So... what I have often wondered when reading about historical events is that it is very rare to read a story where it is asserted that historical actor A was victorious over actor B due to actor B being a bit of a dumbass, or actor A being smarter.

In fact, one could be forgiven for thinking that this is some sort of taboo; the outcomes of wars might be down to various sins such as pride, ill-advised beliefs about ones superiority or ascribed to the decisive tactics used, but almost no action is ever being attributed directly to cleverness, or any loss to thoughtlessness or just being dumb. Now one might argue that, say, the tactics of an army are the outcomes of intelligent thought, and of course this is true to some extent. But I am just curious why it is that history books in general basically appear to work on the implicit assumption that each nation being discussed has the same level of intelligence and the whole concept has no mentionable role to play in the run of history and the events as they transpire.

And this is very odd indeed, because it would seem to me that the vast majority of outcomes of a given interaction between nations, rulers and populations depend to a critical degree on the intelligence of the parties involved. Yet, this aspect appears to be hardly ever discussed. You'd sooner read about the ill health of a ruler, or the kind of extravagant palaces he built... intellectual capacity might also be mentioned, though if so, often as a general (inferred) trait, without elaborating on its impact in actions taken.

So why is that? Perhaps it is too hard to measure or ascertain...? Easier to count the number of cannons than the "IQ" of the generals...? I'm curious what you will say :)


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It sounds like you are conflating two different things: the intelligence of a population and the intelligence of a ruler. The intelligence of individual commanders absolutely does matter and has been written about for a long time. Hannibal Barca is famous for consistently outsmarting the Romans. The Battle of Cannae in particular is famous as a case study in one commander outsmarting another.

As for populations, the intelligence of any population (with some exceptions) suffers a regression to the mean, which refers to how large populations are less exceptional than small populations. An individual commander can be much smarter than another commander, but nation-sized populations tend to vary little on traits like intelligence due to the Law of Large Numbers. Differences between populations' intelligence is swamped by other factors like leadership and industrialization, which do vary between nations.

Until recently, national success has been attributed to the superiority (including that of intelligence) of one population over another. These arguments have been followed by genocide and other atrocities so consistently that the whole argument has become tainted by association.

Hmm. Let me elaborate a little bit on the reasons for me asking in the first place :) I have been pondering for some time the whole idea of the common notion that history has a tendency to repeat itself and/or that people seem to have... a measure of difficulty learning from previously made mistakes. I've been doing this due to a sense that "we" are slowly forgetting and in a weird way "discounting" the... attitudes acquired after the many atrocities in WW2 (duly linked to by you); my 13 year old daughter for instance needs some convincing to understand th... (read more)

I think that describing the various aberrations produced by human politics as dumb feels as a moral faux paux for anyone who's not in the "rationality crowd". Here, being dumb (not in the sense of realising and admitting of having been dumb to do better) is basically a mortal sin, serious enough to kill an idea once and for all. Going by normal social norms, that something was dumb is just a... slight addendum to the fact that it was evil. You are supposed to hate and feel revulsed by the Soviet purges and the concentration camps because they were evil and wrong, if you started discussing the effectiveness, people could thing that's the main problem you had with those ideas and that you would have approved them if they "worked", so talking about how dumb it was at length feels like you were lowering yourself at their level, actually examining the idea to see if it was really wrong, which is seen as less moral than just feeling immediate horror and revulsion. Sometime an author or a historian would use the "dumb" argument as a way to plant one more nail in the coffin, but the speech usually goes like "it was evil, aberrant, immoral, monstrous, and it didn't even succeeded in its objective. I think that moral judgements are also more effective at keeping the populace away from dumb evil ideas than judgements on the intelligence of the ideas. If it's WRONG you can't do it ever, if it's just dumb why, you could of course find any idiotic way to "improve" it, or reasons why it wasn't really dumb, or why this time it wouldn't be dumb...   If we turn to the larger classes of political mistakes, I think that usually the historian tries to stick to the facts. Competence is more easily measured than intelligence, if you look at someone's actions. You have to be exceptionally smart to be noticed as such through the lenses of history, because you'd usually just leave behind actions that denoted a competent ruler/general or an incompetent ruler/general, and would be judged a
Yes. "Good" is a generic superlative []. Generic words lead to vagueness. Vagueness leads to bullshit. No. Replacing "good and evil" with "smart and stupid" replaces one generic superlative with an alternative generic superlative. The king is dead; long live the king. "Narrating history as a set of intelligent or not so intelligent events and actions" is either true or it is untrue. * If it is true then truth is sufficient reason to use this frame. There is no need to appeal to epistemic rationality via "mistakes" and "a repeat". * If it is untrue then untruth is sufficient reason to reject this frame. The categorical imperative outweighs the uncertain utilitarian possibility that misleading others about history will help them better learn from history.

The regression to the mean point assumes that all humans are drawn from the same intelligence distribution. From a beliefs as maps perspective, that claim requires evidence. For one thing, we know that malnutrition and childhood trauma have an effect on intelligence. The childhood trauma effect in the US has been measured at .5 standard deviations. If you consider how likely an Afghan is to experience stress and trauma in childhood, that alone gets you to a meaningful IQ difference between Afghans and their neighbor’s.

The trauma and malnutrition affect on intelligence would be important historically (since high rates of violence were much more common pre-Hobbes).

Malnutrition has a significant effect on intelligence. That childhood trauma could have an effect on intelligence of 0.5 standard deviations (7.5 IQ points) sounds plausible. I am not claiming that populations do not differ in intelligence. (To the contrary, I think the phenomenon is fascinating [].) I claim that, for the purposes of victory in recorded wars, the intelligence differential between populations is insignificant next to the intelligence differential between leadership groups. This question concerns the application of intelligence to war. In the specific case of Afghanistan, I find it implausible that the stress and trauma of growing up in a warzone is bad preparation for war.

I think the issue boils down to only one thing. Average national intelligence is irrelevant. If the nation has a system that allows and selects for the top few % to be identified and educated, the nation will do well. The rest of the population are just lever pullers and button mashers in the big picture. The handful of brilliant engineers designing weapons will allow the nation's armies to be victorious. The handful of brilliant economists and businessmen will allow the nation's economy to grow most successfully. The handful of brilliant.... you get the idea. 

If two populations are statistically identical and you select the top 1% of one population and put them in positions of influence and power, but you select randomly from the top 10% of the other population and put them in the same positions, the results will be dramatically different. On some small level, average intelligence might matter, but the outliers matter vastly more. Energy spent identifying and promoting the outliers will always be energy well spent.

I think your question is just based on a wrong premise. I have read quite a bit of World War II history as well asSome history of the Vietnam war and the decisions of Hitler and McNamara in particular are often described as mistakes clearly based on their intellectual ability, cognitive bias, and misconceptions. People don’t necessarily say “this means Hitler was stupid” but the implication that he would’ve done things differently if he were smarter are obvious. Moreover Churchill is depicted as prescient in his assessment of Germany’s rearmament. The words unintelligent and the like are basically just left to the reader to infer.

Hmm. You give interesting examples; especially McNamara (and, kind of by extension, Kissinger...) could indeed be said to be very smart and in some instances very wrong and biased. And it would certainly not be reasonable for a history book discussing their exploits (augmented by hindsight-bias) to say they were basically dumb for advocating or pursuing what they did.

Though one might question the wisdom of coming up with and sticking to a narrative like the fear of communist systems spreading the world over. Bombing every potential success story back into ... (read more)

You ask a bunch of questions so I’ll try and break them apart and take them in order.

  1. There are scholars who believe that the average intelligence of a nation in packs outcomes such as GDP growth. See the work of Garrett Jones.

  2. Intelligence is often left out of models for many historical institutional outcomes partly because academics see it as a info hazard. This should bias any regression analysis due to omitted variable bias. For example a institutional quality is correlated with group intelligence then the estimator for the impact of institutional quality is biased by the correlation factor times the impact of intelligence. Therefore there’s a price for avoiding that info hazard.

  3. Measurement bias is a problem. It can be imperfectly corrected for with wordless it tests. Differences between countries in average IQ remain under these tests, see Jones.

  4. For individual leader quality differences in group intelligence shouldn’t really matter. Yes some leaders are stupid.

  5. The relationship between the mean score on individual iq tests of a country and the collective intelligence (have 4 random people take an IQ test together) is a different question. idk the research on it.

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Where does national intelligence come into this? It certainly matters how clever various individuals are, and as D0TheMath's answer (which maybe should really be a comment?) says it's not at all unusual for accounts of battles etc. to point to how one general (etc.) outsmarted another.

But when did a particular historical event ever hinge on one nation's people being (say) on average 5 IQ points smarter than another?

Maybe if one nation is smarter overall than another it'll tend to have smarter people running its military. But I'd expect any such effect to be totally swamped by e.g. whether the cleverest people in the nation tend to go into the military rather than academic research, trade, the priesthood, etc. And by whether the nation's military is run in a way that gives opportunity for very clever people to flourish rather than getting into trouble for insubordination. And by a whole lot of other factors.

I don't see any reason to think that history assumes equal "national intelligence". I think history generally ignores "national intelligence" for the irrelevance it is.

(As far as particular events go, anyway -- and that's what you asked about. Of course it might happen that one nation gradually builds up a big economic advantage over another, and maybe that might be down to its people being more inventive or harder working or clearer-thinking or something. "National intelligence" might plausibly matter there. Though again I suspect that whatever such differences there might be often matter less than other factors. What does the nation encourage its cleverest people to do, and how does that line up with what brings it most prosperity? What things do its laws and customs make easy or difficult, and how do those line up with what bring most prosperity? What natural resources are there? Etc., etc.)

Ok - what I mean is that the reason historical events work out one way and not another rarely, if ever, is described or explained in terms of the intelligence and cleverness of those whose actions shape those events. So for example, the murder of Duke Ferdinand that led to the First World War is not (even partially) explained by the fact he was rather dumb to act the way he did, but by the political tensions of the time and his careless arrogance. The apparent intellect of most such historical figures and how smart they are rarely seems to be getting attention, even though it is certain that it plays a decisive role in the quality of their decisions.

The way Brexit negotiations are going may very well be caused by a form of stupidity on behalf of the UK negotiators, which causes them to miscalculate the risks, defer proper preparation and fail to have an adequate long term view. Or by foolishly putting the demands of short term populist needs first.

Not to mention that the very fact the country voted for Brexit in the first place is not exactly the result of geniuses at work; even if you accept that a significant part of the UK (lower class) population has objectively suffered due to globalization and they had a sincere axe to grind, doing so by voting in favor of Brexit is hardly going to solve their issues, certainly not in a planned and cleverly designed fashion.

Another thing that is worth mentioning in this context is the apparent fact that the intelligence (IQ) of world leaders seems to be a very closely guarded state secret. This would seem to be most suggestive circumstantial evidence that it is generally believed to be of critical importance in negotiations with other states and parties. The only group of (ex...) leaders I know of whose IQ has been measured were the Nazi's at the Neurenberg trials; and I would venture a guess this was mostly done while grappling for explanations for how such a seemingly civilized and "decent" nation could commit the atrocities they are still famous for.

It's a bit like writing a book about car performance and covering aerodynamics, suspension and the interiors at length, but only briefly mentioning the engine inside.

EDIT - And by "national intelligence" I mean the undescribed but definitely "present" intellectual capacity of a set of actors from a given nation that history has "chosen" to play a decisive role in what ever events are about to unfold. So for example when nuclear weapons became a thing and we had to find ways to deal with them, the foresight and wisdom of the leaders tasked with securing them and deciding when to use them was a of existential importance. Yet, in history books you will not read about how these problems were intellectually discussed, what kind of rational calculations, convictions and reasons were held by those who made these critical choices and decisions.

In the treatment of historical events it seems to be assumed that, all things considered, every nation is as smart as any other; I am yet to read a story with a sentence along the lines of "the delegation from country Y were clearly intellectually inferior to the skilled diplomats from country X and it is for this reason that the treaty was so beneficial for nation X". That nation Y was scared of the armies of nation X, sure. That the economy of nation Y was in tatters and they had no way of financing the steps required to be on an equal footing with nation X - also. But that nation Y unfortunately was dumber because they didn't quite value a good educational system, or that the king promoted his dim nephew to key negotiator despite him barely being able to tie his shoelaces... not so much. Yet it must be the case this has more often than not played an instrumental role.

Ok - what I mean is that the reason historical events work out one way and not another rarely, if ever, is described or explained in terms of the intelligence and cleverness of those whose actions shape those events.

I think I understand the heart of your question better now.

The reason historical events are not explained in terms of intelligence is because attributing historical decisions to the actors' intelligence (or cleverness, stupidity, etc.) usually does not explain anything.

Suppose Agent Johnny English does stupid things. We want to know why Johnny English did these stupid things. You could say "because Johnny English is stupid". How do we know Johnny English is stupid? Because Johnny English did stupid things. This is circular reasoning.

This feels unsatisfying to me and I'm not fully sure why.

If we want to know why Johnny English does things with his left hand, we could say "because he's left-handed". But we know he's left-handed because he does things with his left hand. That seems just as circular, but still basically fine as an answer? More broadly we'd say "look, some people just favor their left hand. We don't know exactly why, but there's a fraction of the population who tends to do things with their left hand, even when it causes them to smear ink or makes scissors less efficient. We call these people left-handed."

So when we say "Johnny English does things with his left hand because he's left-handed"... it's arguably more definition than explanation, but it does also have predictive power. It points at a pattern that lets us say "okay, Johnny English will probably use his left hand in this situation too, and if we try to make him use his right instead he probably won't do a very good job".

Handedness is a discrete phenomenon with two peaks. 90% of people are right-handed, 10% are left-handed and the cross-dominant population is small. "Right-handed verses left-handed" is a natural bucket because there is a trough between them on the handedness histogram.

Intelligence, on the other hand, exhibits a bell curve with a single peak. There is no trough on which to draw a dividing line between "smart" and "stupid". The bucket is arbitrary instead of natural.

The English words "smart" and "stupid" are vague. They do not point to a numerical location on the bell curve. We could draw the line between smart and stupid at an IQ of 70, 100 or 145. If we draw the line at then the theory has almost no explanatory power. You cannot say "Johnny English does stupid things because he is stupid" when you draw the dividing line at because a person with an IQ of does almost exactly as many stupid things as a person with an IQ of . (The observed difference in stupidity between individuals of IQ and is swamped by noise.)

Could we rephrase HumaneAutomaton's question in terms of a continuous distribution instead of a binary distinction?

Yes, but it would cost a lot of entropy.

Suppose Johnny English did things with a stupidity level such that his posterior expected IQ is 85. It could be that Johnny English has an IQ of 85. It could be that Johnny English has an IQ of 65 and got lucky. It could be that Johnny English has ah IQ of 105 and got unlucky.

Under the best of circumstances it takes much more information to nail down Johnny English's precise intelligence level than to deduce his handedness. History is not the best of circumstances. We have scarce data, deal with confounding unknowns and must counteract historiographic bias.

Handedness is different from IQ in two ways, both related to the continuous-discrete distinction.

  • It takes more information to deduce precise IQ than precise handedness and we usually don't have that information for historical figures.
  • IQ predicts specific behavior with less precision than how well handedness predicts behavior. Context is more important for judging intelligence than for judging handedness.

To put it in terms of Occam's razor, continuous distributions have many buckets. Hypotheses with many are more complex than theories with few buckets. IQ has more buckets than handedness.

Did the intelligence of individuals influence historical events? Yes. Can we isolate the signal? Generally, no.

Thou shall not speak of scissors! Apparatus of the devil that be!

.. yes, I am left-handed :P

Technically, saying that someone has high or low IQ is not a "mysterious answer". You could measure it.

But you cannot measure the IQ of individuals or populations who died centuries ago.

Or, hypothetically... an archaeological research could find out that e.g. textbooks for 6 years old children in Carthage contained problems that 8 years old solved in Rome, plus some more evidence of this type, from which we might conclude that Carthagians were smarter as a whole, which would explain why Hannibal Barca was smarter than his opponents.

But without this extra information, the intelligence hypothesis reduces to a circular argument: "He won because he was smarter." "What is your evidence he was smarter?" "He won, duh."

Yes. Another example would be the Habsburg Jaw.

The way Brexit negotiations are going may very well be caused by a form of stupidity on behalf of the UK negotiators, which causes them to miscalculate the risks, defer proper preparation and fail to have an adequate long term view. 

While it's a possible theory that they negotiate the way they do because of low intelligence, I don't think you provided good reason to believe that this is what's going on over there.

Lord Frost has a First-Class degree from Oxford. I would also expect Dommic Cummings and many people he hired to be on average of higher IQ then a lot of the European burocrats at the negotiating table as Cummings was willing to hire unconvential people who are geniuses in a way that other burocracies don't.

This would seem to be most suggestive circumstantial evidence that it is generally believed to be of critical importance in negotiations with other states and parties. 

Most political decisions are made because of domestic politics and not international politics. 

Ah Mr. Cummings... he may actually be literally too clever for his own good... his disdain for "the plebs" is all too readily on display ;) You should take a look at his wonderful ideas about data privacy. And yes, having followed Brexit both online and "in person" I am fairly familiar with all sides of the argument. My "default position" in matters of mass-made choices and decisions is that I never assume that a great many people are, in fact, dumb, even if it may be really tempting to think so. Their actions always have some logic, even if faulty/biased/etc. and it is there where the lack of reasoning occurs. We are here on a blog dedicated in no small part to exactly this problem :)

However - Brexit is a fairly difficult case: Anyone who voted in favor of it could not have done so for objective reasons. This is because there actually was no coherent plan what so ever to base ones choices on. Vague (and proven misleading) claims, appeals to national sovereignty (without concordant elaboration what exactly this sovereignty would make possible) etc. - a vote for Brexit came as close as one can come to a vote for the Unknown. Unless you're in a concentration camp, this is hardly ever the most rational choice.

And - smart as they may be on paper, to take the Have Your Cake And Eat It Too-position that it is even remotely possible to have a better deal with the EU while no longer a member is surely a galaxy-size fail of miscalculation, hubris, or both. I realize that a big part of the EU-UK negotiations are actually a complex game of chicken, but the very fact this "type" of game was chosen instead of a more cooperative approach is in itself fairly ignorant.

Though it may be helpful in this context to define "intelligence" more precisely; is it "raw computing power" or "adeptness at achieving ones' desired outcomes"...? While obviously related, those two things are most certainly not the same. Me personally being rather at the pragmatic/utilitarian end of the spectrum, think more in terms of the latter :)

And yes, having followed Brexit both online and "in person" I am fairly familiar with all sides of the argument. 

The idea that you are familiar with all sides of the argument because you are aware of all arguments that were made publically seems ignorant. 

It's important to distinguish someone having different goals from someone with intelligence. Cummings believes that deregulation is the way to economic growth and the point of leaving the EU was to be able to deregulated and not be bound by EU legislation such as the privacy regulation.

a vote for Brexit came as close as one can come to a vote for the Unknown. Unless you're in a concentration camp, this is hardly ever the most rational choice.

If you want substantial positive change, then you need to decide for the unknown. Accepting dealing with the unknown was a foundation for a lot of human progress before the Great Stagnation and trying to regulate it out of existence had a cost.

It's not a trivial analysis about whether or not that's a good choice. 

Though it may be helpful in this context to define "intelligence" more precisely; is it "raw computing power" or "adeptness at achieving ones' desired outcomes"...?

A lot of desired outcomes of political actors are not known to you. If you look at Dominic Cummings he managed to get a lot of political power for running the leave campaign. 

Having a no deal result means that there's more room for new policies to be created which might be desirable for Cummings et al. 

Cummings might well have overplayed his hand and go down because he angered enough people and didn't took the COVID-19 rules seriously enough.

Well - this chain could go on ad infinitum.. all I was trying to say is:

- I am really trying to understand why people voted for Brexit and want to find answers that do not boil down to "they were ignorant/dumb/racists", however tempting it might be;
- The job of politicians is to serve the interests of the country they serve. If they have other reasons for pursuing certain policies they are being corrupt;
- If you are going to advocate voting for "Unknown" then you better have a very good idea of what you want instead, how you will bring it about and how it will materially help your constituents in ways that are tangible and can be measured;

I am not claiming to know everything the UK government and its people think, though if you follow your logic to only moderate extremes any discussion of complex policies is fundamentally pointless guesswork. That isn't necessarily false, mind you... compared to the average person, I'd assess my own knowledge of Brexit somewhere above the median for a non-UK resident, and probably below someone who actually lives there everyday. On the other hand, it is easier for me to be dispassionate as I don't have a dog in that race :)

I am not claiming to know everything the UK government and its people think, though if you follow your logic to only moderate extremes any discussion of complex policies is fundamentally pointless guesswork. 

You are making arguments that depend on the conclusion that you who what they think. As long as you understand that you don't know what they think you can't access their intelligence by looking at those decisions.

If you are going to advocate voting for "Unknown" then you better have a very good idea of what you want instead

Allowing more economic growth through deregulation and more rational laws is an idea that was articulated and one that they are working on. It's not very specific but specific 4-year plans don't work that well. 

Telling the public about how you get the more rational laws by hiring superforcasters and building those seeing rooms is more specific but not the level of argument that the public is easily going to digest.

Seems to me that the relation to your original question "why don't we attribute historial events to the intelligence of their actors" is that by this logic, historians of the future might conclude that Dominic Cummings was retarded. (Assuming the records of his writing would be lost.) If this logic doesn't work reliably now, it was probably not more reliable in the past.

“raw computing power” or “adeptness at achieving ones’ desired outcomes”

If you go for the second one, then you're essentially suggesting that sometimes we should explain a person's success (failure) in terms of their innate tendency to succeed (fail). This sounds like a mysterious explanation. It's like saying that sleeping medicine works because it has a dormitive potency.

I'm not saying the second definition is never useful, just not in this context.

I am not sure if I follow :) For starters, what is an "innate tendency to succeed"...? How is that even a thing? One might have a set of personal attributes that, given a bunch of challenges, might prove to be beneficial in increasing chances of getting what you want.. like charisma or being especially adept at detecting what people actually need, or when they are lying... but it would be a bit... irrational... to call that a innate tendency...? I mean I know there's plenty of people who would do that (and in so doing, make into a reputation that then becomes feared and actually helps in being victorious when dealing with those who are aware of said reputation...) but it is still an irrational human construct.

Judging the intelligence of an actor based on his or her incidence of goal attainment seems to me a very pragmatic and unbiased way of ascribing overall success and understanding of the challenges in the situations being faced.

Also, in various places you seem to be moving back and forth between explaining events in terms of how smart a decision was, vs how smart a person was. These are different (though of course related).

D0TheMath's answer (which maybe should really be a comment?)

Yeah, sorry. It is more of a comment. Moved to comments section.

Could you give a few historical examples of where you think the collective intelligence of the parties involved is underestimated as a factor in the outcomes of those parties? It seems to me that most history I've read does come right out and say "party X was smarter than party Y". Examples such as Caesar and Genghis Khan come to mind, as well as Darius the Great as counter examples to the trend you describe. Both in their domestic political maneuvering, administrative skills, and war tactics.

Edit: moved to comments, as per grim's suggestion.

Interesting examples, and indeed, it does happen, albeit especially for leaders from a very long time ago, those who seem to be particularly wise or especially unusual, yes.  Yet, compared to the decisive advantage that intellectual ability confers, I still feel it gets far too little credit and is not ascribed the influence that it actually has on how history unfolds.

You'd much sooner read about novel technologies being important, or even the impact of weather (on, for instance, naval battles). There is scant discussion of how historical figures have reasoned or come to their particular decisions, and whether these decisions have been wise and intelligent.

For example, I think it is fair to say that the "idea" of Pol Pot to go ahead and literally kill all the smart people can be unambiguously identified as a fantastically dumb idea; yet, it is not framed thus; rather, it is mentioned especially as a cruel and evil act. To be sure, it is definitely both of those things as well, but certainly not only.

I guess perhaps the problem is that stating it as "dumb" is seen more as a judgment...? Maybe that's the issue. Or it might be that in most cases it is indeed difficult to ascertain the intellectual capacities and input given and so it would verge on being first and foremost guesswork and/or an opinion...? Though calling something "evil" also isn't exactly strictly sticking to facts...

The idea "to go ahead and literally kill all the smart people" is not "unambiguously identified as a fantastically dumb idea" because it can be an intelligent strategy. The White Terror secured Kuomingtang rule over Taiwan for decades by disappearing tens of thousands of people, especially intellectuals. To paraphrase John Wick, the bodies Chiang Kai-shek buried laid the foundation of what Taiwan is now.

I guess what I mean to say is - if killing smart people is the solution, the outcome you are after, almost by definition, cannot be an improvement. I guess maybe in theory there are some scenarios where this might be possible, but those will be few and far between.

Suppose that you are a member of a political party, and you are told that the less educated a person is, the more likely they will vote for you (and vice versa). If this was me, I would feel morally obliged to immediately disassociate myself from such a party, for it is all but impossible that what it stands for is a Good Thing.

If you come up with a political plan, and realize that the way to achieve it is to kill the smart people, the only possible prudent conclusion must surely be that your plan is fundamentally misguided, wrong, and cannot possibly be an outcome worth pursuing.

What are your thoughts on the Orthogonality Thesis?

Right, OK, I see what you're getting at. And I guess it would be therefore reasonable to make some sort of... allowance for seemingly sub-optimal/unintelligent behavior in the pursuit of some goals... but this is a tricky situation when the behavior is especially devious or deadly ;)

Though I am not entirely sure if the Orthogonality Thesis is entirely applicable within the context in our thread here; If millions of voters who have millions of motivations, reasons, points of view and convictions become less and less likely to vote for you as they are more and more educated, it is a fairly good guess to infer from this that, in the main, your party program is not likely to result in significant improvements to the majority of the population when implemented. It might, of course; perhaps you are misunderstood, or your strategy is high-risk, high-gain.. but it would be unreasonable to assume this. I try to live by the rule "If you think the whole world doesn't get something, but you do, you're almost certainly ignorant" ;) Often appearing together with "If the solution you came up with to an intractable complex problem basically comes down to 'If only [affected groups] would do [single action], then [solution]!' - you're 99% certainly wrong.

And - as an aside, we are now also entering the territory of intent, and how much, if at all, this should influence our assessment of a given action. I'll be honest - I am really tired of thinking about intent. This is not meant to suggest I don't appreciate your suggestion and comment by the way... just that I have deliberated on this for quite many times and it is one of those things where human beings really can be frustrating and ridiculously irrational.

Like... why is it that someone who helps you cross the street because he wants to make sure you're safe is OK, but someone doing the exact same thing for you because he thinks you're a loser and need to be protected from your own incompetence is totally not OK? The utility of both interventions is identical, and the personal opinion of a random stranger about you as a person is very close to completely irrelevant... yet, many people would refuse the help, even if they actually need it, if they knew it was motivated by the belief they are a loser. Being human myself I of course understand this, but it remains one of those things that are just... I guess, something I'll never truly want to accept.

Even in the context of justice and punishment, I can't say I am unequivocally supportive of how important intent is, although there at least it has some justification in deciding the severity of punishment. But it works in mysterious ways. Suppose that one day an AGI will tell us with 90% certainty that, if it wasn't for Hitler starting WW2 in 1939, sometime at the end of the forties we would have had to suffer a nuclear war that would kill 10 times as many people and make vast tracts of Europe uninhabitable for many centuries. Since Adolf did not intend the war for the express purpose of preventing this tragedy, he gets zero credit.

On the other hand, if I do something because I claim to sincerely want to improve the situation of my countrymen but my plans actually cause mass crop failures and famines that kill a couple hundred thousand, it is very probable that, actually, it won't be such a big deal, and I can have another go at it next year. When you think about it, this is seriously weird. But anyhow, TL;DR ;)


Now - I think you and I can both agree that it is highly probable that, almost regardless of the ultimate goal, pursuing a nation wide strategy of "putting away" thousands of intellectuals (and doing this by using "methods" as crude as rounding up anyone who wears glasses, say...) is virtually guaranteed to be a dumb objective. Quietly getting rid of a few noisy dissenters with a radically different agenda so you can have the field free to implement your ideas - okay, I wouldn't condone it, but this could perhaps be a dark chapter in an otherwise successful book, however deplorable. 

Now - I think you and I can both agree that it is highly probable that, almost regardless of the ultimate goal, pursuing a nation wide strategy of "putting away" thousands of intellectuals (and doing this by using "methods" as crude as rounding up anyone who wears glasses, say...) is virtually guaranteed to be a dumb objective.

I do not agree. Morality (ethics) is orthogonal to intelligence (strategy).

Mmmyes well while your theoretical framework may be sound, such an outcome is almost certainly not. I'd be willing to agree that it is not impossible such a step might, in the most uncommon of circumstances be part of an otherwise sound strategy/goal. Intelligence without morality is neither.

Pol Pot also used starvation exports to buy ammo then invaded Vietnam. This was right after Vietnam defeated the US, leading directly to his downfall. Fantastically dumb idea.

Intelligence in the abstract is hard to measure. It is fairly easy to know which armies went where. In order to make a good assessment of the intelligence of a leader, you need to know what they knew at the time they made a decision. This is hard.

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