Basic Laws of Human Stupidity
stupidity, the gods themselves contend
- Friederich von Schiller, The Maid
Cipolla demonstrates in his book The
Basic Laws of Human Stupidity that
stupidity is an indiscriminate privilege
of all human groups, irrespective of
race, class, creed or level of education
(including Nobel laureates). It is uniformly
distributed according to a constant proportion.
"Human affairs are admittedly in a deplorable state. This, however,
is no novelty. As far back as we can see, human affairs have always been in a
deplorable state... After Darwin we know that we share our origin with the lower
members of the animal kingdom, and worms as well as elephants have to bear their
daily share of trials, predicaments, and ordeals. Human beings, however, are
privileged in so far as they have to bear an extra load - an extra dose of tribulations
originated daily by a group of people within the human race itself. This... is
an unorganised unchartered group which has no chief, no president, no bylaws
and yet manages to operate in perfect unison, as if guided by an invisible hand,
in such a way that the activity of each member powerfully contributes to strenghten
and amplify the effectiveness of the activity of all other members. The nature,
character and behaviour of the members of this group are the subject of the following
pages" (excerpt, page 5)
Cipolla's 5 Basic Laws are:
1. Always and inevitably everyone underestimates
the number of stupid individuals in circulation.
2. The probability that a certain person
be stupid is independent of any other characteristic
of that person.
3. 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.
4. Non-stupid people always underestimate
the damaging power of stupid individuals.
In particular non-stupid people constantly
forget that at all times and places and
under any circumstances to deal and/or
associate with stupid people infallibly
turns out to be a costly mistake.
5. A stupid person is the most dangerous
type of person.
This is probably the most widely understood
of the Laws, if only because it is common
knowledge that intelligent people are predictable,
while stupid people are not. Moreover,
its basic corollary:
"a stupid person is more dangerous than a bandit!"
leads us to the heart of the Cipolla's
Theory. There are 4 types of people, he
wrote, depending on their behavior in a
Hapless: someone whose actions tend to generate self-damage,
but also to create advantage for someone else.
Intelligent: someone whose actions tend to generate self-advantage,
as well as advantage for others.
Bandit: someone whose actions tend to generate self-advantage
while causing damage to others.
Stupid: we already have this definition in the Third Law.
live in a reign of error. One of the
imperatives of technology is to make
systems foolproof. Unfortunately, human
beings are often more stupid than the
machines that serve them. Another disturbing
element to consider is that the structure
of power within groups or organizations
tends to place 'intelligent bandits'
(sometimes even 'stupid bandits') at
the top of the pyramid; who, in turn,
tend to favor and protect stupidity and
keep true intelligence out of their way
as much as they can...
However, sharing silly fun with friends and having
a good laugh may be seen as 'stupid' by outsiders, but according
to the Cipolla’s Theory such behavior is likely to be classified as 'intelligent':
which indeed it is, as long as the fun shared by the people being amused is more
than the annoyance or boredom caused to bystanders. Generally the intelligence
(practical advantage) of such behavior is limited to a moment of good humor;
but quite often it can lead to more relevant effects, by sparking up cooperation
and ideas in ways that would not be possible in a boring environment.
'Silly' can be remarkably intelligent, while 'serious' may be awfully
stupid... quite apart from the fact that innovative thinking is often seen as
'silly' by people who don’t understand it. This leads to an important subject:
the relevance of non-linear thinking (as well as emotion and
humor) in all mental processes and especially in innovation...