our natural stupidity

The platform monopolists and the surveillance capitalists are at war with us, citizens of the world. They have engaged some of the best minds — from psychology, cognitive science, usability, addiction research, human factors engineering, anthropology, etc. — so that our evolutionary developed cognitive biases are used against us to sell us more crap. Some people call this ‘peak capitalism’. We have been marketed to for ages but now our every action online is used to manipulate us to buy something or believe something that will influence our actions. Monopolies are not good for democracy.

“The people can be successful only when they are right. When monopolies succeed, the people fail; when a rich criminal escapes justice, the people are punished; when a legislature is bribed, the people are cheated.”Henry Demarist Lloyd 1881

Individually, most of us are stupid in some way. But many people are also ‘non-stupid’ in some way. According to the universal laws of human stupidity“The difference between societies that collapse under the weight of their stupid citizens and those who transcend them are the makeup of the non-stupid. Those progressing in spite of their stupid possess a high proportion of people acting intelligently, those who counterbalance the stupid’s losses by bringing about gains for themselves and their fellows.” The current range of consumer social media are designed to increase the numbers of stupid people by emphasizing the platforms’ dark sides.


Image from Twitter: Ian McCarthy

The only way to address this is collectively. No individual can fight Facebook or take on Amazon. Legislators, educators, and citizens need to get collectively smarter. This is a war. A war for our minds — to make us collectively stupid.

“Our world requires more automation to run efficiently and sustainably. The products and services that will be in demand are the products that compensate for our inadequacies. The clear downside of this is that with every assist, the less we exercise our already weak facilities.

The only people maintaining their smarts are the few people willing to constantly exercise their smarts. Meanwhile, we have a population that is becoming more out of shape and lazy with their own mental faculties. We imagine ourselves to being smarter because we can multi-task more. Yet, our brains have not evolved to do multi-tasking well. In fact, recent research have shown that pigeons have greater multi-tasking capabilities than humans. It is just ironic that we’ve taken pride in our new found multi-tasking skills only to discover that we are dumber at it than pigeons!

However, there is a far worse problem than automation making us dumber. The bigger problem is that other humans are aware that it can make us dumber and they are opportunistically exploiting our natural stupidity to influence our behavior. Over the decades, the industry of advertising has spend trillions of dollars inventing new ways to ‘motivate’ us to do new things without us being aware of its influence. The techniques to do this neatly falls under the exploitation of our cognitive biases. After all, if we were indeed all perfectly logical, then we’ll likely spending our money in the most efficient way possible and very few companies will like us to do that. If we reduce our spending, our economies would stall and there would be an economic depression! (BTW, something is really wrong when we must accelerate our consumption so as to avoid economic stagnation)” —Carlos E. Perez 2017-10-17

What can we do?

We can start supporting global social movements that promote human values. Educators should focus on developing social media literacies so that all citizens can be active and engaged online. Sense-making and media literacy skills are critical for everyone. We can also start building better models to replace the current ones. Why should we replace market capitalism with its clone, platform capitalism, when platform cooperativism is a better model for humanity? In this world of global digital networks, we can be the media.

In Chaos: A User’s Guide, Bruno Marion shows the power of individuals, if they use it.

“Never in the history of humanity has a single human being had so much power. Never in the history of humanity have YOU had so much power!

Optimistic or pessimistic, it is like being a spectator of a film of which we seem to know the ending, whether happy or unhappy. Today one must cease to be a passive spectator but an actor in this fast-changing world.”

Our best hope for an aggressively educated citizenry may be the gamers & artists. Both the gamer and artist mindsets can help us navigate the network era. They can probe the systems, detect patterns, and create something new.

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