Do you ever wonder why it seems like idiots rule? Or that in any human group, it is only a matter of time before the “committee mentality” takes over and everyone is nodding enthusiastically to some transparently stupid idea?
Most of humanity are not that bright and not that morally upright, and their inability to see this gives them a zeal and fanaticism in taking over anything good shortly before destroying it. In groups, people defer to the group, which means the lowest common denominator prevails.
The Soviet Union was not a historical aberration; it was the norm. The Earth is littered with failed societies that all died the same way, through mismanagement caused by the pursuit of pleasant illusions that “most people like” instead of focusing on the knotty, difficult, erratic, and often visually paradoxical issues that confront societies that have succeeded.
These come about through a pair of human pathologies called the Dunning-Kruger effect and the Downing Effect. These signify that our least intelligent are the most confident, where our intelligent are not.
Take a look at the Dunning-Kruger analysis to see how this works:
In 1995, McArthur Wheeler walked into two Pittsburgh banks and robbed them in broad daylight, with no visible attempt at disguise. He was arrested later that night, less than an hour after videotapes of him taken from surveillance cameras were broadcast on the 11 o’clock news. When police later showed him the surveillance tapes, Mr. Wheeler stared in incredulity. “But I wore the juice,” he mumbled. Apparently, Mr. Wheeler was under the impression that rubbing one’s face with lemon juice rendered it invisible to videotape cameras (Fuocco, 1996).
We argue that when people are incompetent in the strategies they adopt to achieve success and satisfaction, they suffer a dual burden: Not only do they reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the ability to realize it. Instead, like Mr. Wheeler, they are left with the mistaken impression that they are doing just fine. As Miller (1993) perceptively observed in the quote that opens this article, and as Charles Darwin (1871) sagely noted over a century ago, “ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge” (p. 3).
Fascinating. How is it that the least competent assume they are the most competent?
Answer: their perspective is entirely relative to themselves, and they have made no attempt to overcome this and see the world from a quasi-objective view, the same one that science, history, philosophy et al can give to us — if we’re smart enough to perceive it.
Smart people are aware of how small they are.
Dumb people are unaware of how small a role they play in life, and so tend to overstate that role, because they’re aware of nothing beyond themselves.
It may be a form of self-serving bias:
Some support was found for the contention that individuals engage in self-enhancing attributions under conditions of success, but only minimal evidence suggested that individuals engage in self-protective attributions under conditions of failure. Moreover, it was proposed that the self-enhancing effect may not be due to motivational distortion, but rather to the tendency of people to (a) expect their behavior to produce success, (b) discern a closer covariation between behavior and outcomes in the case of increasing success than in the case of constant failure, and (c) misconstrue the meaning of contingency.
Individuals base their self-esteem on something they think they do well; what it is (or how well they do it) is irrelevant. They need some reason to justify their existence and think themselves worthwhile.
It’s a form of moral competition. In a society that prized, say, competence over morality, this might be different.
The Downing Effect, a form of “illusory superiority,” has since been scrubbed by most sources but refers to the underconfidence of the more intelligent. Since they perceive more options, they see more chances to be wrong, therefore live in doubt.
The Dunning-Kruger effect is part of a larger group of cognitive effects sometimes referred to as illusory superiority. Other effects in this category create an additional concern for the success of intelligent assistants. For instance, it is known that estimating the intelligence of others is a difficult task (the “Downing effect”) that requires high intelligence.
This explains the tendency of people to be very likely to rate themselves as “above average,” even though not everyone can be so. We might expect that lower-intelligence users would fail to accurately gauge the intelligence of information systems, leading to disuse.
This makes sense: dumber people have no idea what being smarter would be like, so cannot recognize it. Smarter people have no idea what dumb is like, so cannot recognize how the inertia of human groups is usually confidently stupid, but doubt themselves as they think through the details.
Their only ability is to tear it down by claiming their own knowledge is superior. “Everyone knows the sun revolves around the earth, you dummy!”
This might explain hipsters, who will call you ignorant if you don’t know all about the latest Deerhoof album — but will live in squalor, accomplishing nothing, and scorning those who choose to work hard toward intelligent or at least semi-competent lives.
Ever since the Allies bombed the Axis into submission, Western civilization has had a succession of counter-culture movements that have energetically challenged the status quo. Each successive decade of the post-war era has seen it smash social standards, riot and fight to revolutionize every aspect of music, art, government and civil society.
But after punk was plasticized and hip hop lost its impetus for social change, all of the formerly dominant streams of “counter-culture” have merged together. Now, one mutating, trans-Atlantic melting pot of styles, tastes and behavior has come to define the generally indefinable idea of the “Hipster.”
An artificial appropriation of different styles from different eras, the hipster represents the end of Western civilization – a culture lost in the superficiality of its past and unable to create any new meaning. Not only is it unsustainable, it is suicidal. While previous youth movements have challenged the dysfunction and decadence of their elders, today we have the “hipster” – a youth subculture that mirrors the doomed shallowness of mainstream society.
Idiots rule because they are confident, crowds assume that this confidence means they are correct, so a large group of idiots guided by a small group of psychopaths manages to seize power, at which point society become shallow, suicidal, and unsustainable.
This parallels a tendency of our “experts” to have thin intelligence as described by Michael Crichton:
They don’t have intelligence. They have what I call ‘thintelligence.’ They see the immediate situation. They think narrowly and they call it ‘being focused.’ They don’t see the surround. They don’t see the consequences.
That leads in turn to a reversed causality where people see effects as causes. These are the wet streets make rain types of thinking:
You read the article and see the journalist has absolutely no understanding of either the facts or the issues. Often, the article is so wrong it actually presents the story backward—reversing cause and effect. I call these the “wet streets cause rain” stories. Paper’s full of them.
In other words, civilization has a tendency to create an illusion engine. By making life more organized and productive, it makes it easy for mentally disorganized and stupid people to thrive by simply following the procedure, with meritocracy and means-over-ends thinking as part of this tendency.
Eventually, it not so much changes as adds people who could never create civilization, but through the committee effect, these dominate because people in groups defer to the group instead and compromise with special interests instead of staying focused on the goal.
Perhaps the first step to humanity sanity is realizing that we are driven toward stupidity by the overconfident stupid and the tendency of groups, especially intelligent ones, to defer to them despite knowing better.