While I don’t really believe in stupidity as an intrinsic characteristic, and while I’m skeptical of analyses of the world that place blame for ills on non-systemic causes, I still found Carlo M. Cipolla’s “The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity” amusing and worth reading.
In summary, the five laws are:
- Always and inevitably everyone underestimates the number of stupid individuals in circulation.
- The probability that a certain person will be stupid is independent of any other characteristic of that person.
- 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.
- 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 always turns out to be a costly mistake.
- A stupid person is the most dangerous type of person.
I haven’t had time to formulate an opinion yet, but I respect past work by danah boyd and am quite certain that she’s onto something important in the research that led to her talk “The Not-So-Hidden Politics of Class Online”, some of the implications of which she discusses in an interview, “MySpace to Facebook = White Flight?”. A key line: “We’re seeing a reproduction of all kinds of all types of social segregation that we like to pretend has gone away.”
That, in itself, is extremely important, and as more people use online arenas as “public spaces”, the fact that these arenas are actually deeply stratified and subject to a variety of hidden pressures becomes more and more significant. Also significant is how the other arenas, while technically easier to encounter because of all the wonderful information-sharing aspects of the internet, become almost hidden because stratification and habituation make each of us less likely, rather than more, to venture into spaces where we don’t have connections.
I haven’t finished all of it yet, but Clay Shirky’s talk on networking, organization, and the internet is quite good.