Why Are We Idiots?

Reading my colleague’s blog on grey goo, I was struck by his conclusion:

So maybe we intentionally wipe everyone out with Nanobots or maybe we accidentally do it. In some sense justice would be better served if stupidity killed us rather than malice. Its just the way we are. We are idiots.

What I suddenly realized is that in my whole life I had never asked a simple question: why are we idiots?

See, when people ask that, they usually have an agenda to sell. “People are idiots because education sucks, video games, Millennials and ribbons, etc”

But why are we actually idiots?

And then it hit me like a diamond bullet right in the center of my forehead.

We are idiots because that’s what works best from an evolutionary perspective.

Stretching back behind you in history is a million year history of ancestors who believed idiotic shit, and it kept them alive. Because bands of people believing idiotic shit will almost always beat bands of individuals who are not synching on some foolishness.

“Let’s kill that mammoth. Then we will eat for weeks!”

At some point, one of your ancestors said something like that. Or more likely they just nodded and picked up their spear when they heard it.

“Life is ok, but I hear in America the streets are paved with freedom!”

Uh huh. Not smart. But following that fantasy kept a lot of people alive, made a very small percentage rich beyond imagining, and that foolish thought brought the best idiots the world can make into our free market.

To be an intellectual on any scale is to swim against the tide in some way, to question and probe your own suppositions. I think intellectuals need to stop thinking that their thoughts will somehow stop the great waves of stupidity we all swim in.

The job of a white blood cell is not to change all the other blood cells into white blood cells. Its to defend the body by attacking foreign agents.

The job of a thinker in the 21st is not to rally people around a cause. Like a white blood cell, we should defend our society of fellow idiots by attacking or repairing bad ideas.

Building self replicating nanobots is a bad idea. Building bot managers is a bad idea. Handing over society to AI is a bad idea. Autonomous vehicles are bad in many situations but make perfect sense in others.

We can debate the specifics for sure, but if you feel in any way like we do about the threat that stupidity in science and technology pose, raise your voice. Don’t just forward info on social media, put your identity and voice into it. It’s worth more than you know.

Because here is the secret: ideas, dropped into a ripe bowl of idiots, are self-replicating also. And dangerous as hell.

Because the reason we are all still here is because just one person in the tribe said:

“If you’re gonna kill the mammoth, you’re going to need a bigger spear. Let me help.”

The first white blood cell, the first thinker, the first engineer.

Image from here

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