posted by amro at 4:40 PM on October 13, 2010

Mark Twain said "All generalizations are false, including this one." I quote that to people often.
posted by bearwife at 4:41 PM on October 13, 2010 [5 favorites]

Just don't worry about it. Or if someone continually does it in person just say "Most people won't punch you in the face. But I will." Then do it.
posted by theichibun at 4:41 PM on October 13, 2010 [6 favorites]

I've found that the most effective response to something you find objectionable is very often a stony silence.
posted by dhammond at 4:42 PM on October 13, 2010

I can't see there being any definitive answer. What is your motivation for defending the "everyman"?

In general, I've gotta agree with the examples you made. Is it acceptable to have a lower standard for intelligence? Shouldn't everyone strive to be as intelligent as their mental capacity allows? Most of it is lazyness. The rest is selfishness.

Most people could solve their own problems and answer MOST of their own questions if they'd just use a search engine.
posted by ChefJoAnna at 4:43 PM on October 13, 2010

Plus 50% of all doctors graduate in the bottom half of their class. Shocking!
posted by lumpenprole at 4:45 PM on October 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: "Most people arrogantly believe they aren't like most people."
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 4:52 PM on October 13, 2010 [25 favorites]

As you point out, you want a response to a complaint so generalized that you yourself would complain about it. If I said "most people stupidly think most people are stupid," would you object, or agree, or both?

I think you should respond to this sort of generalization with extreme empathy, compassion, and understanding, recognizing that you yourself do the same thing.
posted by salvia at 4:54 PM on October 13, 2010 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: This is the kind of thing I'm confused about.

Do you really think that most people are jerks?

Do you really even think that most people that you encounter are jerks?

posted by alice_curiouse at 5:00 PM on October 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Most people are deserving of compassion. Even if it's hard.
posted by Medieval Maven at 5:02 PM on October 13, 2010 [13 favorites]

What makes you think that when someone says "Most people are lazy" they're not counting themselves among the lazy?

What makes you think that "Most people aren't lazy" is any better a generalization?

If your qualm is generalizations at all, the key isn't witty retort, it's asking questions to which a generalization is not an acceptable answer.
posted by toomuchpete at 5:03 PM on October 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

It is not your job to help people remove the blinders you allege they're walking through life wearing. I find this behavior tolerable (just) in people I love, and unbearably meddlesome in anyone else.
posted by AkzidenzGrotesk at 5:07 PM on October 13, 2010

Best answer: "You only notice the bad ones."
posted by smackfu at 5:09 PM on October 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you're really close to the person, you might mention how that sounds judgmental, but I don't see the point of defending everyone to everyone else. If you happen to have a positive outlook on people most of the time and they don't, there's nothing you can really say to shake them out of it.
posted by wending my way at 5:13 PM on October 13, 2010

"Most people are stupid." So you're saying that you'd have to be stupid to make this kind of remark? But you're also saying that it isn't true? And you're also saying that you encounter it in person and all over the Internet?

Choose two.
posted by bricoleur at 5:15 PM on October 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

I really liked the first scene in the Harvey Pekar-based movie American Splendor.
posted by ovvl at 5:15 PM on October 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Somewhat related.
posted by mlis at 5:15 PM on October 13, 2010

Take two.
posted by mlis at 5:17 PM on October 13, 2010

fuck it.
posted by mlis at 5:17 PM on October 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

You're kidding, right?

Most people think most people are stupid.

I hear and read this in person and all over the internet, and it drives me crazy.

I feel that I am often trying to defend Everyman to Everyman when, really, I'd just like to get people to realize that they're walking through life with the same kind of blinders on that everyone else has, because "most people" are really just trying to get by, make a living, stave off bad health/ loneliness, make it to the weekend...

Physician, heal thyself. You can't speak for "most people" any more than anyone else can.
posted by Sys Rq at 5:25 PM on October 13, 2010 [15 favorites]

Act very interested and say "Tell me more" or "Expand on that" or "Can you please give me an example" or "Can you explain your thoughts?". If you give them a chance to talk, very soon they hang themselves in their own illogical thoughts and circular reasoning and sweeping statements. It works best if you genuinely care why they think that way and if you are non-confrontational.
posted by francesca too at 5:26 PM on October 13, 2010

There is no "them". "They" are a group made up entirely of "us".
posted by bartleby at 5:29 PM on October 13, 2010 [8 favorites]

Do you really think that most people are jerks?

Do you really even think that most people that you encounter are jerks?

Beats me. I haven't met most people.

Most of those I do meet I don't get to know well enough to form an opinion.

But then, I'm usually willing to attribute random jerkiness to their having a bad day.

Happens to most of us, though not most of the time.
posted by IndigoJones at 5:34 PM on October 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

It might be worth reading up on, and arguing from the perspective of, confirmation bias.

If I think (for example) that most Canadians are pro-abortion, I will -- unconsciously -- have my radar on for any and all evidence that Canadians are pro-abortion. I'll disregard any information that disproves that theory, and let it slide past, but any time that something comes along that proves my inner thesis, it'll raise a flag and give me that affirming little yes-I'm-right tingle. Over time, that accrues, and "most Canadians" (or, in your example, most people) become pro-abortion, or love Jerry Lewis, or whatever.

If you think most people are stupid, the Carlin axiom that "50% of people are dumber than average" will flag with you much more than 50% of the time, and you'll be on your way to amounting a back-of-the-head wealth of anecdotal evidence that most people are X.

Do you really think that most people are jerks?

Absolutely not. But if I were predisposed to thinking that, and had an ingrained bias towards mentally logging the jerks and disregarding the non-jerks, then...

Do you really even think that most people that you encounter are jerks?

...would start seeming more and more true. I keep what confirms my beliefs, and don't register the things that don't.
posted by Shepherd at 5:46 PM on October 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

"We see things not as they are, but as we are."

I've seen this attributed to John Milton, Anais Nin, a Jesuit priest, or a Jewish proverb. Must be true--everybody says it!
posted by Corvid at 5:48 PM on October 13, 2010 [3 favorites]

As with every evaluation, it depends on the standard of judgment being invoked. In this case, terms like "stupid," "lazy," etc., don't have precise definitions, which means people can get away with claiming almost anything.

If you choose to confront people who talk this way, one strategy would be to press them to define the underlying standards/criteria they're working from in making such claims. Pretty quickly, you (and they) will see that most of those tacit standards are 1) idealistic, 2) true for only small sub-groups of elites, 3) inaccurate, and/or 4) just dumb.

Part of problem, I suppose, comes from the influence of advertising/consumer culture in constantly ramping up everyone's expectations about life in ways that often have little connection with actual lived experience.

And another factor is the prevailing ideology in the U.S. (and elsewhere?) that obsesses over striving for "excellence" in every arena, with the implication that somehow being "average" is for "losers." Sports teams with .500 winning percentages are often considered "failures," even though things like standardized test scores are often calibrated to assure that most examinees fall in that middle/average range (if they don't, something's wrong with the scoring mechanism). Hence, the humor of Garrison Keillor's famous line about his imaginary town "where all the children are above average." Conversely, the late comedian George Carlin had a routine that included the punchline: "think about how dumb the average American is, then consider that 50 percent of population is even stupider...."
posted by 5Q7 at 5:55 PM on October 13, 2010

People who say this sort of thing feel they have been harmed and attribute this to generalized stupidity/laziness/some negative quality. If you want them to be more compassionate, maybe it makes more sense to lead by example and be compassionate to them, without ulterior motives of trying to give them enough rope to hang themselves. Of course, this is hard to do, maybe due to a belief that compassion is a carrot you give to people to motivate them to behave correctly, that they have to earn your compassion.

The other question is why this drives you crazy. It's very likely that you feel a certain amount of shame or guilt when negative thoughts about people cross your mind, and you work very hard to stamp that out. In a certain sense, you're treating these people as if they were extensions of you, perhaps a different meaning of the quote above: "We see things not as they are, but as we are." I think this reading is supported by the fact that even though you say you believe that the world is filled with people who are just trying to get by, make it to the weekend, i.e. basically good and well-intentioned, you find yourself surrounded by a bunch of intolerant jerks. This isn't about hypocrisy, it's about the limits of suppressing negative thoughts - the more you try to get rid of them, the more they appear to be all around you. I think that the moment you are able to be compassionate to yourself and accept your own negative feelings about others, the world's jerks will seem like a much less pressing problem.

One other thing I notice is that when someone makes negative generalizations, people say "Don't make generalizations!". But no-one is saying that about your positive generalizations about most people because they approve of those. So it's clear that the true message is think positively (and feel ashamed for thinking negatively), but tries to avoid the triteness of this by pretending to be something deep about the inaccuracy of generalizations. Why the insistence that we think positively? Because we believe that if they aren't basically good, they don't deserve compassion, so people can be made more compassionate by shaming them into suppressing their negative thoughts about others. And this means we are treating people without compassion - dismissing the suffering they experience which is expressed through negative thoughts - in the name of compassion. Making the world more compassionate by withdrawing compassion.
posted by AlsoMike at 6:47 PM on October 13, 2010

"When you tell somebody something - it depends on what part of the country you're standin' in - as to how dumb you are."
- Burt Reynolds in 'Smokey and the Bandit'.
posted by palacewalls at 6:47 PM on October 13, 2010

I was having a conversation about a month ago at someone's house, this person being someone who I didn't know at all (a friend was renting a room there short term, basically, long story but anyways), and my friend had left the roof deck where the three of us had been sitting (yeah, uh, a roof deck) and all of a sudden when she was gone he launched into a tirade about how the Muslims were all out to get us and they hate our culture and freedom and he loves freedom and I can't believe they're building that mosque there and...I basically couldn't get a word in edgewise, but I also felt pretty awkward and surprised 'cause I was hanging out at this guys house and we had been getting along fine up until then and he had been handing me beers and stuff, but there was finally a point where I could talk and I just said (mostly because I was otherwise speechless), "well, what do you want me to say? I don't really enjoy being contentious, I would rather be more of a mediator. How do you want me to respond?"

And the guy just shut up, he had no response whatsoever. He was looking for a fight, or just easy agreement, and I would neither agree with him nor engage in a fight with him, and I guess he didn't really have the balls to tell me what he thought I should say in the end.

I said it out of a sense of desperation, really, but after that I was like, "huh, gotta remember that one..."

Then again, that guy was crazy. YMMV.
posted by dubitable at 7:08 PM on October 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Remember, this is water.
posted by flawsekno at 8:46 PM on October 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Most people think most people are stupid. I hear and read this in person and all over the internet, and it drives me crazy.

Why does it drive you crazy?

I suggest you work in retail or in a call-center for a while. You'll be thinking "most people are stupid" soon enough.
posted by HiroProtagonist at 9:07 PM on October 13, 2010 [3 favorites]

"Present company included."
posted by JaredSeth at 9:24 PM on October 13, 2010

not to be an ass, but if stupid is below average intelligence, that's just about half. If you consider average to be stupid, that could certainly be construed as a majority.
posted by wuzandfuzz at 9:25 PM on October 13, 2010

Not to be a pedant, but the above comment is conflating mean (the average, obtained by adding up all the observed values and dividing by the population size) with median (the value that half the population is above and half is below).
posted by AkzidenzGrotesk at 9:46 PM on October 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

XKCD to the help.
posted by zouhair at 10:43 PM on October 13, 2010

Most people aren't jerks, or stupid. It's just that everyone acts like a jerk or acts stupid sometimes. Me included. Sweeping generalizations are mostly useless. Most of the time. Some people say.
posted by IvoShandor at 3:39 AM on October 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

To most people, you and I are "most people".
posted by MuffinMan at 4:36 AM on October 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Spending any energy worrying about and responding to this non-issue is, in my opinion, stupid.
posted by General Tonic at 7:36 AM on October 14, 2010

I've told a few people this (no idea where I heard it first):

If, on average, you meet more than one asshole a day, you're the asshole.
posted by slimepuppy at 7:43 AM on October 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

I just thought of four or five different occasions where a conversation partner might say "most people..." and only one of them would indicate that the speaker had a world view that arguably should change or expand.

I can think of one or two situations -- where we are having a serious, in depth discussion and I have said "most people..." in a way that indicates that I really am saying that I believe that "most people..." -- where "cite, please" or a smart remark would be socially appropriate.

If we are having a casual conversation where I express frustration over my morning by saying "agh, most people are lazy jerks that only care about themselves!!!" and your response is to say "cite, please!", my personal response would probably be to chuckle and then ignore you, and afterwards tell our mutual friends (and many of my own friends) how annoying that was. It would probably be made into a jokey catch phrase for awhile.

The majority of people that have shared their opinion with me on the subject of being corrected or having their world views challenged in a situation where that behavior has not been implicitly invited (e.g., a discussion about political viewpoints where it has been established between the parties that good natured debate is encouraged) have indicated that they do not like being corrected, and that opinion has been echoed by my own experiences as well as my observation of actual live human interaction as well as interaction viewed through other media (e.g., television and the internets).

Or, most people don't like being corrected like that.
posted by mrs. taters at 8:06 AM on October 14, 2010

"As compared to what?"
posted by iamkimiam at 9:15 AM on October 14, 2010

"Well, aren't you special?"
posted by callmejay at 12:38 PM on October 14, 2010

I'm curious as to why this bugs you.

There is some irony that you're concerned about someone judging "most people", when you are making an assumption about "most people" yourself.

That is not a criticism, but it has made me curious why you care about such judgements and why you feel the need to stop people from doing it. You seem to object to something that you do yourself, in essence, even if it has the opposite "judgement".
posted by mbird at 3:53 PM on October 14, 2010

Great, that sounds rather judgmental in itself, from what I can tell. I wish askmefi would allow me to edit my comments better, stuff gets cut off in the textbox on the iPhone.
posted by mbird at 3:56 PM on October 14, 2010

"so statistically, one of us is stupid?"

Whats wrong with the majority of people being not so bright? I'm not smart enough to know.
posted by jcwilliams at 4:52 PM on October 14, 2010

A useful retort might be the point that Noam Chomsky implicitly makes here - people exist in a very specific economic/cultural context, one that often limits the availability/appeal of traditional outlets for intelligence:
I have the habit when I'm driving of turning on these radio-calling programs, and it's striking when you listen to the ones about sports. They have these groups of sports reporters, or some kind of experts on a panel, and people call in and have discussions with them. First of all, the audience obviously is devoting an enormous amount of time to it all. But the more striking fact is, the callers have a tremendous amount of expertise, they have detailed knowledge of all kinds of things, they carry on these extremely complex discussions. And strikingly, they're not at all in awe of the experts - which is a little unusual. See, in most parts of the society, you're encouraged to defer to experts: we all do it more than we should. But in this area, people don't seem to do it - they're quite happy to have an argument with the coach of the Boston Celtics, and tell him what he should have done, and enter into big debates with him and so on. So the fact is that in this domain, people somehow feel quite confident, and they know a lot - there's obviously a great deal of intelligence going into it...

Well, in our society, we have things that you might use your intelligence on, like politics, but people really can't get involved in them in a very serious way - so what they do is they put their minds into other things, such as sports. You're trained to be obedient; you don't have an interesting job; there's no work around for you that's creative; in the cultural environment you're a passive observer of usually pretty tawdry stuff; political and social life are out of your range, they're in the hands of the rich folk. So what's left? Well, one thing that's left is sports-so you put a lot of the intelligence and the thought and the self-confidence into that.

- Noam Chomsky, Understanding Power
posted by Ash3000 at 8:23 PM on October 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

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