Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Delusion of Wisdom

James Surowiecki, in his book Wisdom of Crowds, argues that 'under the right circumstances, groups are remarkably intelligent, and are often smarter than the smartest people in them.'

As usual, the devil's in the details, or, if you will, in the proviso 'under the right circumstances', because they include that the crowds exhibit the following attributes:
  1. There is diversity of opinion.
  2. Independence of crowd members from each other.
  3. Decentralized management structures.
  4. Existence of effective methods for aggregation of member's opinions.
This probably be explains not only why modern democracies are prime counterexamples of the book's thesis, but also why, as appears to be happening all over the place, these conditions are being progressively dismantled—to the extent of being systematically destroyed—by the governments the dimwits in these democracies elect to rule them.

Any applicability of the thesis is nuked anyway by one of its premises that turns out to be almost universally false: #2. In any society, the members are not independent from each other; neither economically nor in terms of opinion. Everybody influences everybody else, and the vast majority of people are gathered together in opinion-blocks, where the contents of the group-connecting opinions are homogenized—with a few insignificant and uninfluential quirks, to be sure—to be as lowest-common-denominator as possible.

This is a fertile soil for those who want to make crowds as stupid as possible to plant their intellectual weeds.

Australia is a case in point, a sad example of the disease. Let's look at the other pre-conditions and their grim fate in this country.

Diversity of opinion: Like with biodiversity, I am wondering where it's gone or going to. The essence of democracy seems to be to get as many people as possible to support an idea, plan of action; or, what it all boils down to, political party. In order to support any of these idiots, opportunists, bureaucrats and demagogues, it is necessary to suppress diversity of opinion, not only in the populace as a whole, but also on an individual level, in one's own head. One forgets just what a bunch of clueless morons Party A consists of, but one is certainly not going to support Party B, whom one hates. Therefore one defends, usually to the point of believing one's own bullshit, Party A's agenda, and wisdom pretty much goes out the window. For true wisdom would dictate that the members of both Party A and Party B should be sent to hard-labor camps to work at paying off the damage they have caused during their tenure, and that they would be replaced with a random sample of members from no political party at all. That would make the members of parliament 'diverse', instead of them being party-animals; and thereby, or so one would think, the whole parliament much more inclined toward being a 'wise crowd'.

Decentralization...well, it ain't happening, folks. If anything, both in Australia and the US, the opposite is true. In both countries the push to centralize the health systems has acquired frenetic proportions. And the health systems, despite their apparent basic socially benevolent intentions, tend to be at the heart of centralized control of people in general. It's a classic wolf in sheep's clothing, and this one's running rampant. All in the name of 'better care' and 'better efficiency', of course, but anybody with more than two interacting cerebral neurons should be able to figure out that it's not about 'care' but about 'control'.

The same applies to educational systems, which in Australia are about as centralized as you can get in a federal framework. Almost German. 'National curriculum', 'national testing standards' and so on. Centrally-dictated brainwashing. Home-schooling will become so subject to rules that it'll become impossible to implement in practice, and will therefore come as close to being illegal as it can without being actually outlawed. It's collectivism in drag.

And, last but not least, to item #4. The only effective methods of collecting and collating information about people's 'opinions' relate to what the plebs want to hear and/or can be made to believe in order to vote for this party or that. Nobody in government does give a sparrow's fart about what opinions are actually valuable, but only which ones will guarantee survival of a regime in government—or get another one into place, if you look at it from the Opposition's point of view. Any 'opinion aggregation' methods therefore only serve those who have an active interest in minimizing diversity and opinion independence, and who love 'control structures', preferably centralized ones, be it at state or federal level.

All of this relates to so-called 'democracies', but, let's face it, it is not confined to these. The difference is that democracies have this deluded self-image that they are somehow specially suited to, and have a monopoly on, all this good stuff, like freedom and diversity of opinion, freedom of choice and action, and so on. Which is all smoke-and-mirrors, of course. Which makes people who believe they have all these freedoms so terribly pathetic and sad.

2010 is a year of an Australian federal election. It should be a year of choice and...

Never mind.

No comments: