Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Wolves and Dogs, TV, Computers, Stupidity: Domesticated and Dumbed-Down

Wolves are smarter than dogs.

(Actually wait for the laugh: initially I wrote that as 'Wolves are smarter than gods', which occasioned a chuckle or two, and might have been more than just a dyslexic typo.)

Back to wolves. The conclusion from this study is that domestication makes animals stupid.

If I had been kinder I would have said something more cautious than 'stupid', like 'less intelligent', but the bottom line is that domestication apparently suppresses the development of intelligence. The same, so a number of troubling studies have shown, does extensive exposure to TV and computers. There's some evidence that browsing the internet in the manner of a CSI detective following clues to find or uncover some critical item of information—but that's about the best news that comes out of computer and internet use in relation to human intelligence; and even that isn't all as simple and cool as it appears at first sight. The rest of the news, however, is all bad. Generation X may well be the dumbest ever, despite having more information at its fingertips than any that have gone before.

You can see the trend, yes? Computers become more 'intelligent' (as if anybody actually had a concept of what that means!) while people become dumber with each generation. One curve goes up, the other one goes down. Only question is where they'll cross...

The other issue in connection with that dog/wolves study is the whole 'domestication' thing. I mean, what is 'domestication'? Basically it describes what we do to certain creatures' behavior—and physical characteristics; think Chihuahuas!—in order to make them useful to us for our purposes; be it by providing of food, entertainment, companionship, protection or whatever we care to use them for. We would like them to do this without pissing or crapping in our houses, attacking us, running away and generally behaving in ways we consider to be inconvenient to us.

The leap from thinking of the domestication of animals to the domestication of people isn't that great. And when I look around me, I see nothing but domesticated people. Domesticated by civilization. Domesticated of their own free accord—or at least with their tactit, un-considered assent—and getting more so every day I'm watching them.

I know, in many ways it's been that way for a long time. Humans are social creatures, much of our intelligence is derived from our need to handle social interaction(s) and society demands conformity and humans have conformed for a long time; to the point of having this incorporated into their genes. Those who conformed were more likely to survive and breed than those who didn't and so on. So, in a way, one might argue that perhaps I'm just rediscovering the obvious, and what's so new about that?

Well, today's circumstances are different to, say, the ones, 1000 years ago. While then you definitely would have had 'conformance'—think of monotheist religions, which have the greatest conformance requirements—there was ample spiridiversity (diversity of the spirit, similar to 'biodiversity') because of comparatively primitive communications systems. There was also space to expand into; lands to conquer. I know this is un-PC, what with all the 'colonialist' baggage attached to it, but going out and conquering new lands or frontiers and doing what's known as 'pioneering', that's all about not being domesticated; indeed, about going out and searching for places in the world—and this extends to the 'world of the mind', if you will—that do not require one to be domesticated in order to be allowed to exist.

Mind you—and again the parallels between 'physical' and 'mental' pioneering should be obvious—a lot of pioneering was done by people who looked for places where they could establish a domesticated life. But at the time of doing it they weren't domesticated; whether driven by despair or just as sense of adventure, they went out and did undomesticated things. The rest stayed at home. Besides, I'm not sure that those who went 'out there' actually thought of what it all would lead to, but often just wanted to live their lives and care for their families. And 'real' Pioneers seldom think ahead of the world that's to come anyway. The pioneering itself is their adventure; the journey more important than where it leads. Others just make the journey to get somewhere. There's a profound difference between these kinds of people.

It seems to me that the lack of physical expansion space is matched by a general trend for everybody and sundry to work on consolidating and expanding and developing further that which is established. That goes for philosophy in particular, and technology and science exhibit similar trends. 'Art', which tends to consider itself as the place for 'breaking new ground' and opening new vistas and perspectives, certainly hasn't done any pioneering for...well, a long time! It just provides an illusory veneer to deceive ourselves about our domesticated lives and make them seem like something they are not. Meaning that Art's social function is really about 'denial'.

So, are we all becoming more stupid? While, as a species, we acquire more and more information and find out more and more about how things work and hang together, is there nonetheless a fiendish corollary to that, which states that as individuals we are becoming less and less intelligent, flexible, versatile, adaptible and so on?

What a horrific price to pay that would be...

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