Skip to main content

Imagine you are a guy who has a responsible job with a big company in Toronto. It is 2015. The biggest story in your city is the plight of female TV reporters who are being harassed on the street by male passersby shouting obscenities. The harassers are being named, shamed, vilified, and in one case promptly fired. Everyone agrees that this disgraceful behaviour should be thoroughly condemned.

Now imagine that you are attending an industry-awards ceremony. It features a young female doing a stand-up comedy routine. Do you laugh and clap appreciatively? Secretly think Jerry Seinfeld was funnier? Heckle her by saying, "There's a 51-per-cent chance that my buddy here will have sex with you … and I will take the other 49 per cent"? And when people tell you to shut up, just keep on going?

Yes, my friends, one man actually chose Option 3. After the woman walked off the stage and told her story to The Globe and Mail, his career prospects are also looking rather grim.

By some interpretations, these incidents reveal that sexual harassment is a serious social problem that's more pervasive than ever. There is, however, another interpretation.

Men are idiots. They have a much higher idiot factor than women do, especially when young. This fundamental difference between the sexes will never be eradicated no matter how hard we try. (Although try we must.)

The idiot hypothesis is scarcely original to me. It has occurred to most serious scholars of human behaviour. One such study was published last year in the BMJ (the British Medical Journal). The authors analyzed a variety of gender differences in risk-seeking behaviour, emergency department admissions and mortality. They found that men not only take far more risks than women, but far more senseless risks – "where the apparent payoff is negligible or non-existent, and the outcome is often extremely negative and often final."

This senseless risk-taking, they argue, cannot be attributed to social or cultural differences alone. It can only be explained by what they call "male idiot theory" (MIT). In other words, men are idiots and idiots do stupid things.

The evidence is everywhere. Males under 35, for example, are 2.9 times more likely to fracture a bone than females are. One obvious reason is that they like fast motorcycles and fast mountain bicycles and other risky sports. Another reason is that every so often they dive into empty swimming pools.

Testosterone and alcohol account for a fair amount of stupid male behaviour. So does the common male desire to show off and impress your friends by behaving like an asshole. These factors – along with the seemingly irresistible desire to wreck somebody's stand-up on live TV – account for the disgusting plague of harassment that has tormented reporters such as Shauna Hunt. No serious person disagrees that the only sensible response to this moronic behaviour is to hang 'em high, so as to discourage the others. I'm only amazed it didn't happen sooner.

If you have doubts about the validity of MIT, the authors of this theory invite you to consider the Darwin Awards, which are handed out annually to celebrate people who voluntarily remove themselves from the gene pool by an astonishing variety of stupid methods. You can find worthy candidates every day. (My favourite example from this week is the guys who like to shoot Roman candles at themselves with drones.)

Needless to say, the vast majority of Darwin Award nominees (88.7 per cent) are men. Among the recent winners was a terrorist who mailed a letter bomb with insufficient postage and, when it was returned to him, carelessly opened it himself. Another winner was a wheelchair-bound man who missed an elevator, rammed the elevator door in frustration and finally smashed it open – only to plunge to his death.

From an evolutionary standpoint, this makes sense. Men are far more dispensable than women. What does it matter if some of them get trampled by mastodons, race their cars off cliffs or club each other to death when they feel their manhood is insulted? The gene pool is better off without them.

The same thing is true today. What's changed is the wider set of skills and aptitudes – such as self-control, a high degree of socialization, rule-following and respect for women – that men now need for survival in the modern world. No man today could possibly be stupid enough to believe that he can actually get away with harassing women at work – or with shouting obscenities to female TV reporters on the street as the camera is rolling – or with crude sexual comments at a mixed company event. These poor saps might as well hurl their careers down an elevator shaft.

Yet they persist. I'm always astonished when my friends in corporate life regale me with tales of bad conduct in high places, whether it's obviously inappropriate sexual relationships or flagrant padding of expense accounts. The miscreants are almost invariably men. They are smart people who should know better. Their behaviour is clearly self-destructive and they usually get caught. So why do they do it? MIT is the only answer.

To tell the truth, I have a certain soft spot in my heart for male idiots. They have played a small but vital part in my own career. When I was just starting out, they were the idiots who'd screw up, miss deadlines, go AWOL and generally behave like jerks. Someone had to pick up the pieces. Sometimes, that someone was me. I'm still grateful to them for the opportunity.

Interact with The Globe