In many high fantasy settings, there is a "Dark Lord" that is undoubtedly evil and will cause doom to the world if he is not stopped. However, when I read "The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity", I realize that stupidity can hurt people as bad as evil, so I'm thinking about creating a villain who causes problems because of his stupidity.

Any suggestions on creating a stupid villain? What position of power should he be in (a stupid world leader)? What about mixing stupidity and evil? Can there be a stupid villain in high fantasy and space opera? How to make the stupid villain as scary as Darth Vader and Sauron? Any notable examples?

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    Hanlon's Razor describes this well: Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity. As for exmaples, the only example I can think of is the book "A Planet For The President", which had a president not-so-subtly modelled on George W. Bush, Jnr. – Craig Sefton Aug 26 '13 at 9:18
  • In "The Reivers" by Faulkner there's a villain - a kid, who is both rotten bad, and completely stupid. Being this rotten bad he becomes entirely predictable, never making any half-good choice. – SF. Aug 26 '13 at 13:02
  • Or "Ensign Flandry", a SF novel in which the villain is a well-meaning anti-war politician whose actions nearly lead to the destruction of an innocent people. – Jay Aug 26 '13 at 14:04
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    Another angle: The most dangerous force in the universe is love without wisdom. It might not make for a good fantasy plot - or certainly might take more work, but when people are motivated by love, but don't understand or can't accept what would really help in a situation, they can be almost unstoppable forces of destruction. – Joe Aug 27 '13 at 22:42
  • The word "villain" usually conveys intent; that's why he's the bad guy, after all. But you can certainly make the "major source of bad stuff in the story" be someone/thing that's not actively evil; consider all the stories that revolve around natural disasters, for example. A stupid person messing things up seems as workable as a hurricane or comet or plague. Good luck! – Monica Cellio Aug 28 '13 at 1:52

It's impossible to read Cipolla and not be affected by that essay, in any case, I think you are seeing it from the wrong perspective.

Cipolla's essay deals with actions, not motivations. That means you can have a villan who is Mother Theresa of Calcutta, I mean, a really good person that is, in fact, a villan and stupid.

Let's say a wonderful person tries to do good and get's his whole village killed in the process? He is responsible for a lot of deaths. He's what Cipolla calls stupid: somebody who acts and makes himself and other people loose by his actions. The stupidity is not related to his intentions but the results of his actions.

So, you are mixing things. You are mixing stupidity from Cipolla's perspective and normal perspective. Forest Gump is a stupid person who can manage to make outstanding feats and, according to Cipolla's essay, that makes him "Intelligent". I'm sorry if I'm not using the correct words but I read "Allegro ma non troppo" in another language and don't know the ones used in the translation.

Most of bad guys in most of movies are stupid according to Cipolla's point of view because, in the end, they don't earn anything and made a lot of people also loose a lot of things before being killed by the good guy. That's stupid.

What you are truly asking is: "what if I create a dumb character for the "villain" and he does a lot of dumb things"? Like I said, most of movies and books do that. The only difference is they don't give the reader the perspective that the villain is stupid... But Groo, The Wandered does. He is a dumb good guy instead of a dumb villain, but it's the same thing in the end. You should read it.

And, about your questions, I think you are also getting the wrong perspective. Being a writer, in a certain way, is being the god of your writing. You can do anything you want, even having a completely moron as world's overlord. You just need to create a consistent background to explain how he did that, and make sure your story has the right mood (humor always work in such cases).

For ending, you really should read Terry Pratchett's books.


Sure. Politics is surely filled with examples like this. I've often thought that movie villains are absurdly evil. I think most real villains in the world don't cackle with fiendish laughter as they gloat over how they're going to destroy all that is good and right and true. More often they say that they have to implement this program for the good of the nation or of the world, and these narrow-minded people who are standing in their way just have to be dealt with, for the greater good. Or, I just saw an interview on TV last night with some convicted con artist who talked about how this was just the only way she knew to survive, and she was sorry if others got hurt but what was she supposed to do? Etc. Oh, not that there aren't people out there who will kill someone just for kicks, but they're not the most dangerous villains. It's the well-meaning people who really believe in freedom of speech, but that group over there is just too extreme and they are really a special case, why, if we don't shut them up, etc.

For example, Neville Chamberlain is widely regarded as having blundered badly when he gave in to Hitler's demands rather than standing up to him. Many speculate that if Chamberlain had followed Churchill's advice and taken a hard line with Hitler, World War 2 could have been prevented. I'm sure we could debate the what-if's endlessly, but if that's true, note that no one is saying that Chamberlain was an evil man. Quite the contrary. He was a nice man in a situation where being nice just wasn't going to work.

I started to write up another example and I can easily think of many more, but you get the idea.

Note that for a politician to cause massive harm, he can't be a total bumbling idiot. He has to be pretty capable to get elected or to organize a coup or however he comes to power. But I think we've seen historically that the skills required to get elected or to lead an army are not necessarily the same skills that make one able to run a national economy, etc.

By the way, I deliberately avoided using a contemporary example above. If I said that Obama is a well-meaning fool or that Bush was a well-meaning fool or Samaris or Merkel or some other current politician, half the people here would agree with me and half would say that was outrageous. I can point to politicians in the last few decades with completely opposite policies, both of whom had wide popular support. So what makes a stupid policy is not obvious to everyone.

I've been talking about the harm of stupidity on a national level, but surely people do themselves and others plenty of harm on a more personal level. I suspect that most of the problems that people have in life are caused, not because they are the victims of some evil person, but because they make personal decisions that are obviously bad ideas. Not to say there aren't people out there whose lives have been ruined by a violent criminal or an oppressive regime, but I think many more people suffer because they drink too much or use dangerous drugs, or they can't hold a job because they don't bother showing up for work, or they marry someone that they know is an abusive jerk, or they ruin a perfectly good marriage by having a tawdry affair, etc, etc.

Again, though, I wouldn't make such a "stupid villain" just incomprehensibly stupid. I'd make him follow some impulse that, even if the reader should instantly see that it's stupid, we can see how a normal human being would do that. Like, the person doesn't quit his job for no reason at all, but he has a series of escalating conflicts with the boss until he quits. He doesn't just decide one day to become a drug addict, but he has some severe personal problem that leads him to try drugs just once to escape, and then the next time a lesser problem leads him to turn to drugs, etc, until he's using drugs to escape from life in general. Basic lust leads people to do all sorts of things that are objectively stupid, and I think we all understand that immediately.

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