How to Become Stupid

     “Do you pat bees?” Gracie asked.
     Jane was finishing up a real estate closing and I was sitting with her clients’ kids and our dogs on the back porch. Bumblebees buzzed around the big pot of catnip on the picnic table.
     “Umm, no,” I said. “I don’t pat bees.”
     Gracie patted the bees.
     “They’re soft,” she said. “They don’t mind it if you pat them.”
     Leave it to kids to teach you something new. I’m beginning to think adults are incapable of it.
     Gracie’s brother took a break from throwing tennis balls for our retrievers and sat down with us.
     “Do you have dogs?” I asked him.
     “We have three dogs,” he said.
     “Are they big dogs or little dogs?”
     Cyrus gave me a look of apologetic commiseration.
     “I don’t want to insult you,” he said, “but our dogs are bigger than yours.”
     Doris Lessing said that all children are geniuses until they’re around 7 years old. Then, she said, they become stupid, and most of them stay stupid for the rest of their life.
     I’ve never been a fan of Doris Lessing. Probably because she wrote most of her stuff when she was 8, or even older. But she was right about that one.
     Parrots are probably smarter than kids, which is why parrots are so obnoxious. And I say this as a parrot owner who loves my parrot.
     A successful parrot breeder whom I shall not identify because he works undercover busting parrot smugglers explained this to me. I’ll call him Butch. Butch is a very smart guy. He’s worked as a cop and has a degree in psychology.
     Most people think parrots are about as smart as a 3-year-old kid. “I think they’re smarter than that,” Butch said. “I think they’re at the 5 to 7 break.”
     The 5 to 7 break, Butch said, is when kids begin to understand that they and their families are not the center of the world – that there’s a big world out there, which they can’t control, and into which they’re going to have to learn to fit in.
     The 5 to 7 break is also around the time that kids learn how to lie. They’re not very good at first, of course, but they get good pretty fast.
     As they learn to do all this, they become what Doris Lessing calls stupid.
     That’s why you never see little kids involved in mass political movements. They’re too smart for that. Also, of course, because we won’t let them. But they wouldn’t do it anyway.
     Genius, Baudelaire said, is childhood recovered at will. And there is something childlike about most great artists, except for the really obnoxious ones. Brahms, for example. That guy was born old.
     Creative scientists are childlike too, Richard Feynman being one. I read a reminiscence from another Nobel laureate just yesterday, whom Feynman persuaded that there are twice as many numbers as there are numbers.
     Most of the people who run the world are stupid, because they’ve devoted their lives to figuring out how to fit into it, and control it. They’re great liars, and immensely powerful, and stupid as hell. I could name names.
     Ah, well. You probably know all this. You just forgot it. So do I. That’s why I like to talk to little kids.
     Sitting on the back porch, I told Gracie and Cyrus I had to go to the store for a minute, but I’d be right back. We’d known each other for about 10 minutes.
     Gracie walked me to my car. “I’m sorry you have to go,” she said.

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