4 min read

On the modern state of intellection, part one.

In accounting for such abundant dumbness, some of it banal, much of if dangerous, one is tempted to shrug and explain it all by writing off people as simply stupid. But they are not stupid.
On the modern state of intellection, part one.
Photo by Razvan Sassu on Unsplash

Or, regarding the pervasive dumbness of it all.

Dr Essai and I met in one of my favored caffeineterias, and as is his habit in our weekly encounters, at a certain point he opened a scuffed leather valise and pulled out his latest pensée, scribed as always on sheets of Kobeha Graphilo paper with a Pelikan Souverän dispensing Birmingham Pen Co. coal ash ink. (His tools for as long as I’ve known him. The ink is from Pittsburgh and reflects a fondness on his part for that city; he has never explained this and I have not asked. I know little of his origins. The stories are many.)

“I have been in a state of disgruntlement this past week,” the doctor said.

“When has it ever been different?” I replied.

“A fair point.”

“Your motto could be, ‘Wait, it gets worse.’”

“Don’t be cruel.”

Afterwards in my quarters, I perused the latest offering from The World's Most Attentive Man™, noted again his peculiar penchant for referring to himself in the third person, corrected spelling and punctuation (WMAM is oddly rustic in his approach to such matters), and now reproduce it here in two parts (the doctor went on a bit).

Of the modern state of intellection, or, the pervasive dumbness of it all

The British television series After Life won Dr Essai's affection for the unwillingness of the lead character, played by Ricky Gervais, to abide by the endemic vapidity, inanity, and stupidity of contemporary culture. Most people in the show ignore or are blithe to the pervasive dumbness. It drives Gervais nuts. He is not blithe.

The doctor suffers from a similar inability to abide. No meditation practice or medication practice diverts him from absorbing the daily insults to mind and soul from the mindlessness that has been pandemic in his country for at least 50 years.

Examples writ large: The ignorant, braying know-it-all whom, at one time, everyone suffered at PTA meetings now runs for Congress. And wins. In office, she becomes an exemplar of the Dunning-Kruger Effect and makes new friends among the great minds of Capitol Hill whose emotional development and moral compass never progressed beyond eighth-grade lunchroom. Hundreds of thousands have died from covid-19, but mask mandates are tyranny — to the minds of people who seem willing to entrust their liberty to white supremacists and Christian nationalists and grifters with the moral depth of a ferret. Agitated parents scream that the real menace to their children is a school library book with a queer character, not the dreary fact that a third of their kids in that school still can't read. Wage earners one misfortune away from financial ruin embrace the idea that the solution to the wealth gap and the imperatives of late-stage capitalism is less regulation and no taxes, because nothing sparks the benevolence of the ruling class and its determination to achieve social justice like giving it more money and less oversight.

More examples writ large: The Right accedes to shipping immigrants around the country as if they're toxic waste. The Left accedes to cancel culture as if that were different from banning books. The highest paid public employee in 47 of 50 states are either a college football or basketball coach. Meanwhile those institutions of higher learning and even higher self-regard can't be bothered to address extortionate tuition, rampant mistreatment of women, or the absurdity of the tenure system, perhaps because they are so busy pursuing truth and beauty through branding initiatives and social media strategies and gaming the US News rankings.

Examples writ small: Our best newspapers publish story after story about the latest blat from Kanye West, or Ye or We or Ka or whatever he insists we call him now. Elon Musk makes a play for Twitter and we follow every communiqué as if Cuba had offered to buy Florida and the US government was mulling it over. (There have been worse ideas.) Urban hipsters fork over $14 for half an avocado smeared on a piece of wheat toast and ambitious young strivers pay much more than that to productivity hucksters who, with straight faces, tell them the secret to become the next Jobs, Zuckerberg, or Gates is setting a tomato-shaped timer for 25 minutes, buying a $30 Bullet Journal, and starting every workday by eating their frogs.

The doctor would weep were he not more inclined to sputter and mutter.

In accounting for such abundant dumbness, some of it banal, much of if dangerous, one is tempted to shrug and explain it all by writing off people as simply stupid. But they are not stupid. Dr Essai ascribes to the contrarian view that almost all human beings, unless impaired, are intelligent. Prone to exercise bad judgement, but not dumb. The evidence is everywhere. Almost all humans can learn to drive a car, an activity so complex and cognitively taxing that some of the world's sharpest engineers and programmers can't stop a Tesla from slamming its brakes because it thinks that overpass 50 yards ahead is really astride the highway like a Berlin Wall. All around us are people competent, often very good, at jobs that we dismiss as everyday but that require skill and deep bodies of knowledge. You cannot be stupid and be an auto mechanic, farmer, waitress, teacher, cop, or salesman. We can digitize and robotify the repetitive, but more than that? Compared to the typical third-grader,  autocorrect on our smartphones remains dumb as a stump, despite the best efforts of Apple and Google. The human race exasperates, but it is smart.

And yet...

[End of Part 1. Part 2 arrives tomorrow. Maybe the next day. Probably tomorrow.]