Thursday, 7 February 2013

The Allure of Stupidity

The first thing that comes to mind is jokes and similar exercises in humourous cleverness. Quite often I find myself laughing at or making these witty observations, but usually it's more a nervous reflex than anything else. What really exhilarates me, what I instinctively engage in with my girlfriend and what it gives me a sense of almost artistic satisfaction to get laughs from - is good natured displays of utter moronicality.

The second thing is dogs. Meeting a dog anywhere during the day is an exciting and borderline inspirational experience, but the real deal is the dog (formerly dogs) apparently always eagerly awaiting my return at my parents' house. Often, over the years, I would find that my relationships with them were strangely more satisfying and enjoyable in significant ways than my relationships with my friends. I'd always attributed it mainly to their non-judgementalness, but lately I'm thinking it bears more than a coincidental relation to their patent and prodigious stupidity.

Also, treading more dangerous ground now, it might shed some light on what had always seemed to me the rather bizarre and apparently gender-specific phenomenon of girls throwing up their hands and saying "yeah, well, I guess I'm just too dumb for this kind of thing," with a cheeriness that seems to border on pride. It also, possibly, and separately, might explain why some men might find that attractive. Implicitly tired of themselves and of the aggression and deceit their ceaseless self-aggrandisement requires, they might feel some genuine admiration at women "pure" of this corruption. It is, of course, somewhat less heroic when the ignorance is itself feigned or actively maintained for these purposes, but I'm trying to get at a drive that seems to draw people - female as well as male - towards stupidity, independently of the power politics involved.

And then there's children. I'd always enjoyed the company of young children, even when I myself was a young child only a few years their senior. Kids are a lot of things - direct, emotive, truly spontaneous and uncynical (though not exactly innocent) - but what I have only in recent years gradually grown to see as an essential feature of their appeal is the fact that they're enormous idiots.

What I think these paragons of stupidity offer us, and possibly specifically me, is freedom - to paraphrase Robert Pirsig of Zen and the Really Long Book Title - from the Tyranny of Reason.

I think people forget too often that the scientific revolution was essentially anti-intellectual. It said fuck off with your sages and learned and sophisticated treatises and expert casuistry - give me what my eyes see, experience proves, comprehensive criticism leaves intact and the layman basically understands. It's left a paradoxical legacy. On the one hand, we try to be sensible, and generally avoid making overarching pronouncements we can't back up except with the reputation of our intellect. On the other, this proficiency in sensibility - that is to say, in mainly negative knowledge - has itself become the mark of intellect, and as this intellect towers above it gains the same kind of prestige and deference that had created the stagnation in the first place.

I'm probably overcomplicating things because of the hour and because I'm on an anxiolytic that is making me kind of woozy. The bottom line is that there's a difference between utilising reason to get better things out of life and glorifying reasonableness to the point where it becomes a secular religion. If you're using your ostensible reasonableness to try and impress others, or even just yourself, you are not necessarily doing a reasonable thing. What life is composed of and significant for isn't abstract ideas and efficient ways of processing them, or competitions in intelligent conduct - but emotions and the people who feel them.

Needing to be held up to the standard of reasonableness means needing to have your emotions and personality toe an arbitrary line. The importance of being intelligent is the importance of fitting in in what reason - the great unifier - has fashioned as appropriate for most people (or as many of its proponents imply, all real or worthwhile people). Life can only become predictable once people have become programmable.

For my own part, I have used reasoned analysis since almost as long as I can remember myself to drown out my irrelevant emotions and devote myself objectively to the problem at hand. It served me well in school in general and especially in mathematics, which started as my favourite subject and which by a very gradual and interesting process I had weaned myself off completely by graduation. The true believers often speak of the poetry of numbers involved in maths, and I believe them that they see it, but I never did. It was always exclusively the joy of doing well and being told that I was being approved of.

Mathematics is what you might call the purest expression of reason. Maths experts would then be something like the ultimate intelligent guys. I suspect I am not the only one tempted on many occasions to see life as mathematical. It is almost instinctual, in the period in which we live, to try and do the right, the intelligent thing. It is difficult to feel safe without this compliance, because no one is guaranteeing us respect of our emotions and essence, regardless of their reasonableness, even while there is regard of the consequences of our actual actions.

I still try, in stressful situations, to turn off my emotions so that I can figure out the right move. There never is one. There are only moves to perpetuate the rule of a ruthless dictatorship, in futile sycophantism. Orwell said that the quickest way to end a war was to lose it. That seems kind of questionable military strategy advice, but I think it applies here. I need to find a way to get myself exiled without getting executed.

And on a final note, that even manages to tie in - I considered posting this on facebook but then felt that it was too extreme, as well as possibly overkill in terms of the sheer quantity of dramatic announcements, but it's a serious operational problem now that I have resolved to answer truly as to how I am regardless of the "appropriateness" (I think I'm noticing a tendency to write really long sentences when I'm anxious) - I am finding the challenge I'm referring to everywhere here, of trying to go through life without relying on my intelligence to help me fake my way out of conflict, truly fucking terrifying. When people ask me how I am, and even when I ask myself how I am when not actively suppressing everything, the answer is I am scared shitless, and this is what I'm going to be until something gets better. It's a fair bit more dramatic than "sad" or "demotivated" and I'm really not sure how to fit it in conversation.

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