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Greg Marcus

Cretins, Fools, Morons, and Lunatics

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“There are four kinds of people in this world: cretins, fools, morons, and lunatics.”

“And that covers everybody?”

“Oh, yes, including us. Or at least me. If you take a good look, everybody fits into one of these categories. Each of us is sometimes a cretin, a fool, a moron, or a lunatic. A normal person is just a reasonable mix of these components, these four ideal types.”

“Idealtypen.”

“Very good. You know German?”

“Enough for bibliographies.”

“When I was in school, if you knew German, you never graduated. You just spent your life knowing German. Nowadays I think that happens with Chinese.”

“My German’s poor, so I’ll graduate. But let’s get back to your typology. What about geniuses? Einstein, for example?”

“A genius uses one component in a dazzling way, fueling it with the others.” He took a sip of his drink.

“Hi there, beautiful,” he said. “Made that suicide attempt yet?”

“No,” the girl answered as she walked by. “I’m in a collective now.”

“Good for you,” Belbo said. He turned back to me. “Of course, there’s no reason one can’t have collective suicides, too.”

“Getting back to the lunatics.”

“Look, don’t take me too literally. I’m not trying to put the universe in order. I ‘m just saying what a lunatic is from the point of view of a publishing house. Mine is an ad-hoc definition.”

“All right. My round.”

“All right. Less ice, Pilade. Otherwise it gets into the bloodstream too fast. Now then: cretins. Cretins don’t even talk; they sort of slobber and stumble. You know, the guy who presses the ice cream cone against his forehead, or enters a revolving door the wrong way.”

“That’s not possible.”

“It is for a cretin. Cretins are of no interest to us: they never come to publishers’ offices. So let’s forget about them.”

“Let’s.”

“Being a fool is more complicated. It’s a form of social behavior. A fool is one who always talks outside his glass.”

“What do you mean?”

“Like this.” He pointed at the counter near his glass. “He wants to talk about what’s in the glass, but somehow or other he misses. He’s the guy who puts his foot in his mouth. For example, he says how’s your lovely wife to someone whose wife has just left him.”

“Yes, I know a few of those.”

“Fools are in great demand, especially on social occasions. They embarrass everyone but provide material for conversation. In their positive form, they become diplomats. Talking outside the glass when someone else blunders helps to change the subject. But fools don’t interest us, either. They’re never creative, their talent is all second-hand, so they don’t submit manuscripts to publishers. Fools don’t claim that cats bark, but they talk about cats when everyone else is talking about dogs. They offend all the rules of conversation, and when they really offend, they’re magnificent. It’s a dying breed, the embodiment of all the bourgeois virtues. What they really need is a Verdurin salon or even a chez Guermantes. Do you students still read such things?”

“I do.”

“Well, a fool is a Joachim Murat reviewing his officers. He sees one from Martinique covered with medals. ‘Vous etes negre?’ Murat asks. ‘Oui, mon general!’ the man answers. And Murat says: ‘Bravo, bravo, continuez!’ And so on. You follow me? Forgive me, but tonight I’m celebrating a historic decision in my life. I’ve stopped drinking. Another round? Don’t answer, you’ll make me feel guilty. Pilade!”

“What about the morons?”

“Ah. Morons never do the wrong thing. They get their reasoning wrong. Like the fellow who says all dogs are pets and all dogs bark, and cats are pets, too, and therefore cats bark. Or that all Athenians are mortal, and all the citizens of Piraeus are mortal, so all the citizens of Piraeus are Athenians.”

“Which they are.”

“Yes, but only accidentally. Morons will occasionally say something that’s right, but they say it for the wrong reason.”

“You mean it’s okay to say something that’s wrong as long as the reason is right.”

“Of course. Why else go to the trouble of being a rational animal?”

“All great apes evolved from lower life forms, man evolved from lower life forms, therefore man is a great ape.”

“Not bad. In such statements you suspect that something’s wrong, but it takes work to show what and why. Morons are tricky. You can spot the fool right away (not to mention the cretin), but the moron reasons almost the way you do; the gap is infinitesimal. A moron is a master of paralogism. For an editor, it’s bad news. It can take him an eternity to identify a moron. Plenty of morons’ books are published, because they’re convincing at first glance. An editor is not required to weed out the morons. If the Academy of Sciences doesn’t do it, why should he?”

“Philosophers don’t either. Saint Anselm’s ontological argument is moronic, for example. God must exist because I ^can conceive Him as a being perfect in all ways, including existence. The saint confuses existence in thought with existence in reality.”

“True, but Gaunilon’s refutation is moronic, too. I can think of an island in the sea even if the island doesn’t exist. He confuses thinking of the possible with thinking of the necessary.”

“A duel between morons.”

“Exactly. And God loves every minute of it. He chose to be unthinkable only to prove that Anselm and Gaunilon were morons. What a sublime purpose for creation, or, rather, for that act by which God willed Himself to be: to unmask cosmic moronism.”

“We’re surrounded by morons.”

“Everyone’s a moron — save me and thee. Or, rather — I wouldn’t want to offend — save thee.”

“Somehow I feel that Godel’s theorem has something to do with all this.”

“I wouldn’t know, I’m a cretin. Pilade!”

“My round.”

“We’ll split it. Epimenides the Cretan says all Cretans are liars. It must be true, because he’s a Cretan himself and knows his countrymen well.”

“That’s moronic thinking.”

“Saint Paul. Epistle to Titus. On the other hand, those who call Epimenides a liar have to think all Cretans aren’t, but Cretans don’t trust Cretans, therefore no Cretan calls Epimenides a liar.”

“Isn’t that moronic thinking?”

“You decide. I told you, they are hard to identify. Morons can even win the Nobel prize.”

“Hold on. Of those who don’t believe God created the world in seven days, some are not fundamentalists, but of those who do believe God created the world in seven days, some are. Therefore, of those who don’t believe God created the world in seven days, some are fundamentalists. How’s that?”

“My God—to use the mot juste—I wouldn’t know. A moron-ism or not?”

“It is, definitely, even if it were true. Violates one of the laws of syllogisms: universal conclusions cannot be drawn from two particulars.”

“And what if you were a moron?”

“I’d be in excellent, venerable company.”

“You’re right. And perhaps, in a logical system different from ours, our moronism is wisdom. The whole history of logic consists of attempts to define an acceptable notion of moronism. A task too immense. Every great thinker is someone else’s moron.”

“Thought as the coherent expression of moronism.”

“But what is moronism to one is incoherence to another.”

“Profound. It’s two o’clock, Pilade’s about to close, and we still haven’t got to the lunatics.”

“I’m getting there. A lunatic is easily recognized. He is a moron who doesn’t know the ropes. The moron proves his thesis; he has a logic, however twisted it may be. The lunatic, on the other hand, doesn’t concern himself at all with logic; he works by short circuits. For him, everything proves everything else. The lunatic is all idee fixe, and whatever he comes across confirms his lunacy. You can tell him by the liberties he takes with common sense, by his flashes of inspiration, and by the fact that sooner or later he brings up the Templars.”

“Invariably?”

“There are lunatics who don’t bring up the Templars, but those who do are the most insidious. At first they seem normal, then all of a sudden...”

- "Foucault's Pendulum" by Umberto Eco

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Comments

  1. tAlchemist's Avatar
    tAlchemist -
    In my opinion, there are two types of people in this world... the Sheep, and the ones who aren't sheep.

    A shepherd in front, a guard dog, and sheep afraid to step out of line... fearful of the snapping dog.

    In society, following a societal-influenced mentality (not true to yourself), sheep afraid to step out of line fearful of the snapping law enforcement and whatever falls into that... :P

    where are the warriors, the conquers of kingdoms, we are being weakened down with influence... rise up.
  2. Greg Marcus's Avatar
    Greg Marcus -
    First they would have to raise their minds.

  3. Andro's Avatar
    Andro -
    Quote Originally Posted by tAlchemist
    In my opinion, there are two types of people in this world... the Sheep, and the ones who aren't sheep.
    Which one are you?