domenica 10 aprile 2011

The Theory of Stupidity

Carlo M. Cipolla's Theory of Stupidity is so brilliant, so profoundly true, that deserves to be known all over the world. It is well known in Italy, but maybe not so much in the English-speaking world, so I want to give my small contribution with this brief survey.

 In The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity (The Mad Millers, 1976), later republished in Italian with the title Allegro ma non troppo (Il Mulino,1988), Carlo M. Cipolla makes a study of human stupidity which is absolutely ingenious in its simplicity. 
According to Cipolla, there are five fundamental laws of stupidity (the boldface is mine):
  1. Always and inevitably each of us underestimates the number of stupid individuals in circulation.
  2. The probability that a given person is stupid is independent of any other characteristic possessed by that person.
  3. A person is stupid if they cause damage to another person or group of people without experiencing personal gain, or even worse causing damage to themselves in the process.
  4. Non-stupid people always underestimate the harmful potential of stupid people; they constantly forget that at any time anywhere, and in any circumstance, dealing with or associating themselves with stupid individuals invariably constitutes a costly error.
  5. A stupid person is the most dangerous type of person there is.
As is evident from the third law, Cipolla identifies two factors to consider when exploring human behaviour:
  • Benefits and losses that an individual causes to him or herself.
  • Benefits and losses that an individual causes to others.
By creating a graph with the first factor on the x-axis and the second on the y-axis, we obtain four groups of people:
  • Intelligent people (top right)
  • Helpless / Naive people (top left)
  • Bandits (bottom right)
  • Stupid people (bottom left)

You can read more about Carlo M. Cipolla and the Theory of Stupidity here.

3 commenti:

  1. Questo libercolo è uno dei miei must, e Cipolla è un pensatore degnissimo di tutta la mia stima!

  2. .. and now we need a test to know where we are on the graph ;)