An Analysis of the Application of Cipolla’s Basic Laws of Human Stupidity

Cipolla’s Matrix of Stupidity

Many have tried to understand the ‘why’ of the insanity that has blighted our lives since March 2020; given how much evidence there is against the prevailing narrative, there must be a reason.

It is this need for a reason that has given rise to a number of prominent theories, ranging from a fraudulent Governmental cover-up of mistakes made early on in order to come away unscathed through to there being a nefarious agenda to bring about a new world order.

The appeal of all of these theories is that they are, by all measures and by comparison to the ‘conspiracy theories’ of the past, very well structured.

However, they all fall foul of the most common mistake intelligent people make when trying to understand the actions of the irrational: they assume rational logic is applicable.

This is not just an erroneous assumption to make though, but also an assumption made out of emotional necessity in many cases: for the sake of sanity, in order to cope, there must be a rational explanation to all that has come to pass in the last fourteen months.

Cipolla’s paper, The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity, provides a framework why this may not be the case though.

The five laws are as follows:

  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 circumstance 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.

Cipolla further explains that people can be divided into the four quadrants in the matrix above.

There is a further divide to this matrix on the y = –x diagonal, dividing helpless people and bandits into those with overtones of stupidity or intelligence depending on which side of the diagonal they fall.

As is clear from the table, an intelligent person is one who creates gains for themselves, while also creating gains for others; a helpless person is one who sacrifices their utility for the benefit of others; a bandit is one who takes benefit at the cost of others; and a stupid person (as the third law states) is one who creates losses for others without creating any gain for themselves in the process.

In this situation, where no losses are incurred by the stupid person, they would lie on the y-axis; however, Cipolla stipulates that there is a subgroup of stupid people “who by their improbable actions not only cause damages to other people but in addition hurt themselves. They are a sort of super-stupid”.

What makes a stupid person so powerful and so dangerous, Cipolla states, is that “reasonable people find it difficult to imagine and understand unreasonable behaviour.” And herein lies the struggle that has been had to date in trying to apply logic and rationality to the actions of Western Governments across the world (excluding Governor Ron DeSantis and a few select others).

There need not be any additional explanation than this. The NPIs brought in have caused immeasurable harms for society and, although political leaders have made short-term gains (such as the Conservative Party taking Hartlepool) and have been largely unaffected by their own measures, their quality of life will not have been improved, the truth will likely out, society will be worse off for all, and therefore, by the laws set out, they are stupid people, which, in and of itself, explains their actions.

Cipolla further reflects on the performance of societies, and how these basic laws can be applied. Given that the fraction of stupid people, although always and inevitably being higher than thought, is not in any way linked to any other characteristic, it must always be constant, and therefore, the fraction of stupid people cannot explain how societies rise and fall.

Instead, Cipolla offers these two reasons:

  1. The stupid members of the society are allowed by the other members to become more active and take more actions;
  2. There is a change in the composition of the non-stupid section, with a relative decline of the populations above the diagonal and a proportionate increase in the helpless and bandit populations below the diagonal.

The closing paragraph of Cipolla’s paper reads as follows:

In a country which is moving downhill, the fraction of stupid people is still equal to å; however, in the remaining population one notices among those in power an alarming proliferation of the bandits with overtones of stupidity and among those not in power an equally alarming growth in the number of helpless individuals. Such change in the composition of the non-stupid population inevitably strengthens the destructive power of the å fraction and makes decline a certainty. And the country goes to Hell.

Need more be said?

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