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The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity
September 27, 2005 12:29 AM   Subscribe

This explains EVERYTHING. Originally appearing in Whole Earth Review many years ago, Cipola wrote an inspired and extremely funny game theoretic analysis of the nature of stupidity that explains the mysteries of the universe and the current administration. Or something.
posted by INFOHAZARD (27 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
SUPPLEMENTAL READING MATERIAL.
posted by Rothko at 12:33 AM on September 27, 2005


Much weed was burnt to bring us this information.
posted by bigbigdog at 1:09 AM on September 27, 2005


Perhaps for the first couple of laws, but there's some fine game theory in use here.
posted by INFOHAZARD at 1:13 AM on September 27, 2005


i predict the number of stupid posts in this thread will be equal to å, which will be a shockingly high number.
posted by Hat Maui at 2:10 AM on September 27, 2005


This is stupid.
posted by klangklangston at 2:22 AM on September 27, 2005


The author, Carlo M. Cipolla, (or at least an Italian with the same name) was an economist and also wrote:

"Guns, Sails, & Empires: Technological innovation & European Expansion 1400 - 1700."

which I lucked into at a used book store in Tokyo ~10 years ago.

This book is basically a continuation of Gun Germs and Steel (covering the story from 1500 onward) though it came out 30 years before Jared's.

While the fpp is a bit Randian for my taste, there's no denying that Stupidity is a weighty dynamic in economic life (and that there are some truths in Randian/libertopian ideas).

The Hitlerites where of course mocking of Democratic stupidity of the masses, but in retrospect they basically win Global First Prize for a Nation State for committing costly, stupid mistakes.

In a previous mf post some time ago that asked for a brief message to broadcast publically, I put together basically an economics education in one paragraph.

I think mass Education in the field of Economics, is our only hope. Right now the Elite sorta keeps Economics for themselves.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 2:30 AM on September 27, 2005


If you don't feel like reading, you can always catch the movie.
posted by clevershark at 4:12 AM on September 27, 2005


The Peter Principle isn't about stupidity, it's about the idea that people will, as a result of merit, inevitably raise to a position they are completely incompetent to assume (c.f. Michael Brown). There's a subtle difference there, I think.
posted by clevershark at 4:16 AM on September 27, 2005


er, "rise", not "raise".
posted by clevershark at 4:16 AM on September 27, 2005


If you assume that the majority of people our stupidk how do you reconcile this "fact" with the notion of democracy? Or don't you believe in it?
posted by Postroad at 4:18 AM on September 27, 2005


You just have to follow George Carlin's advice -- "think of how stupid the average person is, then realize that half the people are stupider than that."
posted by clevershark at 4:26 AM on September 27, 2005


I don't see the game theory in this, though I'm no expert. It has superficial similarities - the layout - but it is trying to model something different. Game theory says you choose which of the positions on one axis you take, and the other person "playing the game" takes a position on the other, and the intersection shows you the outcome. This isn't what's happening here. Could someone demonstrate what this model does for us in terms of explaining human behaviour?


Game theory

posted by alasdair at 4:54 AM on September 27, 2005


I don't get it.
posted by shmegegge at 5:30 AM on September 27, 2005


Well, you know, not everything.
posted by OmieWise at 5:49 AM on September 27, 2005


If you assume that the majority of people our stupidk how do you reconcile this "fact" with the notion of democracy?

Simple. You strictly and severely limit the power of democratically elected officials, thus limiting their ability to sell said power for money or votes.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 5:50 AM on September 27, 2005


If the stupidity level is a constant, shouldn't we be able to calculate it? Or is it relative to your position on the scale, ie what if you're the stupid person? Would you realize it?
posted by fungible at 6:01 AM on September 27, 2005


Of course, the only possible explanation for the constancy of stupidity is that it is metric of the detector, not the detected. Variable input, constant output = broken sensor. In this case -- we scale our expectations of intelligence based on the particular community we're in. There always has to be the dumbest person to have won a Nobel Prize!

For similar effects, see people watching a beauty pagent and saying, "How'd the ugly one win?"
posted by effugas at 6:07 AM on September 27, 2005


Half of the population has an IQ below 100. Theoretically.
posted by rolypolyman at 6:11 AM on September 27, 2005


"Stupid is as stupid does". That's always mystified me.
posted by Xurando at 6:15 AM on September 27, 2005


If you assume that the majority of people our stupidk how do you reconcile this "fact" with the notion of democracy? Or don't you believe in it?

Ah. Exhibit A.
posted by odinsdream at 6:42 AM on September 27, 2005


The Peter Principle isn't about stupidity, it's about the idea that people will, as a result of merit, inevitably [rise] to a position they are completely incompetent to assume (c.f. Michael Brown).

Brownie certainly didn't get to where he was based on merit. It was by dint of his association with the Bush campaign and his work alongside his old college friend.

A better example of the Peter Principle would be Herbert Hoover. He was, by all accounts, a highly successful engineer and relief coordinator during the post-WWI relief and reconstruction of Europe. However, he was unprepared to handle the presidency. Another example would be Yeltsin, who worked out well as President of the Rusian Federation under the USSR but let the country slide down the tubes when he was the sole leader of an independent country.
posted by deanc at 7:30 AM on September 27, 2005


Peter's Corollary, by the way, points out that the Peter Principle applies to white males, which is why we still have a civilization -- supported by large numbers of women and non-white males who are not allowed to rise to the level of incompetence and soldier on doing good work for which they are overqualified.

See also:

Mirror:
Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One's Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments

Journal article published in the December 1999 issue of the Journal of Personality
and Social Psychology.
www.phule.net/mirrors/unskilled-and-unaware.html - 113k

Original
[PDF] Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One's Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments
www.apa.org/journals/features/psp7761121.pdf
posted by hank at 8:56 AM on September 27, 2005


Nifty post
posted by Smedleyman at 11:34 AM on September 27, 2005


å = 1
posted by sfenders at 11:52 AM on September 27, 2005


alasdair:
In the third rule, he's riffing on the single shot Prisoner's Dilemma, explaining outcomes in terms of how one plays the cooperate/defect card- or the interplay between two players, so it's really explaining human nature using the Prisoner's dilemma framework.

He is actually changing the rules slightly, allowing subtle gradients between cooperating and defecting. This is not too unlike variants of the game where noise is thrown in to see how outcomes change, etc.

It's fair to say that it's not classical game theory in terms of things like Nash Equilibria and such, but it's clearly built on a framework of game theory.

He never exactly spells it out, but I think the implication is that sometimes we ALL end up being stupid specifically because we can't always predict what the 'other guy' is going to do.

I have known those who are remarkable in their ability to iteratively place themselves in lose-lose situations, however.
posted by INFOHAZARD at 3:09 PM on September 27, 2005


Heywood,

I'm pretty sure the late Dr. Cipola is the same one you are familiar with.
posted by INFOHAZARD at 3:23 PM on September 27, 2005


OMG! I remember reading this when it came out years ago and talking about it for weeks with everyone who'd dare listen! So excellent to come upon again!

MeFi & the Intarnets rawk!!!
posted by squalor at 4:29 PM on September 27, 2005


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