Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity

Imaging a graph on which you can plot human behaviour. Or at least where you can plot how people's behaviour affects themselves and others.

Start with the two axis.

The horizontal axis will represent how much a person helps or hurts themselves.
The vertical axis will represent how much a person helps or hurts others.
You could then place people generally into the four quadrants based on how they act in those two categories.

  • If someone helps themselves while helping others you'd have the intelligent people.
  • If someone hurts themselves while helping others you'd have the helpless people.
  • If someone helps themselves while hurting others you'd have the bandit people.
  • And of course those who hurt others while hurting themselves would be the stupid people.

If you think such an arrangement based on how much benefit a person provides to themselves and to others is something that came from economics you'd be right. The late economics professor Carlo Maria Cipolla came up with this way of classifying people when he wrote about stupidity.

His definition of stupidity is the best I've ever heard. Stupidity is the act of hurting others without even benefiting yourself.

His treatise on the subject is the aptly titled The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity. If you want to think about economics in a new light give it a read. I'm sure you'll end up nodding your head while agreeing with his five laws of stupidity:

  1. Always and inevitably everyone underestimates the number of stupid individuals in circulation.
  2. The probability that a certain person will 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. (The golden rule of stupidity)
  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 always turns out to be a costly mistake.
  5. A stupid person is the most dangerous type of person.
    A stupid person is more dangerous than a bandit.
I have a newfound respect for the insights professors of economics can give into the human condition and human behaviour. I also have a newfound appreciation for the dangers posed by stupid people.

So as you look around at people just remember there are stupid people everywhere.

1 comment:

Janet said...

I can see that... with the Bandit at least you understand the motivation even if you don't agree with it. Same with Intelligent and Helpless, there are only so many options open to them if they are following these rules.

But you'd never be able to predict what a Stupid person would do... so not only is it going to hurt, but you probably won't even see it coming!