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What if Stupid People Organized?

What would happen if stupid people figured out how to organize their vast numbers into a cohesive political force? It's a scary thought. Luckily for Earth, stupid people have always had trouble grooming effective leaders from among their ranks. Historically, that simple fact has always kept their power in check. But now it looks as if stupid people have discovered a workaround - one that requires no leader. We're screwed.

Don't jump ahead and assume I'm talking about one of the major political parties in the United States. That would be too easy. Sure, every major organization has its share of stupid members. But the smarter members of any group almost always bubble to the top and run things. Historically, smart people have always found a way to jump on any runaway horse and get ahold of the reins. But lately, thanks to the Internet, there are far too many runaway horses.

I'm talking about a site called Change.org. It allows anyone (gasp) to start a petition and gather millions of virtual signatures. How much research do you think those millions of people do before piling on? Answer: not enough. And how much impact do those petitions have? Answer: Sometimes a lot. You see the problem here.

I assume many of the petitions at Change.org are worthy and helpful. As the saying goes, a blind squirrel sometimes finds a nut. What we don't know is how many times stupid people have used Change.org to leverage their ignorance and multiply their power. Does that represent 5% of the petitions on Change.org or 95%? There's no way to know.

Regular readers of this blog might recall that members of the LRC (low reading comprehension) community went after me on Change.org last year. An LRC activist took something I wrote out of context, started a petition, and duped thousands of stupid people into piling on. I assumed at the time it was an exception, and an annoyance, but nothing more sinister or important. That was until I heard that over two million people signed a petition on Change.org to prosecute the killer of Trayvon Martin. Amazingly, millions of people who know they don't have the full facts of the case have demanded that the shooter be prosecuted.

It's possible, maybe even likely, that every signer of the petition is 100% correct. There's plenty of circumstantial evidence in their favor. But anyone watching the slow trickle of changing "facts" in this case understands that none of us really knows what happened that night. One thing we know for sure is that the people who have the most information - the police investigators and prosecutors - apparently don't think a jury would rule out self-defense. That situation could change, obviously. The point is that the circumstantial evidence is fluid, and it points in at least two different directions.

I don't know if the good work that comes out of Change.org offsets the bad. In any case, I don't think free speech should be curtailed. My point is that Change.org is a tool that can empower both smart people and stupid people, and that only one of those situations is good.
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Apr 18, 2012
and if all are found innocent, everyone who signed that petition should be arrested for cyber-bullying!!!!! :D
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Apr 7, 2012
I signed that petition, and now wish I hadn't. Think twice before you sign any petition on change.org. Unlike some other petition sites, you can't change your mind later.
Apr 6, 2012
Adding my 2 cents...

We all have a right to a speedy trial. The clock on "speedy" starts ticking upon arrest. Since the shooter wasn't arrested on the spot the police need an arrest warrant, which means the state's attorney (or district attorney or whomever it is) needs to charge him with something, which means the clock starts ticking.

As long as they are still investigating and collecting evidence, and the shooter, who shall remain nameless in this post, is not a flight risk and not expected to be a danger to himself or others, there is no point in arresting him. Personally, I believe they will eventually arrest him, charge him with something, and let the jury figure it out.

However, I would sign the petition. The few facts we do know are that the shooter followed Trayvon, got out of his vehicle, and then shot Trayvon. There are a whole lot of things we don't know and it's possible the shooter was justified, but this is enough for me to want to see it prosecuted.

[You would sign the petition without any reason to believe the authorities aren't doing a spectacular job with the facts they have and you don't? -- Scott]
Apr 5, 2012

The question is not about guns, knives and choking to death.

The point is that whether Zimmerman was as you put it "in a immediate threat of death or serious physical injury". Answering this question required a thorough investigation, as this is what separates a case of self-defence from manslaughter.

The Lead Investigator in the case felt charges of manslaughter should be filed in this case, so there is at least someone in the police itself who felt that it was not a case of black and white self-defence.

You state that police officers are allowed to use deadly force in a life-threatening situation. No doubt, they should be. But are the police, or any other persons, allowed to shoot-to-kill any suspect in any other situations without prior warning.

It is precisely because I do not have the facts that I use the words "probably" and "assume." By using the word "assume" I make it clear that what I am stating is not a fact – it is an assumption. I would like to have more facts, so as would everybody else. In a case that has evoked such massive public outcry, don't you think that the facts, as far as they are ascertainable should be made public. If they are not being made public yet it is 'probably' because the facts are still being ascertained, which means that an investigation is going on. Which again 'probably' indicates that a complete investigation was not done at the time of discharging the suspect.

The point of all these protests is simply to ensure that a thorough investigation takes place. This does not seem to have happened in the initial stages. If a thorough investigation had indeed taken place at that time and a well-reasoned decision was taken not to charge Zimmerman, then in the face of all these protests, the police should have immediately defended their decision by making the evidence and the reasoning behind the decision public. This was not done

I trust that after the facts - as far as possible - are ascertained, a decision will be taken to prosecute or not and this decision as well as the reasons for the decision will be communicated to the public.

Sorry to have rubbed you the wrong way. I appreciate that you and your brother officers around the world put their lives on the line daily for our safety. Yes, my knowledge about law, legal processes, police practice and the court system is inadequate. I may also not be too bright, but at least I value human life more than the technicalities of law, and I wish to make this world a better place to live in. In that, I think, both of us as well as most of the protestors, are the same.
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Apr 5, 2012

Another Thursday evening, weekend in my place. No new blog post from you. So I'll continue to indulge with this one.

I have nothing more to add to what I've said earlier. But as Mel Brooks pointed out in one of his classic comedies, 'If you are good for nothing you can be a philosopher.'

I am not good at this race struggle. So let me be Mel Brooks' useless philosopher for the moment.

If I was a racist, and if I supported the blacks, I'd allow Zimmerman to go free. I'd not fake a movement for human rights. I'd make a martyr of Trayvon and write a song, nay, several songs and engage with all anti-white and anti-semitic clubs. And, if time permits, I'd try and create a new exclusive religion for the blacks - God and Testaments et al.

If I was a racist, and if I supported the whites, I'd allow Zimmerman to go free. I'd then draft new laws to curtail the capacity of blacks to defend themselves and I'd do my best to reduce their chances of politico-legal empowerment.

If I was a racist... but, hey, I am not a racist. I have never known what it feels like to be a racist. I am Asian. All brown. And the color is entirely because of the tropical climate.

I come from a ritualistic pagan heritage.

The rituals of today's new age are slightly different from those of the past. You can call that racist or anti-industrial or anti-west in some ways.

Like, I wouldn't dare eat the food cooked by a Westerner. Or, I wouldn't let a Westerner look at my estates or anything that is precious to me. Not because I am afraid of their intentions. Not at all. Its just an old ritual left behind when the Brits left my country.

And now I think I should watch IPL Cricket on the TV. The match was interrupted by rain...



PS: To other commenters: Please don't rate my comments. You should be ashamed of having an opinion about racism.

Apr 5, 2012
Two thoughts:
My favorite definition of stupidity is "the art of doing something that harms others without helping yourself" (Carlo M. Cipolla). Not sure most of the petitions on change.org qualify.

On the assertion in the comments that a direct democracy doesn't work: I am pretty sure that the Swiss would disagree - their democracy is as direct as makes sense in the modern world. That country is run a lot better than the US is...
Apr 5, 2012

You assume incorrectly. You are a good example of what is wrong in this case. Most people get their knowledge of the law, legal process, criminal investigation, police practice, and the court system from TV. Here's a news flash - CSI Miami, Hill Street Blues, Law and Order, and all of those other TV shows that you received your "education" from have about as much in common with reality as Friends or Scrubs.

Let me ask you a few questions -

If I have a knife and you have a gun, if I am going to stab you in the throat do you, in your expertise, need to go grab a knife to defend yourself? Even in the wild west?

If you have a gun in your pocket (that I don't know about) AND for some reason you start a fist fight with me, if I beat you senseless and then start choking you to death and tell you I am going to kill you, can you use your gun to defend yourself? Do you just let me kill you while thinking , "If only I had brandished my weapon."?

I've been a Police Officer since 1987. Our rules are that we can use deadly force to defend ourselves or others from a reasonable and immediate threat of death or serious physical injury. The same applies to citizens, at least in my state. There is no, "stop or I'll shoot" rule, I'm not sure what TV show you got that from.

You "assume" police role and the law, you use "probably" to describe actions and thoughts on Zimmerman's behalf, you identify trevon as "Terrified", and you make other claims about the !$%*!$%*!$%*! surrounding the event, the motives, the actions of the parties, and the investigation that you have NO WAY of supporting with fact.

You and your assumptions, and the other arrogant people like you who somehow "know" things that they have no way of knowing are the real problems here.

Someone who thinks like you might assume that you are probably not too bright.
Apr 5, 2012
I have no horse in this race, not being in the US, but it does seem like this law is a little flawed. If I get this right, if you shoot someone when no-one else is around and there is no direct surveillance, then all you need to do is say 'S/he went for me' and the police will not even investigate? Whatever the rest of the circustances? How about if it was someone I knew and I could benefit directly from their death? Perhaps in this case Trayvon could have been involved with a woman also involved with the other guy - it seems a little rash to just have sent Zimmerman home.

I understand you need to have the right to self defence but th balance in Florida seems hopelessly tipped towards the ability for anyone to be able to go round shooting whosoever they fancy. To me the crazy law needs to be re-evaluated as much as anything else.
Apr 5, 2012
I dont get why or how a petition asking for a renewed investigation is a stupid cause. Surely no such petitions ask their decision to be enforced. At the most they might ask for Consideration or Reconsideration of any decision or forcing the government to take up an action. If the petitions themselves are towards a stupid ends, then they will die out.
Apr 5, 2012
In the UK our government embraces this new concept of democracy.

This is the government's own site.
They say:
''e-petitions is an easy way for you to influence government policy in the UK. You can create an e-petition about anything that the government is responsible for and if it gets at least 100,000 signatures, it will be eligible for debate in the House of Commons.''

Many of you will notice the caveat 'eligible'. So they are not obliged to debate the more silly/fun/stupid suggestions that occassionally attract a following.

In the UK everyone has access to the internet for free in local libraries so it is democracy.
Of course the 'smart' people are still in charge. LOL as the young people say.
THey are not obliged to debate, let alone change the law.

But they are listening, maybe.

+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Apr 5, 2012
My position on this case has been that nobody has looked particularly good in this case.

The cops don't look good, because they have the appearance of their investigation being cursory. However, we don't have forensics; we have a bunch of talking heads.

The news media don't look good. They use a picture of what looks like a skinny 12 year old boy to evoke extra sympathy, when Trevon Martin was really a bulky 17 year old (not that either made him deserve what happened, but an accurate photo would not allow them to nicely fit their reporting into their preconceived narrative and political agenda, now, would it?). They doctor the 911 tapes. They say Zimmerman isn't hurt on video, until it's cleaned up and, oh wait a minute, he DID have visible wounds (even after receiving medical attention). They start a movement for something when all the facts aren't in.

Zimmerman looks bad, because he asked if he should follow the kid and 911 told him not to. However, did he actually follow the kid, or get jjumped?

Even Trevon looks bad, as we find out he was suspended from school, and the question is, was he a scared little boy, or a guy who wanted to "teach someone a lesson" about messing with black people, even as he was in a gated community? Unfortunately he's dead, so that one's a toss-up.

If you think racism motivates all white people, you'll blame Zimmerman. If you think "reverse" racism is out of control, you'll blame Martin. This is a case that is almost entirely about perspective.

As for me, I say get all the facts you can, see what they say, and if it means Zimmerman got away with something, well, I'd still rather be able to have the right to self-defense, even if it means that sometimes it will be abused. Duty to flee laws are absurd, and exist only to create timid, passive citizens who accept whatever the government dumps on them. They serves NO legitimate purpose. As far as I'm concerned, if you or your property or an innocent person are threatened, deadly force is an appropriate response (not the only one, but a valid one).

Apr 5, 2012
"One thing we know for sure is that the people who have the most information - the police investigators and prosecutors - apparently don't think a jury would rule out self-defense"

But one has to wonder why someone with a documented history of violence (against both women and police) was never even arrested after killing a teenager.

One has to wonder if the obvious gaping loopholes in the "Stand Your Ground" law may play some part in him not being arrested.

While I've no doubt plenty of morons signed the petition and other facts will come out later, one can't help but wonder if maybe you are a tad too quick to judge? Is it possible you have even fewer facts than the more informed petition signers? (Or maybe you believe the "most informed" will always do the right thing...in which case, I envy your ironic Faith).

Anyway, here's an interesting read from several years ago by a law professor who predicted exactly this situation due to Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law (you can just read the abstract to get the gist):


Apr 5, 2012
I read a few cowboy comics when I was a kid.
Even in the wild-west, an armed man could not shoot somebody unless the other person was wearing a gun himself.

You cannot start a fist-fight and then suddenly convert it to a gun battle (when you're the only one who's wearing a gun) and then claim self-defence. Otherwise, this would become a legal way to commit murder. You push somebody. He pushes you back. You take out a gun, shoot to kill and then claim self-defence.

Today, I assume that even the police have rules saying that they have first to identify themselves as police officers and they cannot shoot somebody unless they first shout, "Stop or I'll shoot" or something to that effect.

Here we have a case where probably Zimmerman probably did not even introduce himself in his self-appointed role. He probably just started barking questions at the kid, who was already terrified at being followed and running away from him. We've all experienced an authoritarian bully when we were kids. Zimmerman fits the profile perfectly.

Heck, even bank robbers brandish their weapons to ensure that nobody is killed unnecessarily. Zimmerman did no such thing. He simply shot.

It may well be that Zimmerman may be found not guilty due to the "stand your ground" law. I read three earlier "stand your ground" cases on a web-site where the shooters were held not guilty by the courts. But let me tell you that in almost any other country in the world except the USA these men would have been held guilty of outright murder.

Regardless of whether Zimmerman is guilty or not, I feel that this is a case which should reach the courts where his innocence or guilt should be determined by a judge and jury and not summararily disposed off by a couple of policemen within a few hours of the incident without even an adequate investigation.

+3 Rank Up Rank Down
Apr 5, 2012

When I click on the hyperlinks within any of your posts, it always takes me to a Dilbert CMS Log In page that does not recognise my username and password.

So, I have to type the link in the address bar.

The mistakes I make while doing that often lead to more interesting results. Like in this instance I typed Change.Com instead of org and was welcomed by some rather soothing photographs.

Never mind let go.


Coming back to the post:

For some reason you are rather preoccupied by this subject of Trayvon Vs Zimmerman. You started on it with a strip on March 16 and keep following up with hostile posts - hostile to the purpose of the judicial system in your country.

I am not saying you are advocating anything. I know the warning on the top by rote.

If you were a politician I'd have presumed that you stick up that warning when you are actually advocating something!

But then I ask myself, would PGW, Groucho Marx or Mark Twain have done the same? And I answer myself: But ofcourse they'd have done the same! PGW caricatured the bumbling aristocrats of England; Groucho didn't spare even the neighbor's wife; and Mark Twain loved the stupid.


You have drawn attention to a site that only asks for opinion on prosecuting / charging the suspect in a court of law; not for hanging him without a trial.

(In a non-democratic society, even this would be termed interference in governance or prempting the legal process. The statistical success of such a poll might even be turned in favor of the accused and dismiss the jury.)

If you were a spin doctor I'd say you are not merely indulging the idiots, you are turning them into a vote bank.


One last word on this post:

I believe if your statements elicit approvals or rejection from your audience, you have polarised them one way or another. The best expression is when there are more hits and zero ratings.

Divisive, opinionated campaigns may be good for political one upmanship, because it sounds like a fair debate while preparing the audience for sacrifices.

But I wouldn't apply that logic to the judiciary. Justice should be allowed to remain above political opinions.

Apr 5, 2012
Scott, I think that your "Warning" note at the beginning of some of your posts is your recognition that some topics inflame people in an irrational way, and yet you proceed to try and have a rational discussion about a tangential aspect of the issue (hoodie, Geraldo, change.org), and pretend that the central issue isn't important. The central issue and inflammatory topic in this case is race, which never came up in the hoodie discussion or the current post. It's not the elephant in the room, its a herd of elephants in the room. Race gloms onto the forensic details of this case and transforms them into something else, something connected to our own histories with race and conflict. Given that, is it really "stupid" for people who see this case as an echo of crimes and courts from not so long ago, to take a purely symbolic act and sign a petition to push for action?

Your own history with change.org may be the primary engine for your impulse to poke a stick in this particular hornets nest, but it doesn't feel like a rational impulse to me.
Apr 5, 2012
Drowlord: I just wished to make a distinction between what is generally meant by the word stupid versus the general definition of the word ignorant. Stupidity is defined as someone who does not have the mental capacity to learn in one degree or another. Ignorant, on the other hand, refers to an individual who has the capacity to learn, but is unable or unwilling to educate themself on an issue that they are commenting on.

Mobydisk: excellent points, all.

To all: this has been one of the most cogent and reasoned discussions I have ever seen on this blog. From Scott's original point to all of your responses, cudos to all. Well done.

As an aside, if you'd like to see an excellent discussion of the difference between a mob and a movement, I'd recommend Ann Coulter's book, "Demonic." It starts with a contrast between the American revolution and the French revolution, and builds from there.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Apr 4, 2012
The average American is not college educated, and is probably low comprehension group. I would bet that the average voter is also not college educated. So, any election, in general, is a collection of stupid people determining the fate of the masses.
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Apr 4, 2012
@Telanis: "My major problem with Change.org is that they provide no way to disagree. A petition might have a million supporters and 10 million against it, but you would never know because they only provide a way for supporters to add their voice. "

I couldn't agree more, and this problem is larger in context. The same is true on Facebook and most other social networks, they only allow for upvoting. Since increasingly the public's conversation happens there, this is not a problem to be underestimated.

Having said that, if downvoting would be possible, another problem would likely occur: unreasonable mass downvoting, which is easy to organize on the web.
Apr 4, 2012
Phantom II,
You don't like the word "stupid" very much, do you? Emotional and ignorant reasoning are both the very crux of stupidity in my mind. Sure, on technical levels, intelligence may have measurements including memory, spatial skills, induction (pattern recognition), deduction (applying patterns), and abstract analogy... but I can't think of too many people with strong skills in those areas who primarily rely on emotion and tolerate ignorance when making decisions.
Apr 4, 2012
I did not, and would not, sign the petition to prosecute the killer of Trayvon Martin. But allow me to play Devil's advocate. If you believe that the people with the most information - police investigators and prosecutors - have a hidden agenda other than the truth, ie are racists, then maybe it makes sense to gather what !$%*!$%*!$%*!$ evidence you can from the newspapers and then sign your name to the petition.

I think most people who signed are under the assumption that if this had been a white kid from a middle class family who was shot, the very nature of such a tragedy would all but guarentee that the killer went to trial, regardless of the evidence. And that "fairness" dictates that Trayvon's killer go on trial. I wouldn't call the petitioners stupid, but I do place more faith in the justic system than they do.
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