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« Nuclear Bomb 250 Times More Powerful Than The Hiroshima Bomb Almost Detonated Over North Carolina in 1961 | Main | Grand Theft Auto V Attacks Conservatives Liberals »
September 21, 2013

A Philsophical Inquiry Into the Nature of Stupidity

Note: See Andy's College Football thread below for college football and hot cheerleaders.

Niedermeyer's Dead Horse sends this. This is actually by some kind of economist. The piece itself is humorous in nature, and ornamented with quasi-economic language for comedic effect, but it's a matter of Kidding on the Square -- he's being funny, but he means it. Or at least the basics of it.

Worth a read, I think, if you like this sort of mock-academic humor.

First, he looks into s, the fraction of a population which is Stupid. After first noting that the only rule of s will always be larger than your estimates of s (in other words, no matter how Stupid you think people are, you're wrong, they're more stupid than you think), he notes that this fraction s is independent of other factors (such as education, income, race, and so forth) and Stupid is maddeningly consistent among all sub-populations.

Whenever I analyzed the blue-collar workers I found that the fraction s of them were stupid. As s's value was higher that I expected (First Law), paying my tribute to fashion I thought at first that segregation, poverty, lack of education were to be blamed. But moving up the social ladder I found that the same ratio was prevalent among the white collar employees and among the students. More impressive still were the results among the professors. Whether I considered a large university or a small college, a famous institution or an obscure one, I found that the same fraction s of the professors are stupid. So bewildered was I by the results, that I made a special point to extend my research to a specially selected group, to a real elite, the Nobel laureates. The result confirmed Nature's supreme powers: s fraction of the Nobel Laureates are stupid.

Being an economist, he graphs the human population according to their propensity to fall into one of four categories: The Helpless, who will give you a benefit while experiencing a loss themselves. The Intelligent, who will bargain a benefit for themselves while also delivering a benefit to you. And the Bandit, one who benefits himself while simply stealing from you.

The fourth category are the Stupid, who cause a loss for you while deriving no benefit from it themselves:

A stupid person is a person who caused losses to another person or to a group of persons while himself deriving no gain and even possibly incurring losses.

When confronted for the first time with the Third Basic Law, rational people instinctively react with feelings of skepticism and incredulity. The fact is that reasonable people have difficulty in conceiving and understanding unreasonable behavior. But let us abandon the lofty plane of theory and let us look pragmatically at our daily life. We all recollect occasions in which a fellow took an action which resulted in his gain and our loss: we had to deal with a helpless person. We can recollect cases in which a fellow took an action by which both parties gained: he was intelligent. Such cases do indeed occur. But upon thoughtful reflection you must admit that these are not the events which punctuate most frequently our daily life. Our daily life is mostly made of cases in which we lose money and/or time and/or energy and/or appetite, cheerfulness and good health because of the improbable action of some preposterous creature who has nothing to gain and indeed gains nothing from causing us embarrassment, difficulties or harm. Nobody knows, understands or can possibly explain why that preposterous creature does what he does what he does. In fact there is no explanation- or better, there is only one explanation: the person in question is stupid.

After discussing the "super-Stupid," he turns to the role of the Stupid in society.


THE POWER OF STUPIDITY

It is not difficult to understand how social, political and institutional power enhances the damaging potential of a stupid person. But one still has to explain and understand what essentially it is that makes a stupid person dangerous to other people-in other words what constitutes the power of stupidity.

Essentially stupid people are dangerous and damaging because reasonable people find it difficult to imagine and understand unreasonable behavior. 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 maneuvers 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.

Because the stupid person's actions do not conform to the rules of rationality, it follows that:

1) one is generally caught by surprise by the attack;

2) even when one becomes aware of the attack, one cannot organize a rational defense, because the attack itself lacks any rational structure.

The fact that the activity and movements of a stupid creature are absolutely erratic and irrational not only makes defense problematic but it also makes any counter-attack extremely difficult-like trying to shoot at an object which is capable of the most improbable unimaginable movements. This is what both Dickens and Schiller had in mind when the former stated that "with stupidity and sound digestion man may front much" and the latter wrote that "against stupidity the very Gods fight in vain."

Now he discusses the political/economic implications of Stupid, and how the fraction of Stupid s determines a nation's fate.

THE FIFTH BASIC LAW

Instead of considering the welfare of the individual let us consider the welfare of the society, regarded in this context as the algebraic sum of the individual conditions. A full understanding of the Fifth Basic Law is essential to the analysis. It may be parenthetically added here that of the Five Basic Laws, the Fifth is certainly the best known and its corollary is quoted very frequently. The Fifth Basic Law states that

A stupid person is the most dangerous type of person.

The corollary of the Law is that

A stupid person is more dangerous than a bandit.

The result of the action of a perfect bandit (the person who falls on line OM of figure2) 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 favor 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.

When stupid people are at work, the story is totally different. Stupid people cause losses to other people with no counterpart of gains on their own account. Thus the society as a whole is impoverished.

...

All this suggests some reflection on the performance of societies. According to the Second Basic Law, the fraction of stupid people is a constant s which is not affected by time, space, race, class or any other socio-cultural or historical variable. It would be a profound mistake to believe the number of stupid people in a declining society is greater than in a developing society. Both such societies are plagued by the same percentage of stupid people. The difference between the two societies is that in the society which performs poorly:

a) the stupid members of the society are allowed by the other members to become more active and take more actions;
b) there is a change in the composition of the non-stupid section with a relative decline of populations of areas I, H1 and B1 and a proportionate increase of populations H2 and B2.

[Note: He has previously suggested that among the Helpless and the Bandit class, there are more intelligent subdivisions [H1 and B1] which do less harm and even may do some good, but also less intelligent subdivisions [H2 and B2] who tend towards Stupidity and thus subtract from societal wealth.]

This theoretical presumption is abundantly confirmed by an exhaustive analysis of historical cases. In fact the historical analysis allows us to reformulate the theoretical conclusions in a more factual way and with more realistic detail.

Whether one considers classical, or medieval, or modern or contemporary times one is impressed by the fact that any country moving uphill has its unavoidable s fraction of stupid people who manage to keep the s fraction at bay and at the same time produce enough gains for themselves and the other members of the community to make progress a certainty.

In a country which is moving downhill, the fraction of stupid people is still equal to s; however in the remaining population one notices among those in power an alarming proliferation of the bandits with overtones of stupidity (sub-area B2 of quadrant B in figure 3) and among those not in power an equally alarming growth in the number of helpless individuals (are H in basic graph, fig. 1). Such change in the composition of the non-stupid population inevitably strengthens the destructive power of the s fraction and makes decline a certainty. And the country goes to Hell.

So there you go.

You can follow NDH on twitter as @mflynny

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posted by Ace at 12:57 PM

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