A theory on fools

The other day I read a remark on Twitter that said this corona virus has one benefit: it has helped us identify the fools amongst us. This reminded me of a theory I had proposed six years ago. It happened after I read that a minister had made a particularly foolish remark. After hearing what she had said I started wondering about fools: how many does a country have? Is there a lower limit? Is there an upper limit? Is the number a constant?

After all, I thought to myself, the physical sciences and mathematics have concepts called constants, like pi in maths and the Planck constant in physics, for instance. Their value always remains the same, regardless of what else changes. So for a long time I had been wondering if there are constants in the social sciences also. Economics, which self-importantly regards itself as a science, has none — or just one. But it’s not a natural constant. It was invented by the IMF in 1986, that come what may, the fiscal deficit of a country must not exceed three per cent. Just like that, no reasons or rationale given. But there is not even a man-made constant in the other social sciences such as sociology, anthropology, political science, etc.

So I have been posing a question to better brains than mine: given a population sample — in, say, a bus, a classroom, a village, a newspaper, a town, a metro, district, an army, a state and finally a country — is the number of fools in it constant in relation to the total number in that group? There was no answer. So I proposed my own theory.

Be it your housing complex, office or the team for which you play, or the road on which you are driving, there will always be some unreasonable people.

I started by defining a fool. My definition — you can have your own — of a fool is a person who lacks good judgement. Good judgement comprises the ability to maximise your self-interest for at least 90 per cent of the time, which means you don’t harm yourself.  The legal, economic and social constraints remain the same for everyone so it’s only a fool who doesn’t maximise. Generally, fools always extract a price from others. Examples are the idiot who jumps the red light, the duffer who smokes at a petrol station, the halfwit who wanders off at aircraft boarding time and now the borderline criminal who doesn’t wear a mask in a crowded place or observe social distancing. These are some examples. You can add your own.

Assuming that the number is no more than five per cent in any group of people — it is probably closer to 10 — there are 70 million Indian fools. If it’s 10 percent, it means 140 million fools, which is twice the population of Britain! This wouldn’t matter so much if some of them didn’t, in the natural course, find their way into positions of power.

Now think: even if no more than one per cent of India’s 70 million fools work for the State — parliament, executive and judiciary — it means as many as 700,000 persons lacking in good judgement (fools) are acting on behalf of the rest of the 1,400 million. Thus, as the poet rightly observed, “Barbad gulistañ karne ko bas ek hiī ullu kaafi thaā/ Har shaakh pe ullu ­baitha hai. Anjame gulistan kya hoga (To destroy a garden only one owl/idiot is enough. But here every branch has an idiot).”

But forget the country and its rulers. If you just look around you, you will find that my theory is a good one. Be it your housing complex or your office or the team for which you play some game, or the road on which you are driving, there will always be a constant number of people who act unreasonably and damage your interests. It’s a huge problem.

Can we do anything about it? Sadly not. It’s a constant, you see.

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