About stupidity and how it hurts us all

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I don’t like and barely use stereotypes, but this one is a good occasion for an exception. If the Western civilization fails and probably destroys itself in the process it would be because of wider and wider discrepancies between the technological powers we possess and the intellectual and moral levels of the majority of the western countries population. The discrepancies by themselves are not immediate danger but in combination with widespread hostility between social groups, it gets increasingly unsafe. The hate is fueled by many public figures (divide and conquer) but it has its natural roots.

Why does not understanding our fellow citizens or our society leads to hate? The primitive reflex we all have is to be afraid of things out of our understanding. The unknown scares us and for a good reason, the darkness of the night, an animal we haven’t seen before, people acting in a weird way or dramatically overreacting, the evolution tough us that stable and predictable environment is safer. Anything out of expectations smells of danger and we loath to be stressed all the time because our livelihood or life is threatened. The process goes like this: unaccustomed change -> anxiety -> fear -> anger -> hate.

Here the distinction between smart and stupid people comes into play: clever people are able quickly to understand the underlying mechanism of new things because they have a general sense of how things work. Not-so-smart people usually try to accommodate the new thing by experimenting with/on them predominantly by the method of try and error. That method is very slow, unreliable, and most of all dangerous. That is why the more stupid a person is, the more conservative (in a general sense) they are and that is their survival strategy. You may say that stupid people have a tendency to be bad people for a very practical reason, they need to identify otherness, and their shallow understanding of the world leads to superficial criteria. Homophobia, racism, anti-intellectualism, conspiracy thinking, religious fanatics, … the list is extensive, but the underlying motive is the same — lack of understanding and rejection of anything out of expectations. If there is one thing that would guarantee the collapse of society that is ever-increasing intolerance. On top of that, the open-world changes we are trying to mitigate are coming at an increasing rate, which makes NOW a very good time to panic, hence “the former guy” in the US and all the right-wing populist politicians in the EU. Don’t let me started on conspiracy theories, anti-vaxxers, and many more grievances of mine.

The technological acceleration will sooner or later provide the bad actors with critical for our survival level of technology. Let me draw you a simple picture. Say, at the present, we have a handful of people who can destroy humanity. It could be a nuclear war or some engineered super-virus or AGI out of control. The number of these people will increase exponentially (due to the techno-acceleration), maybe by a factor of 1.2 per year (a modest estimation). If we start with 10 people (the year 2021) and multiply by 1.2 each year, after 80 years we will have more than 20 million people. How long do you think our species will survive with 20 million people with access to the Armageddon button?

I’m not telling this to feel smug and superior or to suggest any new rules. I’m just wondering when and how the story of humanity will end. My bet is: by the end of the century and more likely by some bio-agent (e.g. engineered super-virus) than nuclear war or AI.

Categories society, human condition


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