07 December 2008

Humans: Just Smart Enough to be Stupid

Regardless of what breathless news anchors try to sell you, humans are not living in special times. Human societies have always been in turmoil politically, religiously, economically. Despite the "lessons of Mumbai", human violence was much greater in the past, human suffering much more widespread. Humans have been closer to the brink of destruction, and the environment of Earth has been in greater danger in times past.

Humans are no smarter than in the past, although the wider availability of nutrients and micronutrients has made it easier for more people to be as smart as they are likely to get. Market economics on a broader scale has made the bounty of multi-specialised human effort inexpensive enough to stock in the stores of every country that allows its citizens to trade relatively free of corrupt and official extortion.

Governments can create an atmosphere of freedom and security from violence and fraud, which allows a market economy to flourish. But it is important for governments to maintain a "hands-off" posture except where necessary to ensure valid contracts, patents, copyrights, and standards. When government goes beyond the minimal support of a free market, in an attempt to "drive the economy," problems will begin to crop up.

Unfortunately, many smart humans assume that governments not only can drive the economy, but believe that governments should do so. These humans -- some of them Nobel Laureates -- believe that affluence and prosperity derive directly from the governmental organisations they have devoted their best efforts to.

If even the smartest of humans make such an elementary mistake, what are the rest of humans to think? Particularly when an army of lackeys in the media, the academy, and the bureaucracies stand ready to propagate, amplify, and implement into policy the pronouncements of these "smart but not wise" human authorities.

Once again, governmental and inter-governmental leaders are falling into the trap that so frequently catches persons of power: the pretence of knowledge. Wielding their pretence of knowledge like a bloody club, these leaders are willing to beat down all objections to their most destructive proposals and "reforms". Basking in the glow of pseudo-knowledge, they are perceived by lesser beings as actually being wise.

Smart people can as easily be fools, as anyone else. Particularly when they start believing their own press releases. At that point, the smart person becomes a fool falling down a vicious spiral of self-delusion. For such a person, wisdom would involve knowing when to stop. But wisdom is not usually involved, only fragile self-regard. The person -- and everyone dependent upon him -- get carried along with the flow.

The people soon to be in control of the strongest and wealthiest nation on the planet, believe that they can legislate and administer prosperity and affluence. Starting with that failed premise, there is no combination of "smart people" who will be able to help them succeed. Anyone who thinks otherwise is suffering a common but fatal delusion.

Smarter people might help to limit the damages of such policies of designed failure. More likely, the prospect of failure will merely feed into the delusional cycle which these smart people are trapped within. They will believe that too much has been invested to express doubt, to turn back. Having experienced so much early success in their lives, and having been told how special they are, they will feel obligated to follow through -- until it will be too late to change course, even if they had the will.

Smart people, behaving stupidly. It happens every day. This time, the consequences are likely to be severe for everyone who depends upon the global economy.

If you are positioned so as to be able to take advantage of local or regional prosperity -- which is organised so as to be viable during an international financial crisis -- do what is necessary to assure the soundness of the fallback economy. It is from such pockets of local and regional prosperity that a larger-scale prosperity will be able to establish itself in recovering from the folly of the incoming leadership.

Humans will continue to be smart enough to be stupid, until they stop. You may think that wisdom is the missing ingredient, but that is only partly true. Wisdom is a verb, not a noun, and it is a moving target. Wise people have evolved to an enlightenment which suits a particular environment, or range of environments. Environments change, often drastically. Neither a smart nor a wise person should be complacent. Take care of the essentials first. Then work outward from there, systematically. That is a basic wisdom that is not likely to change, for most environments you may fall into.

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“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act” _George Orwell

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