The Roman Philosopher Lucius Anneaus Seneca (4 BCE-65 CE) was perhaps the first to note the universal trend that growth is slow but ruin is rapid. I call this tendency the "Seneca Effect."

Sunday, March 6, 2022

The World as a Chess Game. Is it Being Played by Masters or by Idiots?


An old movie showed the story of someone trying to impersonate a chess Grand Master. He succeeded to the point that he was invited to play a simultaneous series of games at a local chess association. He barely knew the rules of the game, but his haphazard moves surprised his opponents so much that several of them decided to declare defeat. Unfortunately for him, some of the opponents just played to win and easily defeated the pretended Grand Master. What we are seeing in the world nowadays looks like a giant chess game. Is it being played by masters or by idiots?

Let me start, by saying that I have no intention to join the ranks of the armchair strategists who are telling us exactly what's happening in Ukraine, and why. Evidently, they have a direct phone connection with the Kremlin, because they can say that "Putin thinks.... " and "Putin wants.....". Just allow me to note that, up to the day of the invasion, most pro-Russian sites were poking fun at those dumb Westerners who thought that Russia would invade Ukraine. Come on, they said, that would be just silly. What would Russia do with "Banderastan" after having conquered it? Then, after that the invasion started, suddenly these same sites were praising Putin's strategic savvy, explaining that the invasion of Ukraine was necessary, just, and unavoidable and that Putin had acted, as usual, as the chess master we all know he is. Maybe. 

It is not just a problem with the pro-Russian media. It is the same everywhere. Once a government takes a decision, it is not only enforced by law, but it goes through the state propaganda machine which seems to be able to hypnotize the majority of citizens into complete obeisance. They will believe what they are told and happily repeat it to each other. 

Especially during the past two years, governments have been playing a cat-and-mouse game with their citizens, forcing on them the most quixotic norms one could imagine: to lock themselves inside their homes all the time, to wear masks even in the open, to be injected with concoctions of uncertain safety, and much more. The government could have ordered people to balance a ball on their nose and they would have complied -- happily. In Canada, the government confiscated citizens' property simply because they had expressed their disagreement with the government's policies. To say nothing about confiscating the property of Russian citizens just because they are Russian. And they could do all that with complete impunity. It was typical, once, of Roman Emperors or other absolute rulers of the past.

There is some logic in this behavior. According to the historian Peter Turchin, modern societies compete with each other mainly in military terms. So, there is an evolutionary pressure that leads to the development of social structures where dissent can be eliminated when it is time to focus all resources on fighting. That can be probably best obtained by means of a pyramidal structure where the top levels can take all the decisions. And, of course, there is nothing wrong with having citizens willing to defend their country, even at the cost of their lives. But who decides that dying for one's country is necessary?  On which basis, and according to what principles?    

The problem is that the decisional mechanisms of most governments are nearly completely opaque to citizens. It doesn't seem to matter whether governments are democratically elected or not. Once a certain group of people is in power, they can take major decisions, such as starting a war, with just a veneer of authorization from parliaments, or even without that. In Italy, for instance, the government has been acting for two years on the basis of an emergency status that the government itself declared, and that it has the power to extend at will (recently, it was extended up to December 2022). 

Emergency powers are a recursive feature of governments: once a government has declared an emergency, the fact of being in an emergency allows the government to extend it. There are no mechanisms other than the government itself that can to revoke it. As an example, in 1926, Mussolini enacted "special laws" that were supposed to last for five years, but that were extended up to 1943. In practice, for 17 years, Mussolini could do whatever he wanted and make war on any country without having to ask permission to anyone -- until he was arrested and then hanged. And note that Mussolini was elected in elections that historians tend to judge as having been fair. 

It seems strange that in the age of the Internet, with information being so widely spread and available, the government decisional process remains the same as it was at the time of the Mayan Sun Kings. Yet, it is the way governance works almost everywhere in the world. So, we can only make hypotheses on what leads governments to do what they are doing. We could say that:

1.  The government is genuinely worried about a serious threat to society and is acting to counter it on the basis of the available knowledge.

2. The government is led by one or more psychopaths and/or narcissists who operate to aggrandize their personal power. They surround themselves with yes-men and the resulting "groupthink" leads to all sorts of disasters. 

3. The key members of the government have been corrupted by economic interest groups who push for wasteful and dangerous actions in order to obtain large profits. 

4. As in the previous case, the key members of the government have been corrupted, but in this case by an external power that uses them to ruin the country in military or economic terms, or both. 

5. The souls and the brains of the top-level people in the government have been eaten by Chthonic deities or other demonic entities. These entities use the human members of the government as avatars with the objective of destroying the country and killing as many innocent people as possible. 

Combinations of the above are always possible. The point is that, right now, it is impossible to say which condition has led to the current disaster in Ukraine (and I wouldn't discount the possibility #5, demonic entities). Whatever the case, we can only watch the drama as it unfolds. We'll know if our leaders are chess masters or impostors after the war is over, if that will ever occur. 

But we do know something about past cases, and we can say at least something about why some monumental mistakes were made, in some cases costing millions of lives. Just as one example, the 2003 war on Iraq was believed by the public to be a case of hypothesis  #1, (genuine worry). We now know that it was mostly a combination of cases #2 and #3 (and, again, I would not discount the role of demonic entities). You could also argue that in Italy we are seeing case #4 in action (with some help from Chthonic deities). You may have some fun reviewing past history in view of these lines: the record of most governments doesn't come out as brilliant. 

You may also be interested to review a case where major strategic blunders were created by the deadly combination of groupthink and a psychotic leader: Benito Mussolini. Below, I am reproducing a post previously published on "Cassandra's Legacy" about the decision mechanism of Mussolini's government. 

Basically, Mussolini was not mad, he had just lost track of reality. It may have been the result of having been in power for too long and of having won all the wars he had engaged Italy in, up to 1940. A good illustration of how successes don't teach you anything. Does this story apply to the current situation? Time will tell. 

Sunday, November 1, 2020- from "Cassandra's Legacy" (slightly revised)

The Mind of the Evil Ruler: What Goes on inside the Heads of the People who Govern the World?

The damage that bad rulers can do to people and things is gigantic, especially considering that they command military apparatuses of immense power. But what goes on inside their minds, exactly? Are some of them truly evil? Or just criminally incompetent? We'll probably never know for sure, but we have some hints for at least some of them. Here, I am exploring the case of Benito Mussolini, using the diary written by his son-in-law as a source of information.

There is a sentence attributed to Terry Pratchett that goes as, "the IQ of a mob is the IQ of its most stupid member divided by the number of mobsters." Actually, I think Robert Heinlein said something similar first. In any case, the idea that collective intelligence goes down with the number of members of a group seems to have some logic in it, although it cannot be said to be scientifically proven.

If that's true, then we have a huge problem. How to manage states formed of tens or hundreds of millions, even billions, of people? A possible solution is to reduce the denominator of the formula to a single ruler who takes all the decisions. Indeed, it seems that human crowds, dumb as they may be, believe that all problems can be solved by someone who can "get things done." 

Unfortunately, history tells us that the idea of giving all the power to a single man doesn't work so well. Another quote by Robert Heinlein says "A well-run tyranny is almost as scarce as an efficient democracy." You may have read that Trump is a narcissist, Biden is affected by Alzheimer's, Putin by the Asperger syndrome, and that Assad is evil just because he is. And more.

The list of mad or evil rulers is long, but what do we know about these people? Very little because they live shielded by a barrier of lies in the form of propaganda and press releases. Even the people who know them well, relatives and close friends, may well be fooled by people who arrived at the top exactly by their capability of fooling everyone, even themselves.

Maybe, if we could have a diary written by one of these madmen, say, Adolf Hitler, we could know more. But the manuscript claimed to be Hitler's diary in 1983 was a hoax, and no dictator of note ever left us a personal diary. The closest thing to a personal diary of a dictator is the one kept by Galeazzo Ciano, foreign minister of the Mussolini government in Italy from 1937 to 1943. He was not only a close collaborator of the Duce but also a close relative: his son-in-law. You can find the complete diary in Italian at this link.
Note that Ciano was not an intellectual, nor had any professional expertise. He is best described as a high-rank playboy who had used the money and the prestige of his father, a war hero, to gain access to Mussolini's family and eventually to marry Mussolini's daughter. That, of course, opened a bright career for him at the top government levels. He was widely considered the most likely candidate to succeed the Duce as Italy's leader. During the period in which he was active as foreign minister, he often acted as the second-in-command in the government. 

Ciano wrote detailed notes of his everyday activities as foreign minister for the whole period of his appointment. Of course, we don't have to take these notes as completely truthful. Especially in the final pages, we clearly detect an attempt by Ciano to distance himself from his illustrious father-in-law and his egregious blunders. Later on, he was shot for treason on orders of Mussolini himself. But, overall, it is probable that many details of the daily written document do reflect real events.
One thing that's clear from Ciano's notes is how haphazardly Italy was run. A country of 45 million inhabitants was steered by people who seemed to carry on, day by day, without a specific direction. Mostly, the story sounds like a TV soap: the atmosphere in the high echelons of the government was a poisonous mix of gossip, treachery, incompetence, and abject deference to the great boss. The name of the game was a simple sentence: "Mussolini is always right." Anyone could be demoted to a powerless position if he happened to displease the commander in chief. In 1939, that happened also to Achille Starace, a longtime associate of Mussolini and secretary of the Fascist party. 

Even Mussolini himself didn't seem to have a clear idea of what he was doing. He seemed to be thinking that Italy needed to expand in new territories because it was a young nation that needed space for its growing population. That could be obtained at the expense of the evil and decadent plutocracies that were England and France. And that would result in the creation of an Italian Empire, recreating the power and the glory of the ancient Roman Empire.

If that was the plan, it wasn't a good plan. Mussolini, just like most politicians, couldn't reason quantitatively and had neither interest nor trust in data. He acted mainly on the basis of his intuition and he never understood how badly unprepared were the Italian armed forces, nor how weak the Italian economy was. Unfortunately for him, he was lucky enough that his initial military adventures were successful. Victories don't teach you anything.

Not that Mussolini was a fool. As a young man, he had been a smart politician and a brilliant journalist. We have his diary during the time when he was in the trenches during WWI and there we find nothing of the warlike rhetoric of his later years. He always kept his head low: no question for him to jump out of the trench and lead a bayonet assault. In 1917, he was lightly wounded by the accidental explosion of an Italian cannon and that was the end of the war for him. It was also a stroke of luck: not only he could gain a reputation as a war hero, but he avoided being caught in the rout of the Italian army after the disaster of the battle of Caporetto, a few months later. 

20 years later, we read in Ciano's diary how the smart politician had turned into a bumbling fool. Let me translate a few excerpts for you. 
Dec 19, 1937. The Duce said: "On my grave I want this epigraph: Here lies one of the most intelligent animals ever appeared on the face of the earth". The Duce is proud of his instinct which he considers, and has actually proved to be, infallible.
Sep 29-30 1938 (Criticizing Great Britain) "When animals are adored in a country to the point of making cemeteries, hospitals, homes for them; when bequests are made to parrots it is a sign that decadence is underway. Moreover, in addition to the many reasons, this also depends on the composition of the English people. 4 million more women. Four million sexually dissatisfied creatures, artificially creating a multitude of problems to arouse or artificially creating a multitude of problems to excite or appease their senses. Not being able to embrace a single man, they embrace humanity ".

June 3, 1939 "I," said the Duce, "am like a cat, cautious and prudent, but when I take a leap I am sure to land where I want.

Dec 24, 1940 – It's snowing. The Duce looks out of the window and is happy that it snows: "This snow and this cold are fine" he says "so the pipsqueaks die: and this mediocre Italian breed is improved. One of the main reasons why I wanted the reforestation of the Apennines it was to make Italy colder and snowier ".
You see what I mean, and there is much more in the same tune in Ciano's diary. We are reading of an old man who has lost track of reality. Yet, as I wrote in a previous post, a post-mortem examination showed that Mussolini's brain was still functional during the last years of his rule. By all means, it was the normal brain of a normal person. What Mussolini's brain had lost was not neurons, but the capability of empathy: understanding and caring for your fellow human beings. 

Empathy requires a certain effort, it is a tool that needs to be sharpened every day. But just as you get fat if you don't exercise your body, you get dumb if you don't exercise your mind. What happened with Mussolini and the Italian government was a self-reinforcing loop. The people around Mussolini soon found that they could keep their position if they never disagreed with the boss. Mussolini, in turn, found that he could easily get rid of those who disagreed with him. And the result was that he was even more surrounded by yes-men who always agreed with him. Eventually, he found he didn't need empathy: he could just order people to do what he wanted. 

It was not just Mussolini's mind that had degraded for lack of exercise. It was the whole chain of command of the Italian government that had degraded in a way that reminds the sentence by Terry Pratchett about the collective intelligence of a group. By the 1930s, the process had led to a situation that you could describe as "government by the whims of the boss."

It all became painfully clear when, in 1940, Mussolini ordered the invasion of Greece in winter, across the Epirus mountains, with woefully insufficient and poorly equipped troops. We have the minutes of the government reunions that preceded the attack on Greece: it is clear it was the Duce alone who decided to attack and the date of the attack. Nobody dared to oppose his decision. On the contrary, generals competed with each other to state that it could be done easily. A classic effect of groupthink. Disaster ensued, as it should have been expected. And Mussolini's lack of empathy was tragically clear when, on 16 January 1941, Ciano reports these words by Mussolini: ""Greece was a political masterpiece; we managed to isolate this country and make it fight it alone, against us. The one which has not performed well is the army." Not a word of regret for having sent the troops to fight without adequate winter equipment, without heavy weapons, without sufficient air support. Truly, when idiocy matches cruelty, these are the results. 

I think that the key to the whole story is the excerpt from Ciano's diary where he describes how Mussolini rejoiced at the thought of Italians freezing to death. This is not just incompetency or stupidity, it is one of the few moments in Ciano's diary where we see true evil appearing. You might want to picture in your head Mussolini standing near the window of his office, maybe close to a warm radiator, while he rubs his hands together and smiles in a Satanic smile like the character of a comic book. (you may add also the classic Satanic laughter that goes as Bwa-ha-ha-ha-ha!)

My impression is that, while losing empathy, Mussolini was also gradually losing the moral bonds that keep normal people from being truly evil. He had discovered that not only he could order to kill foreigners as he pleased, but that the more foreigners he caused to be killed, the more he became popular in Italy. So, he proceeded to expand this strategy until, unfortunately for him (and for many others), the idea backfired. Badly. After that a half million Italians had died because of Mussolini's mistakes, you know how he ended, hanged upside-down. Nobody should rejoice at the death of anyone, but it seems that the universe has ways to punish one's worst mistakes.

Mussolini's case is just one that's close enough to our times that we have abundant documentation about it. It is also sufficiently remote that we can discuss it from a reasonably objective viewpoint. The question is: why is it so easy for governments to be hijacked by evil/incompetent/dumb leaders? Unfortunately, that may occur much more often than we would like to think. Are some of our leaders rejoicing when large numbers of mere commoners die because of their actions, just as Mussolini did? I can think of at least one example of one of our prominent politicians rejoicing at the violent death of the leader of a foreign country, and you probably understand whom I mean. 

And what could be the effect on a president's mind of the capability of killing anyone, anywhere, by a drone strike without the need to provide a justification or fearing retaliation? Can you imagine that drone strikes are decided by people who rub their hands together while producing Satanic smiles? We won't know how evil these people really are until much after they are gone, if ever.


  1. A billion dollar annual budget running the small army of special forces protecting Saddam Husain everywhere he goes, 24/7, including the state of the art, France-made, surface to air mobile unit - have all vanished when the moment has finally come to protect the leader....

    When we told Hussain has finally been captured by the Americans - he was captured alone...

    Millions of Russians strongly believe there are few Putin[s], physically, each has been presented for the Russian people by the media as Putin - for a period of time all last 32 years.

    Sometimes, more than one Putin appeared to the public at the same time...

    Our Western Civilisation hates real heroes and eliminates them - by producing and sustaining cartoonish, unreal figures like Mussolini, Hitler, Putin - in every field, in the society, and in every nation...

    Our Western Civilisation loves faking heroes and movements...

    Peak Oil Movement has been faked into Peak Oilers Movement, for example.

    Willian Jevons' original Coal Question movement has been faked with The Limits of Growth movement...

    Before that, OPEC has been created to fake the representation of helpless oil-rich nations - where it has actually worked hard for not only looting finite oil reserves - given away cheaper than water - but rather making poor nations pay for the production of all that oil - with rivers of blood and destruction - often...

    When oil finally depletes to scarcity, the ability to fake perception on massive scale fades out... read (As oil declines, the threat of a greenhouse earth & extinction from climate change decline).

    As finite fossil fuels deplete over time, our Western Civilisation will be more and more faking perception - for nobody - other than itself...

    Faking things will become so cheaply exercised - only the Civilisation itself will be believing in it...

    Only Peak Oilers believe what Peak Oilers say, only OPEC believes what OPEC says, only MBS believes what MBS says, only Putin believes what Putin says, only the media believes what the media says, only callers for New World Order believe in calling for a newer New World Order...

    Let oil deplete more - and we'll see how this can be continued for longer...

    When Saddam Husain has finally been shut down and taken away - he has been alone - done...

    When oil finally goes away, we'll see how our Western Civilisation convinces itself that it is - still - a Civilisation...

    "In any system of energy, Control is what consumes energy the most".


  2. Re "The World as a Chess Game. Is it Being Played by Masters or by Idiots?"

    It is NOT "or" but the world is played like a chess game by BOTH psychopathic "masters" AND blissfully ignorant "idiots" as a unit ---- meet “The 2 Married Pink Elephants In The Historical Room” ...

    Any other understanding is misleading and self-fooling.

    1. Thank you Syrupp for the link, this is excellent and made me discover the word "ponerology".
      After reading Andrzej Łobaczewski's book anyone will understand that our masters have a pretty low intelligence, under the average. They are closer to idiots than chess masters.
      Anyone should read Andrzej Łobaczewski and realize how much we are living in real "pathocracies". That might be one of the most important books you will ever read.

  3. The analogy with chess is quite relevant in the present situation. Chess is a game of destruction and no one knows at the beginning of the game how many pieces will still be on the board at the end of the game.
    It is not uncommon for a player to sacrifice one or more pieces in order to gain a longer-term advantage. This is called a gambit. Is Ukraine a gambit? We'll find out later.
    The interesting thing about chess is that kings have very limited power, but they are the only ones who are guaranteed to survive in case of victory or defeat.

  4. Whereas Chess is, as one Grandmaster put it, 99% tactical, Weiqi is a game of strategy. Militarily, Chess is a single battle; Weiqi is a multi-front war. The former is conducted on an 8x8 board; the latter on one of 19x19 squares or 361 interstices.

    Chess is a game that relies entirely on the left hemisphere of our brain, the analytical function; Weiqi requires the employment of both left and right brain hemispheres; analytical and perception of spatial patterns, include the dimension of time and the use of intuition. Professional chess games last anywhere from ten minutes (fast chess) to six hours whereas professional Weiqi games exceed 16 hours and are played in sessions spread over two days.

  5. Hello Ugo et al.,

    I have observed CEOs go from new and fresh and dynamic to passive and delusional over the time of approx a decade. In the Netherlands, where I live now, we have the longest sitting prime minister (Mr. Rutte, already 11 years, 3 years until next election) right now. He was a skilled politician who has unfortunately chosen to surround himself with yes-sayers and head-nodders. The decline is visible. Group-think is strong.

    The most brilliant political reformer I know was Deng Xiaoping, who instituted the max-term of 10 years for the president of China (Chairman of the CCP). It allowed Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao to step down and enjoy an opulent retirement. It is usually very dangerous to be ex-dictator. Most end up hanged, some in jail. But the CCP method has worked well for over 30 years.

    Unfortunately, these constitutional limits are tempting to revise, as is evident by the legal shenanigans of Putin and also the current president of China Xi Jinping. It is unclear if he will step down after his ten years, and I think it is a great mistake if he doesn't.

    We need a retirement plan for dictators, so that they don't start Epic Wars.

    In the Netherlands, there is a beautiful rose garden, where Ex-Emperor Wilhelm II of Germany spent his retirement days, after fleeing from the battlegrounds of WWI.

    I would like to invite Putin and Xi to come here and grow roses, and leave the peoples of Ukraine, Belarus and Taiwan alone.

    I am pretty sure that I would go crazy if everyone told me that I was God's gift to the world. Please help me keep at least one foot on the ground.


  6. Hello Ugo,

    Another perspective on the current chess game is given by Andrei Vladimirovich Kozyrev (Minister of Foreign Affairs in Russia before Lavrov):

    In short: Putin is rational, but is fed with incorrect and misleading information, which led to the current disaster. Low probability of nukes.

    Let's hope he is right.


  7. I think the leader is mostly irrelevant. What is important are the "systems" around the leader. Is there a robust opposition party, a functioning media that knows how to find corruption, a civil service that can provide accurate information, unions who can organise the workers to defend their rights, religious bodies who can provide counsel on spiritual dimensions, a legal system that will uphold the law. The scary thing in the last two years was that each and every one of these systems failed.

  8. The EU has no geopolitical independence, they only follow orders from Washington.

    Fuck the EU indeed!

  9. I lived in Germany when the wall came down, we lived and breathed the negotiations and the undertaking to "Not one Inch East". That agreement has been broken all the way to Russia's border.
    No one should be surprised by Putin's response.
    Let's bare in mind that lots of the Christian fanatics in the Military Industrial Complex believe in "The Rapture"

  10. Hello again Ugo.
    IMHO The whole idea of a "chessboard" metaphor is useless today. It still had some relevance in the bi-polar world of the cold war (a pretty good run for a 2 or 3 thousand year old game from the days of swords and horse drawn carts) but not in the totally wired world where not only military and economic forces of dozens of countries as well as hundreds of non state actors (who can rally their followers to boycotts) are involved. A totally chaotic multi level video game can't even come close. Not even a next generation AI can grasp this. Unfortunately.

  11. I’ve been reading and thinking about this Ukraine thing a lot and I think it makes no sense to get emotional and pick a side to root for.
    The way I look at it there are three top governments/gangs on planet earth. Let’s call them The Eagles, The Bears and The Dragons. The Eagles are still top dog, but their boss is senile and his cadre is unable to deal with reality. The Eagles know that the Bears and Dragons are moving in and wants to stop them. One plan was to use the gang that used to be part of the Bears, The Weasels, to cause problems for the Bears“Look, don’t worry we got your back. If push comes to shove, we’ll take on the Bears.”
    So, for a long time The Weasels made trouble for the Bears.
    And The Bears let it slide because they weren’t ready to take on the Eagles. But, that day did come and presently the Bears are stomping the shit out of The Weasels. And, the Dementia Don of the Eagles said “I’ll pray for you.”
    Now, The Eagles are trying to kill off The Bears by creating an incredible firestorm of emotional support for The Weasels and hatred of The Bears. And, stopping The Bears access to credit, dollars, McDonalds and Netflix.
    The Bears are going to sell their gas and oil etc. to The Dragons instead of to the Eagles aligned little gangs. And, keep stomping The Weasels until they come to their senses and pledge allegiance to the Bears.
    The Dragons are just sitting quietly, thinking how to make a buck out of the whole mess, and waiting for their chance to be the world’s top gang.
    As for me and the rest of the little people on planet earth, none of the gangs gives a rat’s ass about what happens to us. If a new gang becomes the top gang it will be as bad as or worse than the present top gang.

    1. Very well explained, Bill! Could I publish it as a post?

    2. Sure!! I'd be really happy. Feel free to make any changes you’d like.
      Most of the people I read and comment to have no appreciation for humor, irony or sarcasm.
      I was just thinking today of what you’ve said. Something like “Whatever happens, happens because it had to happen.” I totally agree.

  12. I think incompetence works its way to the top because of what I've seen in companies. Usually, the company head is not an engineer or technical person. They are generally an accountant or someone that founded the company long ago with no idea about what the company does any more. I think the reason for this is because when you are a technical person, it becomes easy to judge your successes/failures. One failure means you are out of the running for top dog. It is a little harder to judge the competence of sales people because they might have just gotten lucky in their dealings or the technical people may have created something that sold itself, making the salesperson's job super easy. However, an accountant just needs to not fail to put the debits and credits in the wrong columns on the ledger sheet. It makes it hard to know if they are competent, but they stick around a while because it's hard to fail. They can say they have "X years at Y company/industry" when up for promotion, whereas the engineers/technicians/salespeople got let go along the way from a mishap or laid off because of a perceived cost advantage.
    The same thing happens with political leaders where they just meander along without rocking the boat until they percolate to the top. They blame failures on others, which works to their advantage in preserving their position. Once they find a system that works, they stick with it and do the same thing at the top.


    Herę they claim that no one is in control. FYI

  14. The 'crowd quote' I have been using for so long I don't remember if it is mine or I heard is similar.
    "A crowd is only as smart as its dumbest member."