Unless you’re an out of control hot head who never lets any affront go unanswered, you’ve likely practised dumb insolence at least once as a smart-aleck kid, a snot nosed teenager or a piss-and-vinegar filled twentysomething. I’ll hazard to suggest that most middle aged people lose the balls and rebellious nature required for dumb insolence, however, if my grandfather was any example, they gain it back later in life, around early 70s or so.

Dumb insolence is (in general) an act of defiance through silent inaction. It can be as little as a glance of the eyes or a knowing grin. It can be as obvious as laughing in someones face and then turning your back and walking away, blowing them off. It can be as frustrating as following every instruction to the letter, no matter how minute or obscure. In any case, as the word "dumb" implies, no verbal response or explanation is (generally) ever given.

Since there are different forms of dumb insolence, it’s probably easiest to break it down a bit and go through some examples.

Civilian dumb insolence

Dumb insolence is an attempt to frustrate a person who is attempting to enforce discipline, by not providing the expected reaction, which is to defend or rationalize whatever action caused you to be on the receiving end of a disciplinary chewing out.

Here’s an example from my personal experience. Skipping some details, I was working with a team of software developers for a client and someone on my team screwed up. The Napoleonic, self-proclaimed "web master" for the client came over and chewed me out, in the middle of the office, in front of everyone around. My response was one of dumb insolence: I just stood there, looking him in the eye and not saying a word.

You see, he was hoping, as most people do when jumping on the chance to dish out shit to someone, that I would react by apologising or attempting to defend myself. Either way would provide him with a reason to stop being proactive (a difficult thing for most people) and start being reactive and respond to what I said back to him, which is a much easier job.

But by doing nothing but listening and nodding my head slightly, he soon ran out of gas and couldn’t seem to find a way to end what he’d started. Once he finished telling me what I’d supposedly done wrong, he had nothing left to say and resorted to explaining why he had to yell at me and then regressed further into trying to make it seem like less of an important issue than it was. If I hadn’t finally said "Ok", ending my dumb insolence, I’m sure he would have ended up apologising before he was done.

Military Dumb Insolence

Dumb Insolence is an offence against discipline recognized by the British Army and is worthy of a court martial, although the army’s definition is somewhat different from what I’ve described above.

The charge of Dumb Insolence can be made when a solider refuses to answer questions when caught committing a violation of discipline. Basically, if an officer witnesses a solider breach discipline, calls the solider on it and the solider refuses to explain himself or respond to the officer’s questions, the solider has committed Dumb Insolence.

Refusing to respond to questioning or take part in an inquiry can also be cause for a charge of Dumb Insolence. There’s no taking the 5th here.

During a time of war, being found guilty of Dumb Insolence could result in summary execution.

Civilian dumb insolence, pt 2

Dumb insolence can also take the form of ignoring implied directions or instructions and adhering strictly to the exact literal directions given.

For example, say you manage a bicycle shop and you point to a bike and tell the new employee to clean the bikes. An hour later you come back and only the bike you pointed at is clean. That’s dumb insolence. So you tell the employee to clean all the bikes and when you come back another hour later, all the bikes are clean but the seats and wheels haven’t been touched. "I did exactly what you said." That’s also dumb insolence.

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