I read something the other day that I was going to be sure to remember because I wanted to use it in a post. I've forgotten the line and even the source for the moment, though both are buzzing about just above my right ear, a pair of factsquitoes daring me to capture them. It'll come to me.
The gist of the thing was simply this: cleverness is not wisdom.
When I was a lad I was sharp as a tack and clever as hell. My Mom taught me to read before I marched off to Kindergarten. Kindergarten was kind of a trial though because "lesen war streng verboten!" Kindergarten was for learning your letters, numbers and colors. First Grade was for learning to read.
So I rebelled. I don't remember planning to rebel, I just decided I wasn't going to play their firetrucking game. So I was advanced to first grade (you can't fail kiddygarder, right?) with a black mark and an annotation. "This little shit don't know his numbers, colors, or letters."
They put me in the retard reading section. Until one day when the teacher accidentally came to work sober and noticed that I was reading the grownup encyclopedias.
She thought I was pretending, but being unusually unintoxicated and able to string a few coherent concepts together she determined to make an investigation. Just like Stu and Jeff in 77 Sunset Strip. So she asked me to read a passage, and I did so. Something about the rape of Nanking, as I recall. I read the passage with even more skill and articulation than Mrs. Elkins, the fifth grade teacher and acknowledged brain of the institution, could muster.
So I was let out of retard reading and given homework. A bad tactical move on my part, but thus are the seeds of wisdom planted (to lay dormant for many, many years in my case).
Where, you are surely wondering, is this moron going with this?
Sarge opined today that most of the world is populated by average, C students. This got me to thinking about an unpublished draft post on the topic (more or less) which has not as yet made like Jeff Bridges in Tron. Yes, I know, bad analogy. Just imagine Bridges escaping the standalone computer to the information superhighway, which algore had yet to invent when Tron came out in 1982. Tron II, perhaps.
Now where the firetruck was I?
First principle of humanity. If the first principle is more than a platitude, if it's a self evident truth and all men are created equal, then how is it possible that some people are smarter than other people?
We know for a fact that some people are smarter than others, right? I mean, everybody knows that. Some people are really smart -- smart enough to be brain scientists and rocket surgeons and drug empire kingpins.
And some people are really dumb, with only enough brain juice to scrub floors or dig ditches or stack lumber.
If you believe that all men are created equal, the fact that some people are smart and some are dumb presents a bit of a problem. If you also think that the unexamined life is not worth living, then perhaps you find (or have found) yourself in the same position as I, compelled to revisit a deeply held belief and determine whether it stands up or not.
In light of the smart-dumb divide, my personal belief that all men are created equal looks kind of shaky. Maybe I need to double check my understanding of the basic terms. Perhaps I've made an error here; perhaps there's a difference between what I know and what I think I know.
It's easy to get confused and think that equal means identical. But it doesn't. There's a difference between equal and identical, and if I'm saying equal but meaning identical, I might be a tad off course.
When I think about the phrase "all men are created equal," the only way it makes sense is if it's defining "men" as human beings, and "all men" as the sum of the mass of humanity. That the people who make up that mass of humanity are, each and every one, equally, fundamentally, human beings.
This means that there are no men who belong to some other non-human group; no men who are actually frogs or skyscrapers or pomegranates. There are no men who are protohuman, or "almost but not quite" human. No men who are posthuman, upgraded or advanced beyond human. No men are "better" humans, and none are "worse" humans. All men are the same basic model, Homo sapiens, period dot.
All men are equally human, but all men are not identical humans.
You don't have to look very hard to see that people are not identical. If you look very closely, you will find that each human is an absolutely unique individual. No two humans are, have ever been, or ever will be, identical.
This is a paradox, isn't it? How can humans be equal if each and every human is different than each and every other human?
Well, "equal" and "identical" are very different things. Equal means being the same in quantity or size or degree or value. Identical means similar in every detail, exactly alike.
So all men can be equally fundamentally human (endowed by their creator -- each and every one, with natural rights) while at the same time being unique individuals rather than cookie cutter copies.
Are we good so far?
Dumb and dumber
We know an awful lot about the human brain, and we're learning more and more all the time. But as much as we know, we're essentially in the same boat as the ancient chemists. They tried very hard to do chemistry but had only four elements to work with -- air, water, earth, and fire. Their big 18th century breakthrough was phlogiston, but they were as misguided on that as Fleischmann and Pons were on cold fusion. The olden chemists hadn't yet made the fundamental discoveries that led to atomic theory and the periodic table. Thus far, we modern humans find ourselves in a similar boat, having yet to unlock the fundamental principles of the brain.
Why do some people become terrorists? Why do some mothers kill their children? Why are some people honest and principled? Why will mobs rush to do good things, and just as quickly rush to do bad things? The questions are endless, and our only answers are, "we don't know, but it's got to have something to do with phlogiston."
Since we really don't understand the brain at all, how is it that we can so smoothly and confidently assign levels of smart and dumb -- levels of intelligence -- to our fellow humans?
The answer is that we can't. which doesn't mean we don't do it all the time. But doing it and being correct are different kettles of fish.
I suspect that if we knew and understood enough about the brain we could probably place every human at a discrete point on an intelligence line, from less intelligent to more intelligent. But, and this is the important bit, I'm confident that the difference, the distance from least to most, would be so small as to be utterly insignificant.
In other words, all men are, to any practical extent at all, equally intelligent.
Now I'm talking about normal, or undamaged men. Those who haven't suffered or are not suffering some form of brain damage.
I know, I know. There's that one dumb guy who can't do anything right. There's the woman (might as well be an equal opportunity stereotyping slanderer) who can't balance a checkbook. There are people who aren't smart enough to go to college or to pass the ASVAB (do they still have that?) or to graduate high school.
And then there is IQ this and multiphasic that and endless papers and studies that claim to rank individual intelligence on some scale or other.
A couple of problems there. No one has yet come up with a comprehensive and testable definition of intelligence. In general, intelligence is the ability to reason, imagine and predict, problem solve, weigh and evaluate evidence, plan, modify plans based on reasoned assessment of evidence, and so on and so forth. The ability to figure stuff out, figure out what to do, and figure out how to do stuff.
We don't know how to measure that objectively. Every measure of intelligence we use or talk about is based on some subjective proxy measurement, most often a demonstrated ability to comprehend and manipulate information based on certain subjectively chosen language and symbology sets.
And that doesn't tell you anything at all about intelligence. It only tells you whether or not the subject demonstrates subjectively defined behavior.
In other words, it doesn't tell you anything about whether the subject can read the sentence or understand the phrase or solve the math problem. It just tells you whether they've done those things in a particular test. Not doing those things does not prove that the subject cannot do them, nor does it prove that the subject lacks the intelligence to do them.
In my own personal experience I've found myself saying "screw this, I can't do my times tables or world geography or spelling or physics or trig or calculus or sestinas or statistics. There's no way I can learn to see sick call or to snatch an appendix or assess and treat cardiac arrest. No way I can understand how you take suck-squeeze-burn-blow and turn it into rotors go round and round."
Yet I've done all of those impossible things, and more.
"Well," you might say, "of course, you're smart. You're smarter than dumb people, who, through no fault of their own -- poor little beggars -- cannot do those things because they lack the intelligence to do so."
However, and again in my personal experience, I've seen people who've never been anywhere or done anything and appear to be barely capable of dressing themselves or of following the simplest of instructions go on to learn and master subjects which we generally believe exist exclusively in the realm of the really, really smart.
In my mind, it's not about intelligence or lack of intelligence. It's about doing. I see no evidence whatsoever that some humans are smart and some are dumb. What I've seen time and again leads me to believe with a very high level of confidence that we've all got the same basic kit of intelligence. Period.
A lot of very "smart" people get confused there. Well, actually they don't get confused, because they choose to believe that the "all men created equal" jazz is a bunch of bullshit. They take the position that they and those with whom they most closely identify are superior forms of human. In their world it's perfectly logical that superhumans should be able to reflexively and instinctively categorize individual levels of humanity and determine what is absolutely and universally best for the untermenschen.
It's nothing new. Humans have been doing that for thousands of years.
And I'd suggest that that's generally the case even here in the shining city on the hill. We are surrounded by a majority of people who would (and probably will) blindly follow Clump or Trillary into the hell of a new dark age. That doesn't frighten me personally, for my place in Valhalla has long been reserved. It breaks my heart though, especially when I consider the hell this nation is visiting upon its children.
In every public school across the land they are teaching children monstrous lies, equal to and often exceeding the lies taught in Nazi schools. Racists have a particular skin color and their affliction is permanent and untreatable. A rat is a pig is a dog is a boy. Cause and effect are subjective manifestations of sexism. Facts are inhumane. A boy is a girl is a twitch in the lower spine is a small block Chevy. There is only one true path to enlightenment, and hate of the non-favored "other" is the breath of life. Absolute truth lives at koobecaf, and whackopaedia is the new holy ko-ran. It's the firetrucking Lord of the Flies. The land of feral children.
And now we have 36 year-old babes leaving adult daycare and entering the world for the first time, running pitter-patter-pitter-patter-PING into every fan they see, crushed and despairing of the unfairness of it all and continually swamped by waves of heretofore unimaginable reality. And we have older and younger people who know better but who choose to open their ears to the siren song of self importance and side-superiority. It's a hell of a mess.
What to do, what to do
And now that I've harshed your mellow, let me take a page from Pandora's playbook and remind you that we have a choice in the matter. We can give in to despair and allow ourselves to rot from within, or we can roll up our sleeves, take up the task, and strive. Where there is life there is hope, and hope is not a political slogan.
The way forward is to live the first principle. To embrace and love the humanity of your fellows, to seek always to treat human beings as an end only, and never as a means to an end.
You won't be perfect in this. I won't be perfect in this. No one will be perfect. Nonetheless, it is the only path that leads to success, the only way to achieve the promise of our human potential.
And at the end of the day, it's not a job for others to do.
That is all.