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”Nyuh-uh! Idaho ain’t not the dummest state what there are. Any somebody what says such a thing oblivishly never spent no time in Tennessee.” —Attributed to an anonymous man on the streets of Meridian when asked if he’d heard Idaho had been ranked 51st on an evaluation listing the 50 states (plus the District of Columbia) from smartest to least smart.


Okay, I made up that quote from the anonymous man on the streets of Meridian. I also made up the anonymous man. He’s a figment of my imagination. I thought if you hadn’t yet heard about Idaho’s being the stupidest state in the union, maybe you’d prefer to hear it from a figment of my imagination rather than from the actual me. I tried to soften the blow some by making him sound even stupider than you.

Oh, and do forgive me for assuming you’re stupid. But if you’re reading this — an Idahoan’s opinion, printed in an Idaho newspaper, anywhere within the borders of Idaho — odds are that you, too, are an Idahoan. And what with Idaho being identified as the cellar dweller in the Ministry of Brains, the odds are you’re dumber than a sugar beet. I’m simply going with the odds.

(By the way, am I moving too fast for you? Seriously, if you’re having trouble keeping up, I could write slower. Like, “What … part … of … Ida … ho … are … you … from … — … cowboy?”)

Anyway, I have not been looking forward to telling my Idaho friends and neighbors we are not the sharpest knife in the drawer … the brightest bulb on the tree … the quickest gerbil on the spinny wheel. To the contrary, if we are to believe a survey conducted by (an on-line home security business), we are the dullest, the dimmest, and the slowest. And for bringing this news to my fellow Gem Staters, I fear I might be accused of teaching CBT (Critical Blockhead Theory).

But hey, I’m merely passing on something I found on the internet. The rating system comes from combining several criteria into a formula, or something like that. Don’t expect me to explain this system or the formula or much of anything else because, let’s face it, with both you and me being Idahoans, it’s probable neither of us is smart enough to grasp the intricacies of anything more complicated than a toothbrush, let alone a systematic formula … formulaic system … whatever.

But from what little I do understand, they assigned a numerical value to each state based on a mash-up of the percentage of high-school graduates, college grads, and holders of advanced or professional degrees, together with the average SAT and ACT scores. I haven’t the space or desire to report how all 50 states (and D.C.) did, but New Jersey came in No. 1 with a score of 337.8. In contrast, Idaho’s scored 79.5. The median was 221, and even the second-to-dumbest state (Oklahoma) scored almost 20 points over us. So there was really no contest as to who’s the Forrest Gump in this class photo.

But! (you protest) how far a person got in school, or what score he (she) pulled on a college entrance exam, tells us nothing about how smart he is. And you are right. We all know someone who teaches quantum mechanics at Harvard, but can’t figure out a stick shift, right? Or conversely, what about the guy who quit school in the sixth grade, put every dime he made from breeding night-crawlers into Bitcoin, and is now the richest fella in Melba?

The truth is, there are as many ways to be smart — and dumb — as there are human beings, and most of us have a blend of both in our behavioral patterns. When it comes to identifying who is smart and who is dumb, the criteria that SafeHome used is meaningless. Even had they figured in such factors as education budgets, average class size, median teachers’ pay — all indicators that would have dropped Idaho even farther behind the pack than it already is — they still haven’t made a case that their calculations could determine any specific individual’s placement on the Moron-to-Mensa scale.

Still, the episode put me to wondering: What, exactly, is stupid? I mean, we all know it when we see it, yes? … and it would seem we’re seeing more of it, and with increasing intensity, with every passing news cycle. But it’s obviously more than a matter of IQ points and educational achievements; having an agile mind and advanced learning has never guaranteed an abundance of smart decisions or an absence of stupid tricks.

But there is more to stupidity than walking into a light pole while texting or being slow to get a joke. And the more threatening stupidity becomes, the more important it is that we come to a deeper understanding of it. With the flourishing of anti-vaccine, anti-mask, QAnon, science-denying, Big-Lie-believing dimwittery, the perils of un-checked stupidity have edged into existential threat territory. We find ourselves dealing with a variant of stupidity that endangers not only the dumber bunnies, but everyone sharing the planet with them. So while it may be true that we can’t fix stupid, we must, at the least, try to neutralize the damage it does.

What I find most egregious about this menacing idiocy is, the more widely certain broad conclusions are accepted as irrefutable (i.e., “Public education is generally beneficial to the entire society.”), the more forcefully the idiots refuse to accept those conclusions as true. In other words: The worst sort of stupidity is the deliberate rejection of what is known to be smart.

With that as a guide, the good news is we Idahoans needn’t worry we’ll lose our place at the bottom of America’s cerebral totem pole any time soon. And as the state legislature lumbers back into session next month, all but the very dumbest will see what I mean.

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