Over last weekend, at the G511ery in London, were a series of presentations and works around the subject of stupidity or dumbness (from the German blöd or dumm).

"A few years ago I made a series of A0 Screen Prints with Michael Schoenke at the Bethanien Workshop in Berlin. The blöd = dumm prints where made for two main reasons; to explore further the 3 colour printing process method I'd been developing and to try and redress through making my constant feeling of inadequacy in attempting to learn German." - Eddie Farrell


Janos Abel talked on Saturday about "dumbing down" through education while Roy Hunter expanded on this induced "dumbness" through media, education, mass vaccinations, atmospheric pollution, diet and medication for those that don't conform; this conditioned "stupidity" has been used to manipulate the populace into slavery.

There are advantages in playing "dumb" sometimes...

Dumb can be good. See Herman Melville’s  Bartleby in the short story of the same name. Bartleby suffers from – or rather glories in what has since been diagnosed as selective or elective mutism. He becomes a man of very few words – and always the same words. I’D PREFER NOT TO. He goes on strike – against his bosses and against the world.

The Virginia Tech killer Seng-Hui Cho was obsessed by Melville and the Bartleby story. He rented the film adaptation of Bartleby, scrawled ‘Ishmael’ on his arm before the gun rampage (‘Call me Ishmael’: the first words of MOBY DICK), and did himself suffer from (s)elective mutism...

Dumb can be good. What the French call LA BETISE. There is no English word for it – acting the goat in order to gain advantage, especially in exposing the idiocy of those in power... Where are the Holy Intelligent Fools now that we need them? Idiots Savants?

Dumb can be good. Playing possum with your brain is an act of rebellion in the Information Age of the Net. How to turn rebellion into revolution? Can possums seize power? Bring me my arrows of desire, the dumb dumb bullets of the dim psyche. Now William Blake was a Holy Fool Poet Revolutionary Mad Fucker.

And William Blake/Johnny Depp in Jarmusch’s DEADMAN is a ‘poet who writes in blood’ out West. Back East he’d been an accountant writing in ink. Blake/Depp doesn’t say much but shows what a Bartleby can do when he leaves the office for good –  in this case taking the side of the ‘Injuns’, in particular befriending Chief Nobody. A white with a redman writes in red. Blake/Depp becomes a man of fewer and fewer words and more and more bullets. ‘Tace et face’ could have been his tag: ‘Keep your counsel and get on with it’. The strong silent type as subversive element...

Melville must have had a thing about the voice. At a crucial point in BILLY BUDD Billy loses his voice – and his life. Dumb. All in the middle of a mutiny when Tom Paine’s THE RIGHTS OF MAN was  clandestinely circulating around the British fleet. Caught with the book and you would be ‘flogged around the fleet’ (900 lashes meant more or less certain death). The Senior Service had a way with mute-iny...

To strike: it was originally a naval term, as in striking the sails. So if you went on strike you downed tools and left the sails and the captain flapping... The red flag originates with the navy – originally it was the signal for engagement with the enemy and then it became the Red of international revolution.. The ships of mercantile capitalism and of empire were the first factories – ‘all hands on deck’, later ‘factory hands’... Whaling ships were factory ships – the oil-wells of their day. Captain Ahab of the Pequod in MOBY DICK lets emotion get the better of him  chasing a white whale – a phantom - when he should be lining the pockets of his Nantucket masters. This is no way for a captain to behave during the historic transition from mercantile to industrial capitalism. Whaling was a bit of both, with one foot (or was it wader?) in the old financial order and one in the new.

Dumb can be good. See Brecht during the Hollywood Show trials. His ‘betise’ frustrated HUAC in its witch hunt of ‘un-American activists’. So the Hoover and McCarthy anti-communist hounds pursued the ‘stupid’ writer in vain. You cannot condemn a man you can get no sense out of.  That was the 1950s. You probably could  condemn now. Issue an orange jump-suit. But power must beware – dressing up its prisoners as clowns. The dumb will open their mouths and bite back... Tace et face: say nothing and do what you have to do. Tace et face, dumbo!

Talk is cheap. I should shut up and do some target practice. On the dumb that is bad, really bad because here comes a bunch who think they are better than they really are: the BBC, Glastonbury, Alain de Botton, Mike Leigh, Nick Hornby, Julie Burchill, Colm Toibin, Simon Schama, Fiona Shaw, Richard Curtis, Mark Rylance, Martin Creed, Gavin Turk, Douglas Gordon, James Corden, Quentin Tarantino  and many many more....
These are just the little people, the little cultural targets. How to down the big one? The horrible black hole Void created in the centre of our life and and soul by neoliberal capital. It is a magic trick, prestidigitation – look, no hands (the no-hands of post-industrial capitalism) – yet it is utterly real: prestidigitisation.  How do you put a stop to this dumb-show where ‘All that is solid melts into air’?... How do you take action against a Void?  What is to be done?  Bide your time, act dumb. As Brecht said:  You can’t start from the good old things, you have to start from the bad new. That’s what it is to be dumb. Play with words then fire the next time.

There is however, a growing awareness of our collective ignorance and stupidity. As Eddie observed at a recent Wednesday session. "Five years ago I relied on BBC Radio4 and the Guardian, now I neither listen to Radio4 nor read the Guardian".

Are the Structural Elite worried yet?

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