I recently posted a quote from John Taylor Gatto, and while several people are discussing the issue of whether or not people are idiots, I feel like I ought to be explicit about my take on things.
Now, Gatto has a lot to say, but essentially it boils down to this: the public education system, as we know it, has been developed over the past century or so to create a compliant workforce of consumers, and that it does this by subjecting them to absolute boredom, stifling their potential, crippling their ability to think for themselves, and turning them, in effect, into perpetual children. Others have advanced theories along these lines, from Chinese mystics to Hindus to Gnostics to Nietzsche? to Robert Anton Wilson to disgruntled computer consultants. There's a wide range within those theories -- the degree to which it's taken root, whether it's chemical or linguistic or conditioned, whether it's deliberate or accidental -- but they all seem to share a common theme, that somewhere along the line we fucked up, more or less as a species, and in exchange for the societal trappings we enjoy, we have been crippled in our ability to understand the world and to be at peace with it. Crippled.
(This, incidentally, is why I find the notion of celebrating a "Fall From Grace," to be rather... over-literally moralistic. But nobody asked me, be the change you want to see, etc., etc., etc., so I'm not complaining about that.)
Anyway, many of these theories have some idealized state of nature from which we have fallen. Some of them are, frankly, ridiculous: I question Gatto's (implied) assertion that until a century ago we had generation after generation of autodidactic wunderkind. However, I do see two distinct modes of thought. By and large, most people are capable of both to varying degrees. Here's an example of them:
Now, let me ask you who are the idiots in that survey: the 1959 people with IQs in the less-than-98th percentile who can be bothered to think about the damn question for thirty seconds, or the 9254 people who self-identify as being in the top 2% but are apparently only capable of reacting emotionally to words?
There is a huge, huge difference in my mind, a vast, vast gulf between how intelligence typically gets quantified -- the ability to crunch numbers, the ability to bang labels together like legos -- and what I consider intelligence, the ability the actually fucking think about something, the ability to actually look at something and see it for what it fucking is, not what you've been told it's supposed to be. One lends itself to solving myopic problems with myopic solutions, the other is far more inefficient (when measured in myopic terms) but actually offers the ability to understand and improve systems holistically. It's the difference between... I dunno, the difference between Bucky Fuller and Michael Dell. And, sadly, our teaching institutions, our media, our leaders, our lifestyles, all seem to encourage the broken, myopic kind of intelligence.
And it's a problem. It's a big problem. Why do people obey leaders that they don't trust, even when it's known that the majority of the people don't trust them? Why do wars happen if nobody wants them? Why do people laugh or shrug their shoulders dismissively when you raise points like that, as if they're somehow not crucially important questions? How can we even hope to solve problems like global warming or peak oil or nuclear proliferation -- issues which threaten to throw the entire human race back into the bronze age, if not destroy all life on earth -- when we can't even recognize the talent in our midst?
This is idiocy.
When I talk about idiocy, that's it. That's what I'm talking about. Make no mistake, it's not limited to any class or group of people. Some people, however, are much more typified by that myopia in their thinking. Part of that may be innate, may be genetic, but I think that it is far and away primarily a conditioned behavior. When I see people who are less typified by that kind of thinking, and are substantially more typified by holistic thinking, I tend to see certain patterns. They tend to be people who had very unconventional educations, or who weren't conventionally socialized at an early age, or who had an early developmental "disability," such as autism*, that they managed to overcome (or, at least, manage.) I really don't think that's a coincidence, nor do I think it's a coincidence that children, particularly young children, seem to have a lot of trouble in school -- fidgeting, being bored, being resentful, as if they were being forced to endure something that was, surprise, very alien and unnatural to them.
So there you go. I think there are essentially two kinds of intelligence patterns, a myopic one and a holistic one. (I leave the door open to the possibility that there may be may more, or that they could be better-defined.) I think that the first pattern, essentially, is a form of idiocy, and the evidence suggests to me that society very rigorously tries to beat us as far into that myopic thought pattern as it can. Now, while some people have been more effected than others, I cannot think of a person I have known at all who has not exhibited both patterns. Of course, it often feels like the world is full of idiots, because most of the time most of the people are exhibiting their idiotic side. It's like going into a restaurant and being driven crazy by how noisy it is. No one is yelling, and certainly no specific individual or group of individuals are being labeled as "noisy"; everyone is talking at a reasonable level, the net result of which is to raise the volume of the room to a dull roar. But again, we have this reality: people are sometimes idiots. Sometimes you're an idiot. Sometimes I'm an idiot.
Human beings, individual human beings, have great potential. Even after years of having that potential beaten down by authority figures, impersonal bureaucracies, popular entertainment, and even their peers, still, still their brilliance will pop up in weird ways at the strangest times and surprise and delight you. Human beings, all human beings, are fundamentally worthwhile, and fundamentally worthy of some basic respect. We should remember that. Humans have potential, and humanity has potential, and I believe that there is hope that we can become more than what we are -- or, rather, that we can become what we are. But I don't think that changes the fact that we have some very serious problems to deal with.
Oh, and before you reply to this to ask me for one,
Here's an angry teen pony-unicorn:
* -- The subject of whether autism should be categorically considered a disability is a whole other issue. Many parents have gone through a great deal of pain because they have an autistic child, and I'm not questioning that. On the other hand, I've known several people of varying ages with varying degrees of autism who are very cool and very perceptive and are quite well-adapted to life when they are not being forced to operate within conventional social or educational structures, and I'm not going to ignore that, either.