I particularly recommend Guns, Sails, and Empires and Clocks and Culture.
I don't buy it.
There are people who are stupid in spite of characteristics that one would ordinarily expect to be associated with reduced stupidity. But I'm betting that any statistics package would show a substantial if not perfect correlation.
And I'm still looking for that technique, or that piece of knowledge, which finally cuts off the lower levels of stupidity.
The author's boldest thesis is that there are no common "destructive" characteristics outside of aggregate behavior. Only by looking at the net effect of an individual in question can you truly determine if their behavior is, to some degree, destructive. Or helpless. Or "bandit." Or generous. By the author's reasoning, "destructive" people cannot help but hurt others and to some extent themselves, regardless of all other factors except influence.
Mr. Cipolla's definition is firm, but adaptable enough to allow for all sorts of situations. What other social model is going to tell you up front that some Nobel laureates behave in destructive ways? That's not supposed to be allowed by the common metrics and understandings of the characteristic/success correlation model.
How many articles have you run across is the last, oh I don't know... year or so that can't seem to penetrate the "mystery" of why the best, brightest, most highly paid group of individuals in the world can't manage the very financial system that keeps them in business and the rest of us employed. Or why members of congress, with assured lives, cannot agree to measures which would enhance the well-being of themselves and their constituents. Or why unhappy, desperate people actively protest measures that would ease their suffering.
In each case you can point to specific reasons for these types of situations (incentives, irrationality, ignorance), but you haven't really said why these types of situations exist and continue to exist despite all of our other advancements. The author simply says that a group of people will experience decline as the balance of power shifts to the "destructive" members of that group, whoever they may be. The effects of this (in the author's mind) are clearly seen throughout history as a regular feature of humans, much as the male/female birth ratio has been unwavering.
What's fascinating about this essay is that it has to be the purest form of "don't judge a book by its cover" that I've ever read. It also agrees quite nicely (unless I'm mistaken) with the spirit of the Nash Equilibrium, which says that the best thing that you can do is take into account the other players' (members of society) potential actions and plan for the best outcome for yourself and all other players. According to Mr. Cipolla's model, the best thing you can do is elevate the generous (those who will help all) and mitigate the destructive (those who will hurt all), not just for yourself or in spite of them but for all of us.
I'm having a hard time disagreeing with that sentiment.
The author does not offer one.
> A stupid person is a person who causes losses to another person or to a group of persons while himself deriving no gain and even possibly incurring losses.
Sadly most other common definitions are a little different:
Nonetheless it's a useful law - it helps to overcome bias toward believing other people are non-stupid by emphasizing that stupidity could be lurking anywhere.
There are, I think, some people who probably could produce pluses all around but prefer to harm others. Alternatively, there might be some tradeoff between a lesser plus and a net gain for society vs. a greater plus and a net loss for somebody else. From an intelligent person's perspective, the latter might be preferable, depending on the gains and losses and the preferences of the person.
For instance, I have no problem doing "harm" to other "bandits" (for instance, conking a thief on the head as he tries to rob me). Does that make me a bandit myself? According to the author, yes, because it's a net negative to the bandit, even though I'm doing it in order to put a plus on "society's" account.
I think intelligence is more about capacity (whether for good or ill) than the actions of a person. Granted, we can't poke around in their head and measure it, like we can "add up" their actions, but I still find action accounting a false metric.
It's easy to make the mistake of thinking that he uses the terms to refer to the basic character of an individual rather than to patterns of behavior, because of the way he talks about how stupid people are pretty much unwaveringly stupid, and they're born that way. This conflates the cause of stupidity with stupidity itself, however. What is inborn, and fundamental to the person's character, is something else that predisposes one to adopt a particular pattern of behavior -- not the pattern itself. Ultimately, according to Cipolla's theory, it seems that the fundamental character of a person predisposes that person to either "stupid" or "not stupid" behavior, overall -- with circumstances playing a significant role in determining whether a "not stupid" person's behavior will tend most toward "helpless", "bandit", or "intelligent" behavior.
There are, of course, people who are fundamentally prone to "helpless" behavior (stubborn altruists), as well as those who are fundamentally prone to "bandit" behavior (sociopaths), but they are exceptions rather than the rule, I think. Rather, many "bandits" and "helpless" people are simply those prone to "intelligent" motivations whose failures ensure their behavior patterns are not strictly "intelligent".
I guess the key is to simply recognize that he's using the terms "intelligent", "helpless", "bandit", and "stupid" in a formalized manner that does not strictly match the intuitive, colloquial understandings of those words we have when discussing other subjects.
I hate it when people give new meanings to words that already have perfectly good and useful meanings. If you have new concept that requires a name, make up a new word. Don't take an old word and give it an analogous meaning. Doing so confuses language and creates an opportunity for equivocation. That is, when people start using conclusions based on the new meanings and applying them to condition based on the old meanings.
Needlessly confusing language is stupid, in both senses of the term.
My sympathies definitely lie with the prescriptive use of terms. I just think that, if strictly identified as existing within a limited framework for purposes of a particular discussion, jargon denotations are perfectly acceptable prescriptions for use.
I think you're confusing categorizing people with pronouncing value judgments on them. Moreover, your first sentence makes a demonstrably false claim. It is trivially easy to categorize people (e.g. male/female/transgender, people-I-like/people-I-don't-like, etc.). The interesting question is how to categorize people in useful ways that can help you understand how society functions, and I think the article gives a really interesting analysis of one chosen categorization.
I agree that it isn't healthy to base one's self esteem on negative value judgments of others, just as it is always better to look at what positive contributions a person has to offer society, no matter how small.
Most of us a smart in some way, and stupidly incompetent in another.
-That's the definition I'm using. Lack of competence or knowledge can both be causes of stupidity, but that's not really the point I'm making.
My point is that whatever the cause, stupidity is not a constant. It is situational and also varies over time. Smart people act stupidly from time to time as well. Additionally, when you take an action that is a gamble, sometimes you lose out even if the odds where in your favor. That's not stupidity, even though by this strict definition of the term it could be defined as such since loss has occurred with no benefit.
Mostly, what I've seen of "stupid" behavior (in Cipolla's use of the term "stupid") is the result of such motivations as spite. Spite appears to be one of the strongest motivators in human nature, and is purely destructive. It is, at its best, designed to not do the spiteful party any harm -- but no thought is put into doing oneself any good. It is often veiled in justifications related to evening some imaginary scales between a "bandit" and a "helpless" victim, but all too often it is simply spite beneath the surface -- in short, it is a special case of stupidity (and my own least favorite form of stupidity, because of its petty malevolence).
This has little or nothing to do with IQ and other conventional definitions of "intelligence" and "stupidity". It is, as I've said above, about patterns of behavior (and, to an extent, the motivations that produce those patterns).
In that context, "stupidity" also means ignorance, which should avoid actual recursion.
That is, I don't think most stupid behavior is caused by spite (malice) but rather obliviousness (ignorance).
That pretty much sums up what I was saying :) That's why I take issue with labeling people as 'stupid people' because like anything, it is rarely as cut-and-dried as that.
To the extent that emotional forces are the primary mediators (as opposed to purely rational ones), I think that Cipolla's stupidity correlates well with the notion of "emotional intelligence" that people talk about nowadays.
I mostly refer to spite by its biblical handle "bitterness". I agree with you, that it's one of the most common and powerful emotional handicaps.
Very good read. Great points about people's categorical actions either benefiting or detracting from society as a whole.
RIP to a great teacher, from reverse engineering to searching.
Good guy, engaging speaker, great friend.
Always good to see a searchlores link.
It doesn't say it in the article but his other hand was deformed at birth and he was unable to use it.
Or did I miss something and σ is actually relative to the average intelligence of a group? Does stupid = not intelligent? I'm going to have to re-read this and scan these comments better.
On the other hand, I have many friends who see stupidity everywhere, and who recognize it as an inveterate condition of our species. They are not openly contemptuous of everything (for that would serve no one) but they are sober, sensible, and harmless. They are not stupid.
Next thing he'll tell us that we have to exterminate "stupid" people in the best case before they have been born because it's all nature and not nurture.