Collective Wisdom, Collective Stupidity, Professional Philosophy, and Open Philosophy.

1. Collective intelligence–see, e.g., this and this–is an emergent property of human or otherwise animal mindedness, that is constituted by the cognitive capacities and cognitive activities of a group of (e.g.) people as a group, especially including group-reasoning, group brain-storming and innovation, the social production of written texts and other kinds of social media, group deliberation, and participatory decision-making.

2. Recent work in cognitive psychology, social psychology, and organizational studies shows that collective wisdom, or a relatively high level of group coordination, creativity, problem-solving, and productivity (aka constructive Gemeinschaft), is determined by high levels of socially-open, non-hierarchical, free-thinking, and non-conformist, but at the same time also mutually comfortable, mutually communicative, mutually respectful/principled, relaxed, mutually sensitive, mutually supportive, and highly dialogical collaborative activities within groups, and is not a function of high average IQ levels among the group’s individual members.

3. On the other hand, what I will call collective stupidity, or a relatively low level of group coordination, creativity, problem-solving, and productivity, and correspondingly a relatively high level of group dysfunctionality (aka destructive Gemeinschaft), is determined by high levels of socially-closed, top-down organized, conformist, but at the same time mutually antagonistic and competitive, coercive, arrogant, non-collaborative, zero-sum, winner-takes-all, debating-society-style, gaming-the-system-style activities within groups, independently of high average IQ levels amongst the group’s individual members.

4. In other words, groups made up entirely of people with very high IQs can manifest very high levels of collective stupidity.

5. An aggravated, extreme manifestation of collective stupidity is what I’ll call institutional sociopathy.

This is when groups of people working inside State institutions or state-like institutions, including bureaucracies of all kinds, gangs, and cults, stop asking whether what they are doing is morally right or wrong, and concentrate entirely on efficient ways of implementing group policies and imposing the directives of the group’s governing elite on people who cannot fight back or push back.

At the same time, however, the individuals who belong to institutionally sociopathic groups, as individuals, may be otherwise quite normal, sane, and socially well-adjusted. They love their partners, their children, and their dogs, etc.

Classic examples of this, taken from fiction, are Kafka’s The Trial and Orwell’s 1984.

But the real-life, catastrophic paradigm, of course, was the Nazi bureaucracy’s increasingly effective, increasingly satanic “solutions” to the “Jewish question.”

Eichmann, at least as portrayed by Hannah Arendt in Eichmann in Jerusalem, was the perfect “company man” and “good little do-bee,” in the modern world’s most evil, murderous example of institutional sociopathy.

But in a more mundane sense, virtually all college and university administrations  and academic departments operate on the assumption that effectively implementing various higher-administration-mandated, state-mandated, or Federally-mandated policies and directives, without any critical reflection whatsoever on the rational justifiability or moral permissibility of those policies and directives, as applied to the members of their academic communities, is their be-all and end-all.

So in that sense, they also manifest institutional sociopathy, and at the very least, high levels of collective stupidity

6. That brings us to professional academia, the brain-trust arm of the miltary-industrial-university complex that drives modern (neo)liberal democratic states.

7. In turn, it is obvious enough that professional academics, taken one-by-one, and in general, are highly intelligent people, the smartest kids in class all the way from kindergarten to graduate school.

8. And, judging by average GRE scores across all disciplines, physicists and philosophers are the most intelligent professional academics: physicists top out the quantitative scores across all disciplines and also have relatively high analytical/verbal scores; whereas philosophers top out the analytical/verbal scores across all disciplines and also have relatively high quantitative scores.

9. But as Joe Schmidt’s Disciplined Minds clearly shows, and as longstanding personal experience in professional academic philosophy fully confirms, to the extent that a group is more and more “professionalized,” and therefore has increasingly levels of what Schmidt calls ideological discipline, the more they are, collectively, stupid, and even institutionally sociopathic, endlessly contributing to a downwards spiral of destructive Gemeinschaft, while, at the same time, all-too-busily promoting their own professional careers, slithering up the greasy pole of professorial and/or administrative promotion, reward, and status, mainlining The Spirit of the Hive.

10. Since, as I have argued, professional academic philosophers are now hyper-disciplined minds it follows that they are, as regards their collective intelligence, hyper-stupid, not only endlessly contributing to the downwards spiral of philosophically destructive Gemeinschaft, but also operating under the banners of vocationally self-defining elite-group images, especially at the top-ranked 25 or 30 departments, aka The Fortune 500 Philosophy Club, according to which they are either scientistic Masters of the Universe or moralistic Social Justice Samurai—or both.

11. This hyper-disciplined Night of the Living Dead in contemporary professional academic philosophy, especially in The Fortune 500 Philosophy Club, has been clearly demonstrated in earlier APP edgy essays on the publishing racket, coercive moralism, the hyper-disciplined character of professional philosophy, the institutional structure of hard philosophical problems, philosophical dialogue vs. philosophical debate, and the failure of professional academic philosophy to produce any important ideas in the last 40 years.

12. The most urgent questions before us, therefore, are:

(i) how can this catastrophic trend towards professional academic philosophical collective stupidity be reversed?, and

(ii) how can contemporary philosophers move towards the kinds of collective wisdom variously imagined, e.g., in Plato’s Socratic dialogues; in Kant’s conception of enlightenment, fully realized as the “ethical community” of his later religious writings; in Kropotkin’s Mutual Aid; or in the early Russell’s vision of “the world as it could be made”?

13. Or otherwise put:

(iii) how can contemporary philosophers move from where they are now, in a downward-spiralling condition of destructive Gemeinschaft, to a radically different condition in which they begin to achieve high levels of socially-open, non-hierarchical, free-thinking, and non-conformist, but at the same time also mutually comfortable, mutually communicative, mutually respectful/principled, relaxed, mutually sensitive, mutually supportive, and highly dialogical collaborative philosophical activities within groups?

 14. Here are two ideas, simple distillations of the many themes and topics explored so far by APP.

First, get rid of graduate schools, MA and PhD degrees, and philosophy departments altogether, and replace them with a network of interlinked open philosophy communities, each one created and sustained by voluntary association, team-spirit, and a shared sense of real, serious philosophy as a full-time, lifetime calling and mission, that combine dialogue, research, writing, publishing, teaching, and grassroots social activism, whose members are widely distributed spatiotemporally, in many different countries, continents, and time-zones, and who are therefore also fully cosmopolitan thinkers, doing real, serious philosophy without borders.

Second, get rid of professional academic philosophy journals, presses, and the rest of the professional academic publishing racket altogether, and replace them with a cosmopolitan, border-less, worldwide network of interlinked open philosophy online sites and platforms for dialogue, research, writing, publishing, teaching, and grassroots social activism, that are severally and collectively organized and run by the worldwide network of open philosophy communities.

 The  conjunction of these two ideas is what I’ll call open philosophy.

15. Admittedly, in the face of the institutional juggernaut that is professional academic philosophy, open philosophy is pretty radical, and, to the most successful, high-status inhabitants of the Hive, pretty scary and threatening.

So is open philosophy really possible?

In all honesty, I don’t know. But I do know this:

If and only if open philosophy can be implemented by contemporary philosophers, and precisely to the extent that open philosophy actually is implemented by contemporary philosophers, will they (and we) exit their (and our) current condition of philosophical collective stupidity and destructive Gemeinschaft, including institutional sociopathy, in The Spirit of the Hive, and finally begin to achieve a condition of philosophical collective wisdom and constructive Gemeinschaft, in the spirit of Socrates, Kant, Kropotkin, and early Russell.

Jacques-Louis David (1787), "The Death of Socrates" with some APP modifications.

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Z

About Z

Z is a 50-something cosmopolitan anarcho-philosopher, and previously was a tenured full professor of philosophy at a public university somewhere in North America, but still managed to escape with his life.