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Belmont Club

Man Vs Nature

March 24th, 2011 - 5:56 pm

Some people are stupid, but which of the two groups of people depicted below the Read More really represents stupidity? Or do they both?

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If nature administers the ultimate IQ test based upon its own definition of intelligence, the ability to survive must represent a passing grade.  To what extent do a culture’s concepts of intelligence transcend natures? And aren’t both concepts bound to be the same anyway? Carlo M. Cipolla has studied the question of human stupidity at some length.

Through his study of economic history, he showed a keen interest in the causes that prompted specific economic and social situations during history, instead of focusing on facts and figures. He was noted as well for his work on overpopulation and his essays on human stupidity …

By creating a graph with the first factor on the x-axis and the second on the y-axis, [Cipolla] obtains four groups of people:

* Intelligent people (top right)
* Helpless / Naive people (top left)
* Bandits (bottom right)
* Stupid people (bottom left)

The implications of the interactions of these four groups are explored here.

Essentially stupid people are dangerous and damaging because reasonable people find it difficult to imagine and understand unreasonable behaviour. An intelligent person may understand the logic of a bandit. The bandit’s actions follow a pattern of rationality: nasty rationality, if you like, but still rationality. The bandit wants a plus on his account. Since he is not intelligent enough to devise ways of obtaining the plus as well as providing you with a plus, he will produce his plus by causing a minus to appear on your account. All this is bad, but it is rational and if you are rational you can predict it. You can foresee a bandit’s actions, his nasty manoeuvres and ugly aspirations and often can build up your defenses.

With a stupid person all this is absolutely impossible as explained by the Third Basic Law. A stupid creature will harass you for no reason, for no advantage, without any plan or scheme and at the most improbable times and places. You have no rational way of telling if and when and how and why the stupid creature attacks. When confronted with a stupid individual you are completely at his mercy….

The result of the action of a perfect bandit (the person who falls on line OM of figure 2) is purely and simply a transfer of wealth and/or welfare. After the action of a perfect bandit, the bandit has a plus on his account which plus is exactly equivalent to the minus he has caused to another person. The society as a whole is neither better nor worse off. If all members of a society were perfect bandits the society would remain stagnant but there would be no major disaster. The whole business would amount to massive transfers of wealth and welfare in favour of those who would take action. If all members of the society would take action in regular turns, not only the society as a whole but also individuals would find themselves in a perfectly steady state of no change.

In Cipolla’s typology, the stupid person represents some kind of entropic force. But it is not clear, from the video clip above, whether the “smart people” represented are truly smart. Through some operation of inner logic they refuse to replace the energy required to keep their system of smarts going. They can’t breed. Can that be smart? On the other hand, the stupidos are depicted as leeching off the free energy initially provided by now unsustainable “intelligent people”. That strategy fails in the long run too, but it fails later than the smart people’s.

Is there some perspective from which both groups are stupid? And if so, is there some system of incentives that will permit the broader system to continue — some perspective that is smart from the meta point of view? Alternatively, will nature simply wipe them out and start again?


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