Directed Incompetence

Besos did not build the Internet. Gates did not create the micro-computer. Zuckerburg did not invent social media. They all won the lottery. Then, because previous winners have a significantly higher chance of winning again, they kept on winning!

What a shit lottery!

Why would anybody, not already a winner, gamble in a game like this? Obviously, they wouldn’t! The only way to keep the losers playing this rigged game is to lie about how winners are chosen!

“The Land of Opportunity,” they say.
“Invest in an education,” they say.
“Meritocracy,” they insist, as they try not to chortle.

Cybernetic theory asserts that a system IS what a system DOES. It is irrelevant what the system CLAIMS to do. This is essentially a rephrasing of the statement:

“Follow the money.”

Google is not “organizing the world’s information to make it universally accessible…”, it is making a shit ton of money surfacing images of cats and human bottoms [and some cat bottoms too].

Facebook is not “bringing the world closer together…” I am not sure exactly what they are doing, but again, it involves money and, most likely by now, a nuclear bunker somewhere in an extinct volcano. Cats also probably figure in the Zuks despicable plans.

Is Philip Moris (Malboro Man) really focused on “environmental and social responsibility”? Is BP “striving for mutual advantage and contributing to human progress”?

Nope. Bullshit! It’s cash, cats, and cracks!

I have been banging on for months about how we are monkeys, hard-wired to reject what we take in with our senses and accept at face value the bullshit of our betters. We listen to their lies, nod, and respectfully sniff their bottoms. To side with a disruptive challenger—or, worse, think for yourself—is to be disloyal to the vestigial alpha male menacing you from inside your own mind. Social monkeys like us are subservient to power. Partly this is rational fear, but mostly it is an evolutionary behavioural relic which forces us to be obedient to authority. A background wash of compliance makes for a smooth-running monkey troop/society. Too many rugged-individualists bickering is tedious and inefficient. We can see how strong the inbuilt urge must be, by noting how powerful people, unable to get the submissive load off their chests in public, are forced, instead, to latex-up, bend over, and accept abuse from somebody playing the role of the alpha until they discharge their loads in private.

These legacy behaviours make calling out elites on their crap difficult. It goes against the grain. The submissive majority doesn’t like to talk back. Archaic primate wiring associates such disrespectfulness with temper tantrums and branch snapping rages. Most would rather blame the victim, claim the whistleblower is a tin-foil hat conspiracy nut, or, and this is one of the most powerful tools in the arsenal of those running the show, blame the suboptimal state of the game on the incompetence of its administrators.

People get uncomfortable when they are forced to confront the brutal diktats of the kleptocracy which are so deeply wounding society. Most would rather blame incompetence for the sorry state of the world than criticise some shadowy ‘they’.

“Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity”
Robert J. Hanlon

Yes, the lottery is unfair.
Yes, the same balls keep getting chosen.
No, you can’t choose different balls next time.
Sorry chum, nothing we can do, its a bunch of incompetent monkies in charge.
Oh, well. I suppose that’s fair enough. People, who live in glass houses, shouldn’t throw stones, right? Let’s accept that we are all a bit crap. If we can’t get our own trivial lives in order, can we really expect someone else to come up with all the answers? Governance isn’t easy! It’s tough to run a society that fairly distributes resources. It’s hard to come up with a fair tax system.

So maybe I should end today’s column here with the meek acknowledgement that life is tough and building a fair society is not a job for a bunch of half-evolved ape people?

Ah! But wait! Here’s a thought. Why does the incompetence always point downwards? Hmmm? First-class works tolerably well. Taxation looks pretty blimmin pukka to the average billionaire tax avoider. Environmental protection laws—insane and out of wack to an indigenous tribe trying to protect a sacred grove—are works of sublime poetry to a petrochemical company laying pipe.

If stuff is hard and most solutions are sub-optimal cludges, we would expect us all to suffer equally from endemic human ineptitude. Random chance should fling stupid, counterproductive, half-baked solutions in every direction like shrapnel; but somehow, through some mysterious mechanism, most of the stupid ideas which make it into policy, benefit the same people who win the capitalism lottery every week.

Could it be that somebody has worked out how to extract useful work from the sea of incompetence which bathes us?

Yes! Clearly!

This is the principle of Directed Incompetence. It is the social engineering equivalent of the ‘Maxwells Demon’ thought experiment, where a tiny magic demon sorts hot and cold atoms in a chamber and sends the hot ones to power a mechanism, enabling it to extract useful work from random motion and cheating Newton at his laws of thermodynamics (see Maxwells Demon).

In the Directed Incompetence version, instead of hot and cold atoms, the chamber is filled with good and bad ideas. Most of the schemes floating around are stupid. After all, they are generated by idiot monkeys bashing madly at typewriters. [That’s you and me by the way]. The demon, following the guidance of its metaphorical, mysterious, shadowy controllers, only selects ideas from the mix if they will not disadvantage its masters.

We don’t need to invoke conspiracies of evil-genius villains to decipher the gameplan which swindles most of us each day. This exquisitely balanced system of wealth extraction and power amplification can be explained with just a little gentle filtering of ideas. ‘They’, the putative shadowy conspiracy, do not have to sully themselves creating self-serving policy. All ‘they’ need to do to keep winning, is to divert some minute fraction of their colossal wealth to sponsoring a filter apparatus of think-tanks, lobbyists, and media editorial biases. The system does not even have to be particularly effective. It’s fine if the odd idea that helps the masses slips through because this is a long game; there are always going to be more stupid suggestions heading down the pipeline.

So, when you see some confusing, loop-hole riddled, lame-duck attempt at fixing a real and present problem or a truly dense policy introduced as a knee jerk overreaction to the latest moral panic, please pause and wonder whether the stupidity you are witnessing is good old fashioned, honest to goodness, organic human idiocy, or might, perhaps, instead, be the result of the subtle nudges of Directed Incompetence!

As always, if you’d like to drop me a note, you can find me on Twitter at @weston_toby

(Top banner image inspired by the cover of the hilarious book ‘Incompetence’ by Rob Grant)

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