Homo Stupidus: Our Present, Former Or Future Selves?
Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one.
– Charles Mackay, Scottish author, poet, songwriter (1814-1889)
Isn’t it interesting that the same people who laugh at science fiction listen to weather forecasts and economists?
– Kelvin Throop III, fictional science fiction character
One of my greatest pleasures in writing has come from the thought that
perhaps my work might annoy someone of comfortably pretentious position.
Then comes the saddening realization that such people rarely read.
– John Kenneth Galbraith, Canadian economist (1908-2006)
Few are those who see with their own eyes and feel with their own hearts.
– Albert Einstein, physicist and genius (1879-1955)
Man stands in his own shadow and wonders why it is dark.
– Ancient Zen saying
Quite different quotations. Quite different authors from quite different parts of the world and very different periods of time. Yet in the final analysis their messages bear great similarities.
The scientific name for our species, homo sapiens (“thinking man”: the ‘s’ at the end is for both the singular and the plural of this term), was devised by men who think. A large majority of us have no idea of the term’s meaning. Most could care less what it means. Why? Because they do not burden themselves with such inconveniences as thinking.
Any thinking required to be done in their lives is done for them and provided by television, advertising, their employers, their parents or spouses, sometimes their children.
Those who define our species think. Even they can’t be trusted however. With rare exceptions they all consider humans the most intelligent species on the planet. None have considered who devised the rules for the evaluation, whether the “winners” might be biased in their own favour, or whether the definition applied to every one of their species or just to a limited few. None consulted any other species for their opinions on the matter. They couldn’t because we can’t communicate with any of them.
We consider any other species of living thing that cannot speak our kind of language to be inferior, despite the fact that we cannot communicate with more than a couple other species ourselves and only with them in a very basic and inadequate manner. For 50 years we have been searching for extra-terrestrial intelligent beings, yet even SETI scientists believe that most beings more intelligent than ourselves would avoid us once they learned a bit about us.
We consider ourselves the epitome of development of living beings, despite that fact that most humans are capable of doing virtually nothing that any other animal on earth can do. Other than eat, poop and reproduce. Or that any plant can do, as every green plant creates oxygen we use to survive. Until very recently, with genetic engineering and nanotechnology, we created nothing, we only transformed what already existed.
In North America, barely six percent of us read more than three books per year. And that’s generous because most people who don’t read won’t admit it to researchers. Many of the people who do read several books a year read on topics related to their occupations or about vocations they aspire to enter one day. Check the records of any public library to see how few people actually check out books they can read free, how many books the “readers” check out and what kinds of books they read. With the exception of students and others doing research papers, most nonfiction books collect dust on library shelves. Nonfiction means learning something new, whereas fiction allows readers to escape into other lives and places. For many of us, studying something new is verboten once we leave school.
In most countries that hold democratic elections, barely half of eligible voters cast ballots, often less. Exceptions include votes on hot button issues, elections where voters want to get rid of the old guard and constituencies where voting is compulsory. Why so few votes cast when everyone enjoys this right? In many cases people who do not vote claim that “They’re all the same” or “It won’t make any difference anyway.” Ask those people what names they would expect to see on the ballots and what the candidates stand for and you rarely get an answer that makes sense.
Those of us who vote elect governments based on promises, usually promises of prosperity and more jobs. Both of these are extremely difficult for government to do and impossible to do without raising taxes, which voters don’t like. Even though we know our government will never keep their promises, we continue to hope and vote accordingly.
The more “progressive” the democracy, the more debt load individual free citizens carry. In many cases, people pay twice the price of a big ticket item they buy due to interest rates on money they borrowed to buy it. A shocking number of people owe debts to credit card companies they cannot possibly ever repay because they can barely afford the minimum monthly payment.
But they look good. They drive the right cars. They live in the right neighbourhoods and belong to the right organizations.
Unless you work in your own home, look around you on the way to work and think about what is going on in the heads of the people making the same daily trek you are. Spend a bit of time watching people in the supermarket where you shop to see if what they are doing makes sense to you. Seriously, but take your time because stupid behaviour doesn’t happen quickly. Watch people drive around the parking lot in a mall looking for the closest entrance, then walk for hours when they get inside. Compare what you see to what you would observe when watching an ant colony or a bee hive before you decide which species is the smartest.
Listen to conversations of people around you, no matter where they may take place. See how many of them involve any subject other than the weather or something they saw or could see on television. The most popular television stations in North America are the weather channels. Yet it’s rare to see someone with an umbrella on a rainy day and common to see people with light shoes and no hats walking on snowy sidewalks in blowing weather.
Think about the people you have met over the past month. Have any of them asked you even one question that was not work related that would help them to learn something new? Intelligent thinking people ask questions.
That’s the way it is today. What was it like in the past? Many people tend to believe that the world they live in is getting worse as they get older. It’s not. They simply have not studied history enough to know that people were just as stupid, as violent, as careless and as ignorant of what they should know about life in the past as they are today. In fact, likely mores so than today. At least today we have more education worldwide to give us a basis on which to think.
Do conditions today predict anything for the future? In the past diseases and wars kept population levels down. Both of these factors are more limited today than at any time in the past. China, with the largest population in the world, limiting its population indicates that it will change its own future. If other countries take their future survival and health seriously–few do at present–the world may reach sustainable and manageable levels of population, pollution and resource management. Odds are that a massive die-off of people, perhaps related somehow to a failure of electronic technology on a global scale causing stock market crashes, less likely due to disease, will cause us to come together as nation members of one world community to take it’s future seriously.
A massive shock of some sort is necessary to bring people around to thinking of the future in global terms rather than of their own present desires and pleasures. As uncontrolled as our world is at present, the shock is a certainty though its nature is in doubt.
Until that shock happens, we don’t have enough “thinking men” among us to effect real and lasting change. The shock might come from our atmosphere and our water. As we debate global warming and climate change–who cares if the global temperature rises by half a degree in 50 years?–our industries continue to pour thousands of poisons into our air and our water. While we call them “greenhouse gases.” That’s the air we breathe and the water that keeps us alive. Darwin’s claim that the most adaptable will survive crises will be tested. Check out the kinds of poisons industries are subjecting us and our children to.
Can we teach more of our people to think? Ask the teachers. They are the ones saddled with the impossible task of teaching children to think while working under such hobbling conditions most teachers could never make it happen. Our education systems are designed to produce consumers and employees, and they do it well. Ask any child why he or she should stay in school and get a good education and the answer will almost always be “to get a good job.” Never “to have a better life.” Jobs mean income to buy stuff our industries produce.
Real change can only happen in schools and homes. Real change in homes will be tough because we do not teach young people what they need to know to be good parents.
Education is the answer. Now, do you remember the question?
Bill Allin is the author of Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today’s Epidemic Social Problems, a guidebook for teachers and parents who want to effect real change in homes and schools so their children will be able to adapt to what life will throw at them in the future.
Learn more at http://billallin.com