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"Co-stupidity" describes the collective inability of groups, communities, organizations and societies to see what's happening in and around them, and to deal effectively with what they find. It is the opposite of collective intelligence.

It is important to understand, however, that to say a group or society is behaving co-stupidly or co-intelligently says nothing about the intelligence of the individuals involved.

Some of the most co-stupid groups are made up of brilliant people who use their brilliance to undermine each other so that together they add up to nothing. Or they may be trapped in a dysfunctional group process or social system that erodes or wastes their brilliance. Worse yet, a social system can transmute individual brilliance into collective catastrophe, perhaps by using it to create devastating weapons of mass destruction or technologies that predictably run amok or investment strategies that collapse entire regional economies.

Co-stupidity can also arise from group or international dynamics. Co-stupidity can arise from both competition and conformity. A clear example of competitive co-stupidity at the global scale was the US/USSR deterrence strategy called "Mutually Assured Destruction" (MAD), in which an arms race of ever-more-powerful weapons sufficient to destroy the world were kept at hair-trigger alert to prevent the other side from launching their own weapons. In contrast, cooperative, conformist groupthink happens when the people in a group keep their views to themselves because they don't want to be different or rejected. Each person in the group goes along with a leader or with what they think the group wants, without challenging ideas that don't quite make sense to them or offering creative alternatives.

Furthermore, co-stupidity can arise from neither competition nor conformity but simply from poorly designed systems and feedback loops that reward people for doing -- or punish them for not doing -- actions that are destructive over the long term or endanger the life around them. When millions of people do actions like that -- such as driving internal combustion vehicles, pumping toxics into the environment or letting TV replace community and citizenship -- the systems they are part of can end up doing a lot of damage. These acts of collective self-destruction, seen from the outside, may seem quite stupid, suggesting that co-stupidity is at work.

In contrast to all this, it turns out that people of very ordinary or even low intelligence can, if they collaborate creatively within a well-designed system or good group process, generate a level of collective brilliance that far exceeds what they could do under the control of a brilliant leader.

Once we are in a group or society, our collective intelligence or stupidity has little to do with how clever or slow we are individually -- and everything to do with how well our system is designed, how good our process is, how wisely we handle information, and how well we all work together, how open we are to diversity, challenge and novelty.


Irving Janis did some famous research on conformist co-stupidity -- which he called groupthink -- published in books like GROUPTHINK: PSYCHOLOGICAL STUDIES OF POLICY DECISION and VICTIMS OF GROUPTHINK. For quick summaries of Janis' research on groupthink -- including his recommendations fo dealing with it -- see and


See also

A closer look at societal co-stupidity

Co-stupidity and our collective problems


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