Human “Stupidity” Comes From Conflict of Interest

Humans are remarkably good at coordinating when everyone’s interests align. Every day there is heavy traffic on the roads because no one gains from crashing. Tens of thousands die every year but in that same time hundreds of millions drive trillions of times. Thus, the incentives for driving to work year after year are correctly aligned.

Markets find a price to a fraction of a cent because an equilibrium between competing interests is arrived at.

But government, politics, sexual and status competition involve a zero sum battle between interests that never ends. This disputed territory is the slice of life that most human energy is devoted to.

When I go on message boards, the most common comment I see is some variety of “OMG people are stupid.” People are not so much directly stupid as they are personally self-interested. The core difference between high and low IQ countries is whether the average person can ask themselves. “What if everyone did it?”
IQ as far as I can tell is a way to get a rough idea of someone’s ability to handle abstraction, and that, as it turns out, is decisive.

Let’s imagine for a moment we’re typically corrupt third world traffic cops. We’re just using a position of power to maximize our leverage in a cutthroat society where a few winners take all. If you don’t take as many bribes as you can, someone else gets ahead of you.
Even if you have 150 IQ in an 85 average IQ society, it doesn’t matter much, because you know that even if you choose not to take bribes, no one around you will follow suit. So even though there are some very intelligent outliers, they are drowned out in the larger culture and its institutions. Some of the smart ones may rise to the top, but they are smart enough to understand minimally abstract crowds require immediate threat of force to keep them in line. Given more than just enough to eat, they breed without abandon until the whole society collapses. So if you are one of the smartest guys in power in a benighted African “republic” why not be a ruthless kleptocrat?
When everyone is maximally self-interested, a single dollar beyond subsistence in another man’s pocket is just a weapon he will one day use against you. If all these countries end up with kleptocrat strongmen, regardless of the nominal form of government, then we must conclude it’s no accident and that’s what the incentives select for.

Third world people are highly effective and rational when it comes to survival. But when everyone is like that, it’s like a Chinese finger trap. The harder you pull away in the direction of societal-level defection and competition the tighter and more inescapable it becomes. Until you have enough people of sufficient intelligence, no one figures out that if you forgo total competition, humans can reach a negotiated truce that allows for higher trust and a superior standard of living for everyone.

Those who cooperate by paying for goods, get more and better stores to choose from. Those who defect by stealing whenever they can are rewarded with “food deserts.” What few stores remain in these districts lock up anything that’s small enough to conceal and worth more than $10.
Whenever I go to the liquor store, single malt scotch is out in the open up to about $100 a bottle. Meanwhile, even lower shelf brandy, especially the Hennessy gets kept behind the cash register where sticky fingers can’t reach it. It is easy to tell which community prefers which.

It plays out the same way in every aspect of life that lies in that disputed sector. For populations of smart people, the contested area is just a bit smaller and that makes a huge difference.

Because lower IQ people are more or less rational. It is easy to have casual conversations with them and not think them especially lacking. This is why people who disparage their capabilities in any way seem like “racists” and why “oppression” seems at first like the best explanation for their consistently poor fortunes. Their deficiency manifests most greatly not on an individual but a group level. The scions of the Enlightenment ultimately abolished the group and therefore regard the study of the interaction of collectives in aggregate as a mortal sin. This neglected and most important of the social sciences, which all advertising and electoral politics are steeped in, is an open opportunity for dissidents of all stripes.

By Giovanni Dannato

In 1547 I was burnt at the stake in Rome for my pernicious pamphlet proclaiming that the heavens were not filled with a profusion of aether, but rather an extensive vacuum.
Now, the phlogiston that composed my being has re-manifested centuries in the future so that I may continue the task that was inconveniently disrupted so long ago.
Now, I live in Rome on the very street where I (and others) were publicly burnt. To this day, the street is known as what I would translate as 'Heretic's Way'. My charming residence is number 6 on this old road. Please, do come inside and pay me a visit; I should be delighted to spew out endless pedagoguery to one and all...

10 replies on “Human “Stupidity” Comes From Conflict of Interest”

Look. I was a reasonably smart boy. When I asked my parents why shouldn’t I litter, they told me because if everybody did that we would be knee deep in litter. I promptly replied: sure, I don’t want that everybody should be allowed to litter, only me. In a more grown-up way: the personal cost of others following my bad example is smaller than the personal benefit of convenience. My parents motivation was mostly that having a kid behaving bad in public is shameful. And they promptly instilled that sense of shame in me. This is how kids are trained to be moral.

Shame means low social status.

Even the lowest IQ cultures have some sort of social rank. So at this point there are two possibilities.

Either they base shame and status on other moral values. In Tanzania a government employee who does not take bribes and give it to his relatives is shamed for being a bad, ungrateful boy. They invested so much hard earned money in his education and he is not paying them back. Tribal ethics is ethics. It is shit, but it is the same mechanism. And perhaps why the ethics and shaming is tribal there, is a matter of IQ.

Or the social rank in their society is not based on any morality, any sense of good behavior, but things like wealth and power. I think this happened in much of Latin America. The political elites are white and high IQ. Yet corrupted as hell. Why? I think it is because in aristocratic societies kinglessness is more obviously and directly harmful. White elites settled on haciendas and employed Indio peons. Lived the aristo life. As long as a royal governor kept them in line, it was okay. But then democracy happened. The mostly white elites will probably still not screw each other over much, there is a solidarity. But why not steal the taxes of the Indios. They aren’t real nations. And if you aren’t a nation, you really really really need a king stat. If you are a nation, you can play with democracy for a while and things will get worse only slowly.

Sure but on the other hand, Ireland has an IQ of 92, Argentine 93 and Argentine is massively corrupted, Ireland is not yet. Spain 98, Sweden 99 but Spain is not only slightly but much much more corrupted. So there must be other factors as well.
I think the “what if everybody did this?” thing fails when too many people actually do it. Why should I be honest when X, Y, Z (mostly the government) is robber?
But that, surely, is only part of the story. I don’t claim to understand the other factors in corruption. For me corruption actually sounds kind of normal, a basic principal-agent problem, and don’t really understand why does the Swedish policeman who is hardly religious anymore, was cucked into believing all kinds of crazy prog things and probably lost his manly self-respect, still doesn’t take bribes. It’s not “what if everybody did this?” He probably sees his society is falling apart anyway.

Yes, I think a minimum IQ is required for cooperation but it is quite low – possibly low enough for any human population to qualify.
A couple more examples: Chinese and Jews are high IQ and extremely corrupt. Japanese and Parsis are just as high and minimally corrupt.
Somehow honesty/rule following/sense of duty were selected for and high trust societies were the effect. It’s not clear what the selection factors were I have a hunch we have removed them. Pretty sure the cooperators are now losing.

I tried to keep it simple here by referring to IQ as “decisive”, tacitly acknowledging there are other significant factors, but if you don’t have enough IQ to figure out a decent game theory equilibrium, you’re doomed. Obviously, Northern Europe and the Mediterranean(Argentina is basically a Med country) have different personalities in aggregate in regards to conscientiousness and other values. Yet even if Chinese or the Spanish are corrupt, they are still able to sustain sophisticated infrastructure. An 80 IQ population never will be able to do that because they are corrupt in the most short-sighted way.
Whatever the failings of corrupt relatively high IQ peoples, they still manage to get the really important things done out of naked self-interest. They are smart enough to understand on some level that you have to have a good highway system to have a real economy. A low IQ bureaucracy embezzles the funds for the highways, screwing over everyone.

Reminds me of this lecture.

In essence, the goal of the game is to predict how ‘dumb’ the general population is, and be 2 / 3rds as dumb. Of course, playing this way is itself dumb, as rationally the best choice is 0, so you’re also predicting how dumb everyone else thinks everyone else is.

Signalling in game theory is one of the few cases where education really matters, if only as a way of creating common knowledge.

How is that? I don’t agree with everything Peterson puts forth, (his defense of enlightenment individualism is particularly heinous) but I suspect he understands more than he reveals to keep from getting banned. I see him as a useful gateway to the dissident sphere as the new alt-lite.

“…Until you have enough people of sufficient intelligence…”

I immediately had some of the same thoughts as others who got there before me. It’s more than just intelligence. I have a friend that has a mentally disabled sister. She not to smart but shes “contentious”. I think that’s the key. Being able to imagine yourself in the others place. Empathy. Also key in producing shame because if you can’t imagine what the other is thinking then why give a fuck?

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