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Equal Stupidity

Kral.My Stupid HeadThe expert is given power over us because we believe that we are stupid and they are knowledgeable. But this is a mirage... expertise is not intelligence, but merely one way of exercising the potential of our intelligence. No amount of expert knowledge will prevent us from falling prey to those blind spots in our understanding where despite our expertise, despite our knowledge, despite our intellectual prowess, we all remain - every one of us - equally stupid.

One of the throwaway comments in my short philosophy book, Wikipedia Knows Nothing, is that we are all equally stupid. This is not the triviality that it may at first appear, but a reworking of the French philosopher Jacques Rancière's concept of 'equality of intelligence' from The Ignorant Schoolmaster. Knowing how much resistance there would be to the idea that 'we're all equally intelligent', I inverted Ranciére's concept to claim the same thing in reverse: 'we're all equally stupid'. Hidden in this apparently idle remark is a revolutionary way of thinking about humanity.

Rancière's equality of intelligence emerges from a particular way of thinking about what it means to be a human: as a will served by an intelligence. 'Intelligence' here isn't anything like IQ (which is, rather circularly, merely a measure of the ability to complete IQ tests) and it is nothing much to do with education either. What Ranciére means by 'intelligence' is our potential as thinking beings to learn skills and solve problems. This intelligence is our own mental tool that is deployed by our will, which is our capacity to set our sights on future states (to set 'ends', as the Enlightenment philosophers put it). We are all a will (our sincere intentions) served by an intelligence (the capacity to fulfil those intentions), and on this understanding, our intelligences are equal.

I know the objections - intelligence is 'obviously' not distributed equally, what about those with congenital defects, and so forth. This misses Ranciére's point. We choose arbitrary measures of competence and then name this 'intelligence'. But this is rigging the game such that whosoever happens to match our chosen measures will seem 'intelligent'. Intelligence for Ranciére is not any kind of measure at all, but rather a name for the human potential to master any skill. Nobody has devised - or could devise - a measure of all the infinite potentialities of the human mind. In this respect - our potential to learn - we are all equals. This is equality of intelligence, and it is fundamentally opposed to expert power, which assumes there must be a hierarchy of intelligence that education magically reveals.

The evident inequality in the manifestations of our potential has no bearing at all on equality of intelligence. Besides, does anyone truly think that a 'one size fits all' education is the optimal way of encouraging learning...? No, we are far too focussed on regulating assessment, and not at all interested in facilitating learning, because assessment serves our desire for hierarchy. Likewise, the teacher is supposedly superior to those they teach - expert power in microcosm. Yet whenever a teacher exercises authority rather than building trust, it is a betrayal of their students' unbounded potential. The different outcomes of our education systems are not evidence of inequality of intelligence, but merely the inevitable consequences of their design.

A will served by an intelligence explains our varying intellectual circumstances in terms of differences in our will, our commitments. We can only master what we will that we shall learn. It is probably worth stressing that what we will and want we desire, are not the same. I can want a single malt whisky (I frequently do!) but I cannot will a whisky. I could, however, will that I would run a whisky distillery. Our will, therefore, is about ideals in our imagination, future states that we commit to bringing about. I sometimes suspect that the reason that a multitude of marriages fail is that many people merely desire to get married, or even just want a wedding (which is not the same thing at all). If you do not will the marriage, the partnership, it cannot last, for then it is merely an expression of our fickle desires. Only if partners truly will a future together as equals can any marriage honestly persist.

A will served by an intelligence draws attention to how we can be equals, whether in marriage or as citizens (our equal potential), as well as why we would support democracy (because we all will different things). My own concept of 'equal stupidity' inverts the idea of 'a will serving an intelligence' such that we foreground the commonality of our limitations instead. Yes, we can learn anything provided we will it... frankly, trying to learn what you do not will is nothing less than excruciating. But nobody can learn everythingAs a trivial example, those who learn arithmetic but do not learn algebra can often conduct sums in their head quickly and easily. Those who learn algebra tend to lose this ability - the more complex mathematics supplants the simpler habits. Furthermore, those who can solve the most complex mathematical equations tend to be lacking when it comes to, say, diplomacy or poetry. Similarly, a professional poker player can be loathe to play against amateurs because the skills they require to win against other pros are radically different from what it takes to play against those who never learned all the outs and pot odds. We can learn anything, but we cannot learn everything.

There is at least one sense in which 'equal stupidity' exceeds 'equality of intelligence' as a means of understanding human capacity. 'Equality of intelligence' implies that everyone can get to grips with every problem, given both the time and the will. I believe this to be true, as illogical as it sounds. But 'equal stupidity' reminds us that whatever we can or cannot achieve on our own, we can achieve far more when we work together. The aspect of our stupidity that is equal is the degree of our fallibility as thinking beings. But we fail in different ways, and we fear different pitfalls, precisely because we will different things and this draws our intelligence into thinking about problems in different ways.

It is hard to avoid the obvious, recent example. You see the urgency of saving the vulnerable from a deadly infection, I see the health harms inflicted by your untested proposals for how to achieve that goal. If we could have co-operated, who knows how many people might yet have lived...? Yet again, as with so many times before, our hate and fear destroyed our unity, and while we were squabbling, expert power betrayed us, as it always must when left unchecked. Equal stupidity makes it too dangerous to let a solitary individual work on any serious problem. Mistakes are certain to be made by anyone acting alone. But we can defend against our equal stupidity if we open ourselves up to trusting one another, thus pooling our equality of intelligence. First trust, then truth. Else first fear, then failure. Forever and ever, amen.

'Equal stupidity' thus helps to draw attention to the ridiculous assumptions of expert power. We are besotted with the fantasy that there are those with a super-intellect who can solve any problem as simply as snapping their fingers. Magical science has become the literary mythology of scientific research... As I have said before, Sherlock Holmes always has a flawless investigation, which makes him a terrible model for actual detectives. Likewise, a movie scientist can make anything happen given a sufficiently long montage. Equal stupidity is a maxim reminding us that these glorifications of individual intellect are fantasies. The true power of scientific investigation lies in the redundancies brought about by pooling our intelligences - empowered by network effects, whatever truths can be ascertained by these methods can be carefully revealed, and whatever mistakes have been made will be exposed.

The power of the sciences lies in overcoming our equal stupidity through open co-operation. Authentic research is nothing like this idolatrous beast we have named 'the Science', which is merely a mask for expert power. When our talents are pooled successfully in scientific investigations, when our wills are committed to finding the truth together, we can indeed defend against our equal stupidity. But it is not only the sciences that can benefit from pooling our equality of intelligence to overcome our equal stupidity. We can take this idea far further, as long as we can remember how to trust one another. Within this concept of equal stupidity lies a warning about how we have failed to live up to the ideals of equality, and perhaps also the possibility of restoring our dreams of democracy.

Next week: Meritocracy vs Equitocracy

The opening image is My Stupid Head by Mitsi b Kral, which I found here. As ever, no copyright infringement is intended and I will take the image down if asked.

When I Grow Up

Sophia LorenDear Players of the Game,

Forgive me for being somewhat fixated on political philosophy recently... the scope of the injustice we have just endured has been so great I could not remain silent without feeling that I had failed in my task as a human being, as a philosopher, and as one who has sworn fealty to the now-fallen notion of human rights. But likewise, I cannot go on like this indefinitely. Hopefully, we are approaching a turning point that can bring some kind of restitution and I can let this go. But all I can really do now is see what happens.

In the meantime, my escape has been WAMTNG, which is helping me write about something other than the nonsense and its aftermath. And I am enjoying Substack as a platform too... it is easy to work with, and I get paid for it. Yes, despite only a few dozen followers, I am already making money writing WAMTNG instead of losing it, as I have been doing here for seventeen years. I'm not actually that motivated by the money... but it certainly makes it easier to justify the time when it is paid for!

So I'd like to write another Substack, but I don't know what it would be. It would need to be something that people wanted to read, and it would need to be something I would be happy to write about. Going back to writing about games seems unlikely... I spend forty or more hours a week doing this as my paid job - by the time I down tools at the end of my day, I'm spent on games. But then, I don't want to start a second Substack if it isn't going to be something that some proportion of people would pay for, not because I need or want the money, but because the decision of others to support my writing with their own money helps to justify the time I spend writing it. So I need to know where the balance point is between what interests me, and what people will support. I would prefer it not be games... but I would consider it.

I welcome your thoughts on this. I'm not planning to give up Only a Game - but I do feel I could stand to write fewer of these kinds of essays and more of something else. It's just I don't know what would be the right something else.

With unlimited love,



High risk of cognitive dissonance.

ImpropergandaIf I were to allege that a particular article of news was propaganda, it would not cause even the faintest stir. For it has come to be accepted by everyone that the nature of all reporting is to advance a political agenda in one way or another - for instance, to produce sympathy for refugees by telling a story from their own wretched perspective, or to encourage antipathy for 'migrants' by detailing their attempts to enter a nation illegally. But if I was to allege that a news article in support of vaccines was propaganda, it would be treated as a scandal about me that I would say such a thing. Why should this be...?

There is perhaps no-one left who believes that the news media is in the business of establishing the truth. It is therefore no surprise that we choose a source of news that conforms to our political commitments - only when we are looking at the news for those others that are not like us does the news becomes filthy propaganda. Our own news is appropriate and proportionate, it is, shall we say, properganda.

What, then, is the point in complaining about the behaviour of reporters if all we are doing is assessing whether the stories align with our prior beliefs...? Intuitively, we should like there to be some criticism we can bring to bear against those writing the news that cuts deeper than the merely trivial assessment of whether they are in line with (or opposed to) our politics. Clearly, these kinds of judgements are external to the art of reporting, such as it is. In other words, we feel that there must be some way that something can be judged as improperganda.

However, in order for this accusation to bear fruit, it cannot simply be that the opposing political positions produce improperganda and our political allies write properganda. This would be a vacuous way of making an assessment, since it would merely be reiterating our political judgements. It follows, therefore, that if there is such a thing as improperganda, it must be something that our own journalists can be found guilty of. Thus our very desire to impugn the media of the opposing camps must be set aside if we are to establish any viable criteria by which the delivery of news can be judged proper or improper.

What constitutes improperganda, then, must be either internal to the logic of the story told, or entail a comparison between the story and the available facts that exceeds anything that can be made to fit by creative interpretation. Improperganda must mark a flaw in the story that breaks its purpose - for if the tale being told was fit for its intended purpose, it would then be suitable to be called properganda. We can say that what constitutes improperganda is akin to a flaw in a gem. However we cut or polish it, that imperfection cannot be removed or hidden. Only if the uncut gem was without flaw can we finish up with a perfect jewel. Likewise, to end up with properganda, we must have raw material without a flaw, to which no imperfections are added by the writing.

Now we are getting somewhere! And it leads also to a distinction that might be made between a journalist, who exercises an art and a craft through their writing, and a mere reporter, who reiterates claims they have heard, and is largely just a paid gossip. The journalist writes about people, while the reporter presumes to be merely writing facts - which means that the journalist, in shaping the story, can produce properganda by finding how their political commitments are reflected in the events being conveyed, or improperganda when they misrepresent the events beyond plausibility.

The reporter on the other hand produces properganda solely if they somehow manage to get all the facts correct. This is rather beyond their control on most topics, since the reporter has little knowledge of their own on which to judge what they are repeating. Thus a great deal of reporting is likely to end up as improperganda. There is also the 'fact checker', which is a kind of reporter who exploits the widespread decline of trust in the news in order to masquerade as an authoritative expert. Specialising in counter-propaganda, 'fact checkers' redirect both proper and improperganda according to the political dictates of their paymasters. This is a whole new low for the news media - their very name is improperganda, for it implies an impartiality that is the exact opposite of their true motivation.

Whenever news providers make political commitments on matters of fact (whether as reporters or as 'fact checkers'), it leads to trouble. It is particularly troubling when such pledges are made behind closed doors, but even when they are made in public they can be extremely dangerous. Thus when Google, the BBC, Reuters, the Associated Press and so forth formed the Trusted News Initiative and vowed to prevent 'misinformation' about vaccination circulating, how could they possibly hope that they could then remain factual in covering this topic...? In choosing to take solely one possible line of interpretation in advance ('every negative thing spoken about vaccines is necessarily misinformation'), this reckless censorship alliance could only grossly increase their risk of circulating vaccine improperganda.

Of course, there's plenty of improperganda to go around when it comes to vaccination! For instance, you will find people pathologically committed to conspiratorial tales about how the World Economic Forum contrived to purposefully unleash a killer drug in order to intentionally depopulate the world. As much as it amuses me to think of the one-percenter club as the villains in a second-rate Bond movie, such tales strain credulity. But then, the deployment of dubious computer models in a widely parroted Bill Gates-funded paper that claims that millions of lives have been saved by COVID-19 vaccinations is an equally preposterous example of improperganda. It might be decades before any plausible scientific conclusion can be reached about how many lives were saved by these medical treatments - and at this point, we still cannot rule out the possibility that this was not at all what actually happened...

The entire situation is as embarrassing as it is tragic, and even without the full facts at our disposal the news media's behaviour with regard to the COVID-19 debacle has been unforgivably reckless. It could never have been sensible to assume an equivalence between those twentieth century vaccines that underwent ten years of rigorous testing before being widely deployed, and these newer treatments that were enthusiastically forced onto everyone despite zero years of data and no long-term control group. It was equally foolhardy to cheerlead national lockdowns on the basis of little more than the blind hope they would help rather than causing even greater harms, as many people tried to warn us at the time.

What slips between the cracks of the media's willingness to report seems to become more and more alarming with every passing day. There is no doubt that Pfizer conducted fraud in its vaccine trials, for instance - not only did the British Medical Journal break this story in November 2021, but Pfizer bizarrely admitted to fraud in an attempt to get an embarrassing whistleblower case thrown out of court! Not entirely surprising given that this is the company that was forced to pay out the largest ever fine for fraudulent behaviour ($2.3 billion)... But it's not just the pharmaceutical companies who are riding roughshod over adequate safety procedures - as Vinay Prasad accuses, the fact that the FDA and CDC "have to rely on a Thailand preprint for the first prospective study of cardiac biomarkers is mind-boggling negligence." According to independent media reports, the FDA and the CDC are now in disarray. One senior FDA official was quoted as saying: "It's like a horror movie I'm being forced to watch and I can't close my eyes... people are getting bad advice and we can’t say anything." Likewise, a CDC scientist was quoted as saying "I used to be proud to tell people I work at the CDC. Now I'm embarrassed." Yet still, the mainstream reporters say nothing.

The most generous interpretation of the news media's behaviour in this regard is that they believe they are acting in everyone's best interests. Perhaps they opted not to report upon the ever-growing evidence of problems with both the safety and the efficacy of Pfizer and Moderna's mRNA-based treatments for fear of reducing people's trust in traditional vaccines or (equivalently) out of a dogged refusal to lend support to those demoniacal 'anti-vaxxer' scapegoats. It is a bit late for that, though, since the lockdowns these reporters previously championed have already significantly undermined childhood vaccinations - a colossal blunder for which our governments and media are both unapologetic and unrepentant. We seem to have a choice between understanding this refusal to report on these topics either as a bizarre form of principled censorship, or else as an improperganda of silence... and neither option is particularly encouraging. 

This disaster has made billions of dollars for Pfizer, aided and abetted by the CDC, the FDA, and an increasingly compromised WHO. And still, the majority of news media remain staunchly unwilling to undermine their messianic vaccine improperganda by calling anyone to account for everything that has gone so disastrously wrong. It now seems unavoidable that whether by reckless lockdown or fraudulently-justified injections, a disturbing number of people tragically damaged their own health after being promised with unwarranted certainty that they were helping to save lives. Until journalists are able to tell these forbidden stories and uncover the truth of what has happened, the news media are complicit in something far, far worse than mere improperganda.

An Abundance of Useful Idiots

May contain traces of snark.

Useful Idiots

The accusation that someone is a 'useful idiot' is one we deploy against our political opponents. As a result, we miss all the ways that we ourselves are the most useful of idiots - because in seeing stupidity always in others and never in ourselves, we are easily manipulated for agendas we simply refuse to recognise.

Pick a political topic, find a useful idiot on both sides. Immigration? Support open borders to provide cheap labour for industrialists, or tighten border controls to provide lucrative business for organised crime and security contractors. Taxation? Support high taxes to give more money for government to squander on crony-staffed NGOs, or support low taxes to help millionaires avoid paying their share of infrastructure overheads. Abortion? Provide an effortless power base to red-team politicians who can do what they like because your support is baked-in, or do the same for the blue team on the other side - either way, once you are polarised on this topic, you are politically neutered because this issue on its own ensures your vote.

It is always those terrible others who are the useful idiots. We are incapable of seeing ourselves this way, for we are oh-so-good and oh-so-smart. We know climate change is the big environmental issue, so we make the awesome sacrifice of paying extra for an electric car that will somehow reduce carbon dioxide emissions even though the electricity that it runs on comes primarily from power plants that emit vast amounts of carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels. Best not to look into the environmental impact of lithium mining for the batteries used either, nor at the road safety implications of vehicles that offer far swifter acceleration, but are largely invisible to blind people.

And don't get me started on the useful idiots on either side of vaccination... Are you one of those extremely useful idiots who have helped pharmaceutical companies cut safety testing down from ten years of openly available data to 'we promise it works'...? Or one of the even more useful idiots who prevent medical professionals raising the alarm by insisting upon grand conspiracies about depopulation and mind control because you just couldn't resist grandiose mediocrity...? A more perfect example of bilateral idiocy serving the needs of the rich and powerful there may never have been. If it was revealed tomorrow that Pfizer had invented the term 'anti-vaxxer' as a marketing ploy I would scarcely raise an eyebrow.

The nature of political partisanship is that some proportion of the wealthy and powerful stand to benefit from any issue in the form you are likely to encounter it. This subtle qualification is critical, as there are indeed issues that are not a source of bilateral idiocy. Proposals for paying owners of forest lands fees for environmental services, as happens in Puerto Rico, is unlikely to appear in the mainstream media. Neither will coverage of road accidents, despite these killing 1.3 million people globally every year, many of them children. No matter what the benefits in terms of saving lives or reducing environmental impact, stories that hurt large financial interests (e.g. that make the automotive industry look bad) will simply not get covered. Because the news media know which side their bread is buttered, and its not you providing their bread or their butter.

Unless you support politically marginal topics or belong to an inconsequential faction like the remaining Marxists, its a virtual certainty that you are a useful idiot. Your strongly held political convictions have been fed to you by media lackeys who like you are in mindless thrall to the big commercial powers - whether business, government, or (as is increasingly the case) both together. And the beauty, the horror, of this scheme is that once you are successfully triggered by any one of these fault lines, you are effectively neutralised as a participant in any genuine kind of democracy or politics, because your vote has been captured.

Authentic political existence is a difficult conversation about how we shall live together. The moment you accept instead the temptation to channel your hate and outrage as one of these pre-packaged useful idiocies, you are merely propping up the powers that be. Tragically, it is solely those who can afford the immense cost of sponsoring the news who determine the allowable kinds of idiots. All we get to do is decide which kind of stupid we want to become.

The Fall of the Old Republic (A Memorial for Human Rights)

The Fall of the Old RepublicThe Fall of the Old Republic or A Memorial for Human Rights was a three-part serial that ran here at Only a Game from August 16 until August 30, 2022. From a whimsical framing taken from the Star Wars prequels, the serial details the downfall of the 'Old Republic' of human rights (1948-2011). The latter two parts explore parallels with the collapse of the Rights of Man discussed by Hannah Arendt in The Origins of Totalitarianism, before ending with a cautious optimism about the possibility of a 'third accord'. Each of the parts ends with a link to the next one, so to read the entire serial, simply click on the first link below, and then follow the “next” links to read on.

Here are the three parts:

If you enjoyed this serial, please leave a comment, or else show that you are fearless in the face of the New Empire by sharing a link on social media.

Thank you!