Seven Varieties of Stupidity

“1. Pure Stupidity…

2. Ignorant stupidity…

3. Fish-out-of-water stupidity…

4. Rule-based stupidity…

5. Overthinking stupidity…

6. Emergent stupidity…

7. Ego-driven stupidity…

-Ian Leslie, “Seven Varieties of Stupidity.” ianleslie.substack.com. May 21, 2022

It’s a fun classification exercise. I’d say that 3 is a subset of 2, being in an unfamiliar environment is a variety of ignorance.

However, if you think about the kinds of stupidity we are most likely in contemporary times, it’s rule-based stupidity. Everyone is being turned into algorithms. They have a set of rules they are given, checklists, and they go through the checklist, whether it makes sense or not.

For example, if you take out a home equity loan of $20,000 on a home worth $200,000. Does the bank really need your credit report and income? But, by God, they’ll get through their checklist, before they’ll lend anyone money.

It’s also interesting to think about the connections. Rule-based stupidity is a variety of emergent stupidity, or the kind of stupidity you get when people get together and are afraid of conflict and sharing their ideas. Rule-based stupidity is trying to stripe initiative away from people because you are afraid of the first three forms of stupidity.

Ego driven stupidity reminds me of barkers in the Church of Interruption piece. People that are too busy thinking they are the only ones with anything interesting to say, aren’t learning anything. There’s only so much we can learn from our own experience. To be smart in any meaningful sense, we have to learn from the experiences of others. If we stop doing that, we slowly become more stupid.

Two Kinds of People: Pirates and Farmers

“I am going to explain this to you very simply. All human creatures are divided into two groups. There are pirates, and there are farmers. Farmers build fences and control territory. Pirates tear down fences and cross borders. There are good pirates and bad pirates, good farmers and bad farmers, but there are only pirates and farmers.”

– Dave Kickey, “Pirates and Farmers.” London: Ridinghouse, 2013.

h/t Austin Kleon.

Excavating A.I.

“Datasets aren’t simply raw materials to feed algorithms, but are political interventions. As such, much of the discussion around ‘bias’ in AI systems misses the mark: there is no ‘neutral,’ ‘natural,’ or ‘apolitical’ vantage point that training data can be built upon. There is no easy technical ‘fix’ by shifting demographics, deleting offensive terms, or seeking equal representation by skin tone. The whole endeavor of collecting images, categorizing them, and labeling them is itself a form of politics, filled with questions about who gets to decide what images mean and what kinds of social and political work those representations perform.”

—Kate Crawford and Trevor Paglen, “Excavating AI
The Politics of Images in Machine Learning Training Sets.” Excavating.AI. October 2019.

Fans Are Better Than Tech at Organizing Information Online | WIRED

“On [Archive of Our Own, a.k.a.] AO3, users can put in whatever tags they want. (Autocomplete is there to help, but they don’t have to use it.) Then behind the scenes, human volunteers look up any new tags that no one else has used before and match them with any applicable existing tags, a process known as tag wrangling.”

—Samantha Puc, “Fans Are Better Than Tech at Organizing Information Online.” Wired. June 11, 2019.

There’s been lots of discussion of the significance of AO3’s Hugo Award for Best Related Work.

Modest proposal? Use this process on new terms entered in the search box of a library’s online catalog to surface subject headings for users. It’s a logical extension of the catalogers work.

Resolution of the Mirage

“As explained by Lisa Feldman Barrett, a professor of psychology at Northeastern University, emotions take form as we interpret events and our physiological states. The richer the repertoire of emotional concepts we have to draw on, the more precisely we can name our feelings. This articulation shapes our experience of the world: The more precisely we can label a challenge, the more easily we can respond. Feeling ‘bad’ differs from articulating ‘righteous indignation,’ Feldman Barrett points out; the latter is more likely to propel one into action. ‘Emotional granularity’ creates more options for understanding and reacting to challenges. This ability to finely articulate emotions will likely also help us understand and relate to others.”

—Margaret E. Morris. “The New Tech of Relationships.” Nautilus. December 2018.

Interesting correlation to some of the teachings of Zen. As thoughts and emotions arise, labelling them creates distance, shifting us from the one experiencing the emotion or having a thought to an observer classifying them.

But, there seems to be a difference in goals. In creating a more sophisticated and nuanced language for emotional and intellectual experience, it gives us more control over the stories we tell about them and how we construct our identity. But, Zen is less about control and more about questioning the validity of any story.

For example, feeling “righteous indignation” is much more specific than feeling sad, but invariably, you have to identify as a good person who takes exception to a wrong observed in the world. Are there good people and bad people? Does what we think and feel, experiences we have no control over, indicate who we are? And are our ideas about what is right or wrong in the world a refection of Reality or a reflection of our thoughts and of our perception?

When you start looking closely, the difference between sad and “righteous indignation” is simply the level of detail in the mirage. Having higher resolution fictions makes for better stories, but do they make for better lives?

Classy & Disagreeable

“The most obvious advantage of classifying the forms of disagreement is that it will help people to evaluate what they read. In particular, it will help them to see through intellectually dishonest arguments. An eloquent speaker or writer can give the impression of vanquishing an opponent merely by using forceful words. In fact that is probably the defining quality of a demagogue. By giving names to the different forms of disagreement, we give critical readers a pin for popping such balloons.”

—Paul Graham. “How to Disagree.” paulgraham.com. March 2008.

Classification also helps with determining whether it’s worth talking at all. If you aren’t at DH4 or above, is there any point in continuing the conversation?