Posts Tagged ‘society’

Ernest Hemingway had an interesting statement:

Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know.

This was quoted in an interesting article that described an inverse relationship between intellect and happiness. Accordingly to the article, the culprit is largely education:

Western society is not set up to nurture intelligent children and adults, the way it dotes over athletes and sports figures, especially the outstanding ones. While we have the odd notable personality such as Albert Einstein, we also have many extremely intelligent people working in occupations that are considered among the lowliest, as may be attested by a review of the membership lists of Mensa (the club for the top two percent on intelligence scales).

Education systems in countries whose primary interest is in wealth accumulation encourage heroes in movies, war and sports, but not in intellectual development. Super intelligent people manage, but few reach the top of the business or social ladder.

Although it’s definitely a debatable assertion, it’s nonetheless an interesting and controversial idea. What I gather is that the “happiness” the article harps on is grounded on moral values or prioritization that is assigned by society which is implemented and disseminated by the educational system. What society “values” highly: wealth, sports, etc.–are what defines “happiness” or success.

However, is intelligence necessarily anti-thetical to these values? I think there’s an implicit error here in that the article seems to differentiate or dichotomize between reason (intelligence) and emotion (happiness) when there isn’t necessarily a gap between the two. This is very apparent in thus further excerpt:

Children develop along four streams: intellectual, physical, emotional (psychological) and social. In classrooms, the smartest kids tend to be left out of more activities by other children than they are included in. They are “odd,” they are the geeks, they are social outsiders. In other words, they do not develop socially as well as they may develop intellectually or even physically where opportunities may exist for more progress.

Arguably these four “streams” are really just two: mental and physical. And these two streams are really just one: since the brain is a physical organ, and the mental stream encompasses intellect, emotion, and sociology. However by dividing a person into body and mind and the mental into further compartments, on the one hand it may give insight into human motivations, but on the other hand it may also be an excellent excuse for contradictory behavior.

Consider the following statements:

  • “Follow your heart instead of your brain.”
  • “Follow society instead of yourself.”
  • “Follow the right path, regardless of how you feel.”
  • “Follow what makes you happy, instead of what makes sense.”

Although these statements imply varying motivations: all these motivations take place in the mind, and are all still the province of reason/rationality. The contradictions and conflicts implied in these statements all exist in the mind.

The heart doesn’t make decisions–it simply pumps blood. It’s the brain that chooses the emotional route instead of the logical one. And arguably, in this case, the emotional route becomes the logical one for the person who chooses it. Society doesn’t choose for an individual, it’s the individual who values society that chooses to follow soceity’s dictates. The social need is still in the mind. Right or moral path vs. emotion is another version of heart vs. brain. In this case by choosing the right path–you are in effect putting morality as part of your logic or reasoning. What was really in conflict are the choices of what morality to value, not a choice between morality and emotion.

So back to happiness–which is an emotion, which is part of the mind. A happy person isn’t happy because he values certain things (e.g. wealth or the body) above intellect. In reality it is his intellect that produces the emotion–his intelligence that values those things. A sad person isn’t unhappy because he chooses intellect above all things–but perhaps those things his intelligence values are lacking in his life.

Maybe the proper question is not a dichotomy between the mind and happiness–but what kind of happiness the mind is looking for.

Finally–this doesn’t touch yet on that other controversial dichotomy: that of the body (which includes the brain and the mind), and the spirit/soul.

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 Jared Diamond, author of Collapse, gives an interesting talk in TED regarding the reasons why societies collapse. In this talk he describes the story of the Norse society in Greenland which went extinct. He describes a 5 point framework he uses to examine the collapse of human societies:

  • Human Impact On The Environment
  • Climate Change
  • Relationships With Neighboring Friendly Societies
  • Relationships With Hostile Societies
  • Political/Economic/Cultural/Social Factors

One of Professor Diamond’s controversial statements in the talk relates to the tendency for societies to collapse in a rapid fashion:

7:47 One interesting common thread has to do with, in many cases, the rapidity of collapse after a society has reached its peak. There are many societies that don’t wind down gradually but they build up, get rich and more powerful, and then within a short time within a few decades after they have peaked, they collapse.

Professor Diamond’s talk is a timely one especially in light of the economic crisis gripping the globe now and the troubles hitting First World societies in the United States and Europe.

An ecologist, evolutionary biologist and professor of geography and physiology at UCLA, Diamond takes an approach that goes beyond culture and into the impact it has on the environment. As Malcolm Gladwell observes, “Diamond’s distinction between social and biological survival is a critical one, because too often we blur the two.” Diamond’s ability to tackle daunting questions (and pose unsettling answers) in a straightforward voice may be reason enough to share his optimism that recognizing a problem paves the way for solving it.

Going back to his talk, at one point Professor Diamond makes an excellent point about the relationship of values and the consequent collapse of society:

13:37 The other generalization that I want to mention is that it’s particularly hard for a society to make ‘good decisions’ when there is a conflict involving strongly held values that are held good in many circumstances, but are poor in other circumstances.

For example, the Greenland Norse in this difficult environment were held together by for four and half centuries by their sheer commitment to religion and by their strong social cohesion. But those two things: commitment to religion and strong social cohesion also made it difficult for them to change at the end.

Although religion continues its influence in the present time, the best analog to the Norse situation in the present societies in the U.S. and Europe is the strongly held but conflicting beliefs relating to Capitalism and Free Markets–undeniably the locus of today’s crisis. Whether governments should be more active or less active in market dynamics is the strongly debated belief. Understanding this belief in the context of Diamond’s framework might be helpful in seeing a solution to the societal collapse being predicted (as we featured recently by Schiff, Rogers, and co.).

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In 1996, Carl Sagan was interviewed on the Charlie Rose Show where he warned about the dangers of being ignorant of science in an age when society is practically based on science and technology. When the general public is ignorant of science, who makes the decisions on science and technology?

Sagan also describes the proliferation of psuedo-science (e.g. UFOs), superstition, and literal interpretations under religion as problematic to society. He encourages skepticism as a way forward both to accumulate knowledge, and as a way to keep society from self-destructing.


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Pete wrote a good piece in criticism to Zeitgeist Addendum‘s proposal for a resource-based economy, and the movie’s own critique of the failings of the current fiat monetary system.

See that article here. An interesting portion on morality of money:

No system is ever moral (or immoral) – only people are. Our current fiat monetary system is based on a governmental controlled banking cartel but it is not certainly the only option available (see e.g. free banking and Free Choice of Currencies). It is far stretched leap to state that no system will work because our current one is at fault. Money is only a tool, an objective means to ends, in itself it is a neutral carrier like energy that can be utilised to constructive or destructive purposes. (see Francisco’s Money Speech)

To which I offerred my own comments (also viewable in the above article), specifically this portion: (more…)

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