Artificial Stupidity

Dedication: This lecture is dedicated to Jonathan Swift [for Gulliver's Travels]; to George Orwell [for 1984]; to Lily Tomlin [for her search for intelligent life on earth]; and to Teilhard de Chardin [who was convinced that, in principle, an intelligent society is possible] and to our good colleague, Carl Sagan who thought it better to look toward other universes for intelligent life than to rely on our kind.

Naturally Stupid Societies: Explorations in Artificial Stupidity.

  1. I want to make three foundational premises upon which this quasi- scientific essay is based:

    1. Mind, self, morality and society are twinborn.
    2. Intelligence is a function/feature of complex, interactive social systems [and does not reside within the brain case of single individuals much less little boxes we call computers.
    3. In complex, non-linear systems, rationality/logicality is a liability; non-linear reasoning trumps linear, leibnizean calculation.

  2. The Natural Stupidity of Artificial Intelligence. Computers, even if they can make trillions of calculations per second, lack the body chemistry which produces complex thought; they neglect the deep connections between glands, brain cells, reflexes and muscle memory which shapes thought, feeling, speech and motion.

    The kind of intelligence which solves human/social problems rests upon a complex web of desire, knowledge, logic, interaction and social organization. In the next essay in this series, A Brief History of Stephen Hawking, I will trace the turns and twists in the knowledge process which produced, as the epitomy of modern science, Hawking...and show the social location of desire and the social organization of science which selected him.

  3. Science, knowledge and Symbolic Interaction. The vast array of knowledge which constitutes the legacy of 400,000 years of human genius rests, in the first place upon symbolic interaction. This fact, the centrality of symbolic interaction, is crucial to an understanding of the complexity of intelligence/stupidity. Let us take a quick look at symbolic interaction and consider its meaning for the nature of intelligence/stupidity.

    1. There are several personal/embodied media which are used as vehicle for the production/communication of thought: 1). Voice...there are some eight or ten features of vocalized symbols into which thought is one symbolic product is ever precisely like another.

    2. Body Talk. The number of information bits into which meaning can be encoded by muscle movement/body decoration supplement and mediate the voiced productions of peoples...that number is vast indeed. Human beings never, never use the same combination of voiced/body talk in the interaction process. Yet knowledge is a product of a great many persons interacting; hence the Meadian dictum that mind and society are twinborn.

    3. Behavior. Lines of behavior speak volumes to those who can read them...and a given line of behavior is ever different from the last such run of behavior...weddings, christenings, funerals, ball games and scientific experiments are never, never repli- takes great poetic genius and poetic license to call a given series of behavior 'the same-as' another prior run of behavior.

    4. The Architecture of Thought. All human interaction/symbolic construction of meaning takes places within a material universe. Each material item from a cylotron to a church is different from another. It takes both power/politics as well as poetics/faith to define very different sets of voiced/embodied/behaving/using social occasions as 'same' as another. Counting crimes, kin, marriages, races, votes, opinions and other such social 'data' is thus an exercize more in methodological stupidity than in operational definition.

    5. Given this ever-changing complexity of interaction/thought/know- ledge, the possibility of precise statements and thereby, modern Social science becomes, as the postmodern critique holds, a matter of human desire and human purpose.

    6. Yet, in all this complexity, there is enough order with which to make short-term truth claims and upon which to ground short-run social policy. Science is possible; it is just not universal, stable, logical or is stupid to make such truth claim.

  4. Artificially Stupid Societies. In this section, I want to make very, very clear, the difference between naturally stupid and artificially stupid societies.

    Most societies in history and in the world today are naturally stupid.

    1. A Society is naturally stupid when it lacks the means to reflect upon its own behavior and to modify that behavior in ways to ensure the well being of its members...and upon the natural and social environment upon which it depends for survival.

    2. A society is artificially stupid when it has the means to ensure the well being of its members but fails to do so.

  5. Definitions: It is nice to be precise. I want to be nice. Therefore I will be precise. The word, stupidity, comes from the latin, Stupere, meaning stunned. It calls forth the image of a thinking animal which has been temporarily unable to monitor its environment and adjust its behavior to the changes in that environment.

    It is easy to confuse between stupidity and its close cousin, ignorance. Ignorant societies may be stupid as well but that is another story...the point is that ignorant societies do not have access to information or, if it has such information, it lacks the paradigm with which to process it.

    Most societies in history had a lot of data but, using most fanciful paradigms, could not put the information to praxical use. Non-the-less, some societies survived...probably because change was so slow that generational change was adequate to survival.

    That is not the case today. Today, change comes ever more rapidly. Natural and Artificial stupidity becomes a death sentence for those societies which are organized in ways to ignore information or worse, process it through some universalizing 'gran narratif' which robs it of its human character.

  6. The Architecture of Artificial Stupidity. Artificially stupid societies have a complex architecture for the generation, storage, retrieval and application of knowledge to social problems but does use them.

    An artificially stupid society would have hundreds of universities, great libraries, thousands of professional journals, hundreds of thousand scientists, engineers and analysts all busy gathering data together with millions of students in thousands of classes all trying assiduously to solve technical problems while social issues are left to those who profit from the social organization of work, family, church, state and science which produces these social problems.

    An Artificially Stupid Society, ASS'es, would have great mainframe computers, sky-high satellites, televisions, telephones, fax, cd's and other impersonal media all devoted to the extraction of value from the market place and few oriented to comparative research, to trend data, to the quest for change points in complex non-linear dynamics in such key variables as infant mortality, cancer, crime, bankruptcy, divorce or other indicators of a poorly organized society.

    To paraphrase Rene Dubose, ASS'es think locally and act globally. ASS'es have advanced knowledge capacities but use them for trivial purpose: the management of desire, the semblence of service, the dramaturgy of de-sanctification, and the mis-interpretation of events.

  7. Measuring Artificial Stupidity. If we wanted to quantify the degree to which a society was artificially stupid, we would generate an SQ score...Stupidity Quotient.

    That is easy to do. Just take the amount of inequality in any key variable, divide it by ten and there you have it.

    For example, if the infant mortality rate of the children of the poor were twice that of the rich, then one would divide two by ten...ergo, a SQ score of .20. Simple, no? On a scale of ten, such a society would be very stupid indeed.

    Or take crime rates; if we were to compare crime in the USA with say, crime in Canada, we would find that the USA has about five times as much crime as Canada. Dividing by five by ten, we come us with a SQ of .20...again, pretty stupid, eh??

  8. Info-cryption. Artificially stupid societies have a lot of use- ful information but conceals that info-mation inside cryptic information flow systems. Thus a lot of useful information about disease, health and healing is, in the USA, hidden inside an especially stupid health care system run by doctors, pharmacists, insurance brokers and government officials whose life-style depends upon info-cryption...I think we can call this artificial stupidity.

    ASS'es thus with-hold information from those who need it for fees, royalties, profits, and prestiges...

    Great edifices dedicated to knowledge rise above hovels, huts, shacks and shanties in artificially stupid societies.

  9. PISS'es. Profound Info-cryptic Stupid Societies give power over the generation, retrieval, application and evaluation of information to those who benefit from the info-cryption.

    Thus a PISS'ed shepherd would ask a wolf why the sheep are dying.

    Or ask a rich doctor why poor children are dying...

    Or ask a man why women are raped...

    Or ask Whites whether Ebonics is a distinct language...

    Or ask the CIA to help keep peace in Guatemala or Peru....

  10. Info-Funneling. Artificially Stupid societies funnel information to those least interested in acting wisely upon it.

    For example, really interesting and useful articles on corporate crime could be shunted into journals used by corporation lawyers to avoid detection, prevention and punishment.

    ...or reallly fine universities could exclude children of the lower classes, women and minorities who could/would use good information about inequality, racism, patriarchy and other such social forms.

  11. Stupifying Languages. A good way to increase the Artificial Stupidity of a societies is to convert the incredible complexity of human life into words; the words into numbers; the numbers into statistics; the statistics into general propositions which bear little resemblence to the life of the people they purport to explain.

  12. Stupifying Universities. Universities make great contribution to Artificial Stupidity.

    Large classes, impersonal teaching, irrelevant courses, inferior and indifferent professors and well as arrogant administrators all do their bit to enhance the Artificial Stupidity of Society.

    Pedagogy which takes the fun out of learning; which pits each student against every other student; which punishes those students with imagination and antic genius; which shunt bright students into dumb majors simply because they are women, poor or not quite as grey/pink as are the majority...these universities add qualitatively to the SQ of a society.

  13. Stupifying Faculty...a really stupid university must have faculty which are well trained to defeat learning and subvert wisdom.

    Sociologists who teach children of the lower classes that strati- fication is functional are really quite good ASS'es.

    Economists who teach that the economy, run by corporate managers, is run by an 'Invisible Hand,' are well PISS'd.

    Psychologists who teach teachers that behavior is shaped by genes, by pre-genital trauma or by S-R reflexes well deserved credit for the SQ scores of a society.

  14. Info-toxication. Artificially Stupid Societies spend a lot of time and resources in praise of the existing order of things. In ASS'es, people are mindllessly loyal; blindly patriotic; obtusely uncritical of the flaws and faults in their own institutions.

  15. Environmental Obtusity. Every Artificially Stupid Society must act as if it were blind, deaf, dumb and nose-less to the harm done to the environment upon which all life depends; from which all order must come if the problem of order in a dis-ordered world is to be solved. The USA leads all nations in EOQ's...we are No. 1!

  16. CONCLUSION. Artificial Intelligence and Artificial Stupidity circle around, meet and join in pre-modern and modern science.

    It may be possible to create a post-modern philosophy of knowledge that puts reason before rationality; wit before bureaucratic rule; wisdom before theory. We'll see.

TR Young