July 30, 2007
Late night Cynicism: Intelligence
People are intelligent.
Being the cynic that I am, I struggle with this from time to time. Being an observer of the world around me, I struggle with this thought all of the time, so I use my own definition of intelligent here: people are capable of using that mysterious lump between their ears. I believe all reasonably healthy adults are capable of logical, well thought out discussions. They are capable of applying the large amount of information that is in their head.
But if everyone's intelligent, why the hell is everyone so stupid?
The answer, I think is an obvious one to anyone that has ever trained somewhat seriously for any physical activity and then stopped. The only way to stay in top shape is to exercise. Similarly, and this is not breaking any new territory whatsoever, the only way to keep one's brain functioning at a high level is to exercise it. Unfortunately, I don't think that very many people do.
I'm not talking about sitting down and doing crossword puzzles or solving arithmetic problems for no other reason. I'm talking about about just using your brain, period. I don't claim that I'm above this at all, but it is so easy to wander through the day and not have or express a single thought of value. You see something happen and think, "oh, that's nice," or, "oh, that's sad," and go on with your business. There are no connections made. There is nothing gained. Just a sensory input that's deemed happy or sad and promptly forgotten as we draw back inside our own circle of comfort. Very rarely are we exposed to anything that requires serious thought unless we seek it out. We're handed a series of opinions, we choose one and that's that. We don't read anything besides 1000-word magazine articles that sketch the briefest possible objective outline (though admittedly this is far better than no reading at all). we don't get anything to agree or disagree with. We're not exposed to anything that challenges us. We don't seek out mental stimulation. And I think I kind of know why. We don't have to.
Plain and simple: We don't have to. There are people out there, so-called experts that are supposed to have all the answers and can tell us what to do or how to think. The problem is that usually these experts have devoted their entire life to one subject while ignoring everything else and how it all connects. And it all connects. Most of us are so reliant upon experts that our entire life is nothing but receiving the opinion of the experts and attempting to synthesize them until we have one opinion that we call our own.
Even this is not the worst of the story. In fact, this isn't even bad alone because, obviously, we can't possibly know everything so we ask an expert for assistance. The real problem is that we've become so reliant upon this system that we can't form our own thoughts or opinions for ourselves. Through sheer lack of exercise, far too many people have all but lost this ability. It's not too late to relearn this skill, but it requires effort to change, and if America has taught us anything, it's that no society changes their way of thinking without a pretty big stimulus. The problem is that far too many bad things happen when those stimuli come.