The Helpless, the Intelligent, the Bandit and the Stupid.

I’ve always been of the opinion that since very first human beings have made their presence known on this planet, they have always shown a very high opinion of themselves. Religion has given its contribution, of course, stating that we were the elected who had been made with the semblance of our creator and the only one endowed with that super power called reason which allows us, sons of the Enlightenment, to make the future we imagine come true. We believe ourselves to be as a sort of demigods. However, if it were so, is this the kind of future we had imagined? There must be a fault in this divine scheme, or more than one as my dear friend Jonathan Swift had cleverly pointed out in his Gulliver Travels, otherwise, our present wouldn’t be so full of contradictions and oddities. I cannot clearly make out where we are going or if the demigods we have elected have in mind to take us to a place different from the one called “disaster”. I am convinced there must be circuit breaker somewhere.

So while I was thus immersed in what the Italian poet Giacomo Leopardi called “cosmic pessimism”, my attention was drawn by an essay written by Professor Carlo Cipolla : “The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity” and magically everything became clear. Professor Cipolla aimed at discussing the following facts:

1. the stupid damage the whole society;
2. the stupid in power do more harm than others;
3. the stupid democrats use the elections to keep the percentage of stupid people in power  high;
4. stupid people are more dangerous than bandits because reasonable people can understand the logic of bandits;
5. Reasonable people are vulnerable to stupid because:
* generally they are surprised by their attack;
* *they fail to organize a rational defense because the attack has no rational structure.

Having thus said the Professor formulates the following five laws:
1:Always and inevitably everyone underestimates the number of stupid individuals in circulation. I know, it sounds ungenerous, but it is a matter of fact that too often those who once we judged rational and intelligent turn out to be unashamedly stupid and think about it, how often have we been harassed in one of your activities by stupid individuals who appear suddenly and unexpectedly in the most inconvenient places and at the most improbable moments? It is impossible to fix their percentage, however, any number would be too small.
2:The probability that a certain person be stupid is independent of any other characteristic of that person. Education, race, status or gender( sorry, Mr Runūüėô) have nothing to do with it. In fact, you will see that the fraction of stupidity is exactly the same among blue-collar workers, white-collar employees, students, administrators, professors, men or women.
3: A stupid person is a person who causes losses to another person or to a group of persons while himself deriving no gain and even possibly incurring losses.
4: Non-stupid people always underestimate the damaging power of stupid individuals. In particular non-stupid people constantly forget that at all times and places and under any circumstances to deal and/or associate with stupid people always turns out to be a costly mistake.
5 :A stupid person is the most dangerous type of person.

The corollary of the Law is that: A stupid person is more dangerous than a bandit, a statement¬†which leads to the core of Professor Cipolla’s theory. Individuals can actually be divided into four types four basic categories: the helpless, the intelligent, the bandit and the stupid.
The Helpless are those who with his action tends to cause harm to themselves, but also create advantage to someone else.
The Intelligent tend with their action to create an advantage for themselves, but also create an advantage for someone else.
The Bandit , of course, create advantage for themselves, but at the same time damage someone else.
The Stupid are those who cause harm to another person or group of people without at the same time realizing any advantage for themselves or even suffering a loss.

Professor Cipolla also states that intelligent people are generally conscious of being so, the bandits are also aware of their attitude and even the unfortunate people have a strong suspicion that not everything is going right. But stupid people do not know they are stupid, and this is one more reason that makes them extremely dangerous.
If it is so, I start to suspect something and I cannot avoid asking myself a painful question: am I stupid? Even if tests had proven my I Q, I know  these tests would not mean anything.I am often told  I am intelligent, but even this proves nothing. These people may perhaps want to hide me the truth, or, they might be trying to take advantage of my stupidity with a harmless flattery or they could be as stupid as me.
Then another question comes, am I aware of how stupid I am (or was)?¬† And I can proudly say, yes, I am.ūüėĎ
And this proves that I’m not completely stupid.ūüėŹ

Advertisements

The Abstract Principle of Equality

It was 1871 when Swiss philosopher Henry Fr√®deric Amiel¬† pondered on the nature of democracy in his “Journal Intime”. It is impressive how Amiel in few clear words nails effectively the problems implied by a representation where one is worth one despite merit, experience, education etc. and foresees the processes that will shape the world as we know it. Of course, he could not predict how the impact of modern means of communications would have made the development of those processes more dangerous and faster with the consequences we know worldwide, however, his intuition has become astonishingly and bitterly true.

“The masses will always be below the average. Besides, the age of majority will be lowered, the barriers of sex will be swept away, and democracy will finally make itself absurd by handing over the decision of all that is greatest to all that is most incapable. Such an end will be the punishment of its abstract principle of equality, which dispenses the ignorant man from the necessity of self-training, the foolish man from that of self-judgment, and tells the child that there is no need for him to become a man, and the good-for-nothing that self-improvement is of no account.
Public law, founded upon virtual equality, will destroy itself by its consequences. It will not recognize the inequalities of worth, of merit, and of experience; in a word, it ignores individual labor, and it will end in the triumph of platitude and the residuum.”
HENRY-FREDERIC AMIEL
Journal Intime”
12th June 1871

Stay Worried, Stay Foolish!

I have always been inspired by Steve Jobs’s famous speech at Stanford. So motivating. In particular by his use of the word “foolish”. For foolish he meant to be daring, creative and ready to explore paths unseen to the wise. You must be courageous and determined to do that of course, but above all: fool. That is why I can undoubtedly say that Rome has been in these last two years the splendid lab of that foolishness as Steve Jobs did mean it, especially for what concerns public administration, no joking. Let’s give some examples.

When roads¬† become for many reasons very dangerous as it is in Rome these days, I guess that organizing public procurements for road maintenance could be considered a wise plan, but this would be so for anybody else but the foolish. In Rome, in fact, it has been decided to solve the problem in a very creative way: reducing the speed limits thus saving the money for road maintenance. Amazing, isn’t it?. So it may happen to drive along large roads that seem highways trying not to exceed the maximum speed limit allowed of 50 km per hour, if you don’t want to be fined. Slow but safe. Of course, a lot of fb pages have flourished with the aim of alerting drivers when there are traffic police units in sight. After all, we citizens have to defend ourselves in some way and naturally, I may define foolish this as well in a certain way. Therefore, for our administration fixing road potholes is nothing but a waste of money, especially when only a shower is enough to make all the maintenance useless here. So this is what driving¬†in Rome has become nowadays and you may understand it better if we compare it to another city like Los Angeles mostly inhabited by the wise:

sobrio= sober; ubriaco=drunk

Of course, in Rome the drunk is the one who keeps the straight line as he can’t see or avoid the potholes. Would you like another example? About 20 years ago the then Mayor Rutelli planned to retrain 100 squares, mostly in the suburbs, not only having them cleaned but also creating a lot of green spaces for families and children. Of course, even those squares and green spaces would have required regular maintenance, but unfortunately it did not happen. So, after 20 years they have become just what they used to be or even worse. The problem of green area maintenance regards also the big and famous parks and villas in Rome, the roads and sidewalks where weeds keep growing wildly and the trees which have not pruned for years. If you ventured to read the post that far I guess you have understood that it seems that there is not much money to spend on this project ( nor any other project), so what would you think the foolish have thought about?

Yes, sheep. So pretty soon my dear tourists, you might see sheep graze in Piazza Venezia or walk lazily along Via del Corso to reach Villa Borghese through traffic. Think about sheep manure especially at summer time, what a pastoral sight and smell! Don’ t forget that we are talking about the capital.

The point is that this foolishness is destined to cross the borders of the capital and become national as the party that runs Rome won the national elections almost three months ago and made a contract with the most reactionary and anti-European faction in Italy in order to rule the country. It is a very ambitious contract, indeed. First of all they aim at reducing the public debt. At last, you would say, as we have the third largest debt in the world, but how? Making reforms, reducing waste or combating tax evasion? Oh,no.That would be too wise. The foolish recipe is: not to pay, as they aim at negotiating with the BCE a cut of the public debt of 250 billions of euros for…..nothing.

Maybe, you may wonder, strategies will be implemented to stop the public debt, for sure. Not exactly, as they have in mind a “flat tax”, that is, two tax rates of 15% up to 80.000 euros and 22% if you exceed that income threshold.¬† That is the revenge of the Sheriff of Nottingham over Robin Hood, who is rolling over in his grave I am sure by now, as that would mean that the poorer classes will be damaged more and pay for the rich. How can it be that a footballer, for example, and a teacher are subjected to a similar tax rate?

And the poor? Don’t you worry, they will be given a sort of “basic income” of about 1.000 euros or more to stay at home. I forgot to mention that those who are holding the reins of the destiny of this country have little working experience. I don’t mean political experience, bur really working experience. One of them before becoming deputy and now candidate Prime Minister, was a steward at San Paolo football stadium and webmaster. Nothing more can be found in that C.V., but maybe I am not fool enough to understand all this.

 

 

A Portrait of an Eligible Ruler

From the comments of the previous post, everybody knows what they dislike about their rulers, but let’s try and be constructive: what makes a politician fit for being in charge of a country? Would you like him to be a sort of shrewd leader as the one suggested by Machiavelli, a heart inflaming dreamer or simply an honest anybody, as it seems to be so “en vogue” here these days? Well, my answer is: a sharp-witted accountant, and by accountant I mean somebody who knows exactly figures, understands present situations and pursues his goals according to the real possibilities the State budget offers him and nothing more. A leader with such skills would make the fortune of his country, and I know this is to be true as in the past there was a ruler I do admire, a king, that somehow had many of these characteristics: Henry VII Tudor.

When Henry became King, he had inherited a nation shattered by a long civil dynastic war between the noble families of Lancaster and York. For what concerns foreign policy, the importance of England in Europe had become quite marginal especially after the loss of the Hundred Year’s war and furthermore, he was aware that his claim to the throne was shaky, plots and conspiracies were, in fact, always behind the corner. Differently from the other European countries, we have to remember that English kings did not rule by Divine Right, hence, they could not act as freely as they would, because their actions were submitted to the Common Law and the Magna Charta. Apparently weak, in charge of a country torn to pieces, what could he do? Not much, it would seem, but Henry accepted the challenge. First of all, he didn’t search for the limelight with great, noble actions that would have made his people dream, he was not a man of dreams, but facts, hence, he put on the clothes of the inflexible “accountant” and set to work.

He targeted two main objects: unifying the country and centralizing the power in the hand of the monarchy. Being an attentive “accountant”, he accurately pondered about what was advisable to do and not to do. First of all, he aimed at avoiding troubles with foreign and more powerful countries, as any other war would have made him at the mercy of Parliament. He chose to make commercial treaties with France and The Netherlands, thus opening up trade with both countries and arranged the marriage of his children to the crowned heads of Europe forming stronger alliances.

Stability was the main goal of his domestic policy.  First of all he married Elizabeth of York thus uniting the House of Lancaster and the House of York. Then he deprived the noble families of their private armies, enforced royal taxes, modernized administration, promoted trade and the making of a fleet, thus demonstrating that he well understood what was necessary to face the new era marked by the discovery of America. When he died, he left a safe throne, a solvent government and a prosperous and reasonably united country. Of course his son Henry VIII and his grand-daughter Elizabeth I are more interesting and well-known sort of rulers, but it was Henry VII, who actually laid the foundation of modern England.

I can’t imagine of any ruler with such determianation and clarity of purpose nowadays and certainly not here in Italy. Sunday’s vote has nothing to do with innovative or clever politics of enlightened candidates, but rather, it will end up with choosing between the frying pan and the fire and we are well aware that you might get burnt with both of them, unfortunately.

 

 

 

Words,words,words

paese incantato

Once upon a time, in a remote part of the South of Europe, there was a kingdom sun-kissed and pine fragrant, whose blue waters lazily washed pink white beaches of shells and corals. The inhabitants of this enchanted place were also renowned for their constant effort to add to the other celebrated beauties the most precious one:democracy; because despite the country was a true paradise on earth, anybody who attempted to visit it could see that lacked the most basic foundations of social organization. Furthermore signs of moral decay could be detected almost anywhere.
“Democracy! This is what we need, and we’ll be saved”:¬†somebody started¬†to say.
Till one happy day, the most important people of the country decided that it was time that the first elections should be held. The hopeful citizens rushed en mass to the polling stations and enjoyed so much this ritual that decided to repeat it once, if not twice a year. Unfortunately they soon understood that democracy was not so easy to achieve. In fact election after election, decade after decade, scandals, the corruption and degradation of the political system had not been stopped yet:
“Maybe, this democracy doesn’t work here!” they wondered.
“Maybe, it’s because of the sun” pondered one “or the sea”, said a woman. Maybe.¬†Any possible solution had been explored, besides the inhabitants of the beautiful kingdom sun-kissed, pine fragrant whose shores¬†were washed by crystalline seas, had slowly started to desert the polling stations. But one glorious¬†day something¬†totally unexpected happened. There was a man, whose speeches had started to inflame the hearts of men and women¬†again triggering a sparkle of hope. Well, he wasn’t exactly a man, he was a FOOL ,a real fool, not like those other fake fools who had ruled the country¬†the previous years. His words were captivating and passionate and people were overwhelmed¬†by his impetus and somebody¬†even assured that he was a sort of wizard because he a magic panacea which would have helped heal¬†their rotten country: the WEB.¬†When the next elections were held, the inhabitants of the beautiful kingdom sun-kissed, pine fragrant whose shores¬†were washed by crystalline seas went joyously to¬†vote with the certainty that¬†THIS time something would have changed for sure.¬†The party of the fool conquered one-third of the voters, it had been a huge success: for the for time in the history of the known world, a fool might have changed the course of events.
” This could be a model to be exported abroad”, said a man.
“This time WE might teach something to the other kingdoms”¬†he added¬†proudly¬†and¬†the others nodded.
“Yes, let’s call it foolocracy. It¬†will our brand¬†all over the world”. And they quickly set out to register it.
After a few weeks, the people still crowded the public meetings of the Fool but with less enthusiasm:
“This Fool keeps on talking and talking, but when do you think he’ll start to do something?”
“Maybe, it’s not time. I’m sure he is certainly planning something sensational, you’ll see”.
But time went by and nothing happened. The Fool kept on talking and threatening the other two parties, without realizing that his followers had started to abandon him. One day, during another of his public meetings, there were just a few people who were absently listening to him when they heard just like a distant sound of something arriving. It seemed like a train.
“A train? There isn’t even a railway¬† here. It’s impossible!”
Everybody turned toward the strange thing that was coming closer and closer. It was actually a train, a big sparkling train with a bright flashing signboard, where there was clearly written: GREAT CHANGE TRAIN, LAST RUN.
The train was approaching quickly, so all the people started to shout to draw the Fool’s attention, who was still talking and talking:
“C’mon, jump on the train and drive us to the change! C’mon, what are¬†you waiting for? YOU FOOOOOOOOOOOOOOoooooooooolllllllllllll!!!!!!!!”
The train had now gone. The people, now silent, were horrified, because maybe it was the heat or the rage, but everybody could see the ghastly image of the previous fool who had ruled the kingdom the past twenty years, slowly rising behind the stage where the Fool was still talking and talking and talking.
It was Sunday and another¬†election day had arrived. The inhabitants of the beautiful kingdom sun-kissed¬†and pine fragrant,¬†whose blue waters lazily washed¬†pink white beaches of shells and corals were ready to reach the polling stations to vote. But this¬†time some of them decided not to¬†go, because they thought that they had better spend their time doing some housework, some others¬†had to go¬†to an important football match that evening and needed time to arrange everything. Many others had really nothing to do, but remained at home anyway. They were puzzled¬†because they had the feeling they¬†hadn’t¬†actually understood how democracy worked¬†and needed more time to study the instruction booklet.

Foolocracy (1)

3fool

Every time it was the Fool’s turn to go on stage there was great expectation in the audience.¬†The most important actors wanted¬†to play that role in fact, because he¬†was not only one who juggled or made you laugh with trivial jokes or puns, but he¬†was also charismatic, witty, shrewd, but above all, the fool was the only character who was allowed the privilege to¬†say whatever he liked. He was a fool after all. He could target whoever he considered worthy of contempt exposing him to ridicule, king included (with a certain prudence obviously). People laughed with him, people were with him because after all he was one of them, one who¬†could understand their frustrations, misery, rage, disappointed hopes. With a laugh he could exorcise all that. It was a great power indeed and he knew it, but I’m sure that not even in his wildest dreams he would have ever imagined¬†one day to use this power to become a politician and, why not, rule a country. People would have died from laughing. Yes, but¬†it was the Middle Age, the dark age. Nowadays, in the modern age, we have smashed these prejudices and we have allowed fools of any kind to be part of the active political life. Even those who were not really born fool try clumsily to imitate them, because this seems to be what people want. Will it work? We’ll see.¬†God bless Italy.