................. ...............commentary


................(from 12.3.05)
.....About Intelligence

.....& Some Dubious Advice…



A YOUNG acquaintance of mine once asked me what I thought 'intelligence' was. (I don't think he was mocking this website - or referring to those clandestine services that run governments). But it got me wondering…

First though, in case anyone is under the impression I hadn't noticed, I well know that what I write often come across as opinionated and arrogant - and maybe not very intelligent. Good! I'm not looking to become PM or to killing hundreds of thousands of civilians in some other country… so a low IQ is just fine. But one of the reasons I don't correct this is because I hope people might tell me where they think I'm off track. In the interest of avoiding delusion I'm always ready to be slapped down, challenged, argued with or otherwise proved wrong - and corrected - should anyone bother to make the effort. And if they do, well then I might learn something.

To learn of better alternatives means that I'll have failed, as usual, to spot something; and even if I haven't, most issues benefit from re-examination. If I was strictly honest, I'd qualify much of what I say with a 'perhaps' or a 'maybe'; but then these essays would become more tiresome than ever.

To me INTELLIGENCE is a measure of the ability to make the most of a situation. When I say 'the most' I mean taking everything into account. For instance, you might be able to swindle someone less 'intelligent', but if they're poorer than you then what good would that do you bearing in mind the cost to your conscience and subsequent contentment?

I put 'intelligent' in inverted commas because someone easily swindled may not necessarily be less intelligent. And 'intelligent' exploitation of someone (or of natural resources) can lead to repercussions no-one anticipated, thereby rendering the exploitation stupid or inept - as can prove true in big revolutions, for instance.

When someone starting out in the 'world of work' asks me my opinion of it all I always know what to say. Which is fine because words are usually ephemeral and make little impact when compared with experience. When I was a youth I kind of followed my nose - I simply pursued what interested me (tough though it sometimes might have been - getting up at 06.30 to be at the lab, say, 18-miles away by 08.00). The usual problem for young people, I guess, is that they perceive ahead a complex world of thousands of possibilities - strewn with pitfalls and sharks. Who wouldn't wonder what the hell to make of it? Who wouldn't puzzle over what path best to take, whether to dive-in and hope you can swim or to flee (as I eventually did)?

(nicked from Banksy)

I wonder how many young people feel stuck in something that fails to grab their interest - and fear it never will, but are scared to get out? They only have to remember that poignant little quote from Shaw: 'Make sure you do what you like, or you'll end up liking what you do.' But if nothing else seizes their attention, not even slightly, then maybe they should stay on track - even if at the end of it they decide to opt-out and do something completely different, or even become a dropout, a professional 'Idler' (as I did! - with absolutely no regrets).

There's no shortage of drop-outs, though the sharpest ones are likely to embark on some weird activity which ignites their passion, and which might or might not provide a living, or else they go trekking around the world, or indulge in some art or other - even (shudder!) writing.

The trouble most of us have is pressure. I avoided this by being 24 (instead of 18), when I went to polytech, and was actually interested in what I was there to learn about. But there's pressure from what people think of us, especially family, who for some odd reason we want to please - and friends, who for even odder reasons we want to impress. And there's pressure from the prospect of having to get on our own feet and survive in a cutthroat world.

What, you might ask, will people think if you chuck a course or career you're on - which you've decided isn't your idea of a good time - and instead do a six-month stint in some grotty factory for a thousand quid, then slope off around the world on a shoestring for a couple of years (or forever, as some do - I've actually met them)? My answer is: to hell with what people think; let them work on their own affairs!

Above all, you might ask yourself where what you're doing now is leading you, or most crucially: is it leading towards or away from contentment? What will you think you should have done when you're 56!!!! (Yow… 56 already!) and look back on this period of your life?

We are young only once; time happens only once, then is gone forever - (this is tiresomely obvious, but can't be reflected on too often… it's all just so fleeting). So what best to do with this precious time of ours?

Not many people can give a straight answer. Each life is an experiment. Most make mistakes. I could list a few of mine, but apart from accepting 'servitude' till the age of 40, they are trivial: I've never done anything challenging, for instance; so my experience wouldn't help anyone. And because we are individuals with different backgrounds and aspirations, we each see the same situation differently. Besides, we all have to get our own experience. I think if people separated from their family for five years, from age 18 to 23, say, and 'did their own thing' unobserved by anyone they previously knew, then people might feel freer to pursue what really suits them.

What happened for me is as follows (I've said some of this before or elsewhere): I hated school, right from the age of five. I hated the teachers, the buildings, the noise, the smell, the atmosphere, the whole hideous duff situation of it. I was bored, felt confined and found the madness of 30 kids stuck in a classroom 6-hours a day utterly incongruous and stupid. In my last year I played truant most of the time: in those days you could leave at 15, so I effectively left at 14. If I was back there now, I'd 'leave' at 12 or even before - I'd probably refuse to go in the first place!

I am totally in favour of de-schooling. School is a mechanism - and here is the essence of my view of Man's world as it is - to enforce the status-quo and produce factory and office fodder for corporate enterprise, so that City bignuts (the middle and upper classes - and Fascist Washington) can maintain and enhance the slave-grip they have on us, the masses.

So far as I can tell, most people think I'm loopy to reason like this, but that's how I see it nonetheless.
(Reflecting on appearing loopy: since growing my hair long again for the winter, people have again started treating me with more respect - or whatever word describes that detached politeness reserved for those who appear weird or eccentric - or maybe just old!).

Yes, I was a slave, a higher-level slave than some, lower-level than others, in the great corporate machine we live under. We nearly all serve the great machine - recognition of this is partly why I opted out (though I'm still entwined to some extent - how can one not be?).

I don't regret studying electronics. I do regret, though, not having a greater affinity then for literature - for the wonderful stuff that I never realised even existed till I was over 30, and to this day am still discovering. Much of the electronics I studied is timeless, but some is well out of date, and I've largely lost interest. But I was keen at the time - it was like a youthful passion.

That was before politics or social matters or ‘real’ literature had come to my attention. One thing though, if they'd taught electronics at school, I'd have hated it like most else there. And one of the reasons I went to polytechnic and took a degree course was because I felt that my dad's taxes that were supposed to pay for my education had been wasted - I hadn't received a proper education - and that the system owed me several years which I hadn't had - or which had been below standard.

When I took exams, I didn't care, beyond progression to the next year, how well I did. And in the final year I didn't much care whether I passed or not. But as I said, I liked the subject; I was intrigued by it - the bright ideas, the techniques, the tricks, the devices, and those mathematical gymnastics - particularly for wave-guides. I just revelled in the ingenuity of it all - think what electronics can do? Even back in the 70s it was impressive. Nowadays, it's vastly more so. To look ahead presents a mind-blowing extravaganza, an endless series of improbable dreams - and it's bound to move into optics, another great sphere for the imagination.

But that's all materialistic surface stuff and is just for fun. It doesn't really count for much when it comes to what makes one happy inside. Gadgets soon get tiresome, unless they're continually useful like mobile phones and computers and kitchen stuff - which we soon take for granted like tap-water.

But do these things make us significantly happier than we would be without them? I think: probably not. To be happy, we need other people, and to follow our true deepest feelings - intellect should be used as a tool that assists our intuitive, emotional, artistic side, not the other way round as is so often the case.

If - unlike me - you find no conflict with the 'world of work', then you can freely do what pleases you: study mythology - or electronics, like me - and make a living in society as it is.
Otherwise, you might need to take more notice of your intuitive side: your feelings, your inside self. To see what this tells, you must either instinctively know for certain what to do - or at least what not to do, now, next or soon - or else, if you don't know, then you should consider your feelings until you do know fairly clearly what to do. This could take years of mulling over the problem - in the meantime you have to kind of mark-time somehow, until you are fairly sure. This could take weeks but it could drag out for years during which you can maybe take a course in some subject you think you might enjoy and begin a career - and (as Shaw so astutely observed) get to like what you do - or better still, maybe, slope off into whatever activity or non-activity that pleases you.

About two years before I last worked full-time, when I was in fact 39 - that's 17 years ago - I decided (over a year or so) that I had to get out. I wasn't sure what I would do - travel most probably - but I knew for certain that I had to extricate myself from the comfortable 'rut' I was in, and where I could have 'contentedly' lingered till retirement at 60. I say 'contentedly' in quotes because materially and socially I was and would have remained contented. But spiritually, or regarding my sense-of-living, sense-of-freedom, sense-of-being-alive and in the world, I would have felt dead, finished, contingent. I realised I had to do something - lazy and incompetent though I knew myself to be - and I was spurred by some things I read: Hesse, Kerouac, Kafka's 'Amerika'…. etc.

Returning to intelligence… (I'm afraid this essay is all over the place!). I think intelligence is connected with memory. For me, memory depends on loads of things. For instance, with a little prompting I can recall loads of detail from any particular day I choose of the 6-months I spent in the US back in '89 (Or the 3-months in Aussie in '91). All I need is to glance into the little 'Woolworths' diary in which I recorded no more than my location each day, and a map of the US (or Aussie), and suddenly it all comes back - the scenery, the weather, the people I met… even, it seems, the smells: of the wood-pulp factories in Georgia, the sulphurous geysers of Jellystone! (or Yellowstone - to anyone unfamiliar with Yogi Bear), or the curious orb-spider-strewn springs of Mataranka in Northern Territory, Aussie.

Also, if I read or hear of something that reminds me of some detail I read in a book even years ago, I can usually find that book (maybe after a few minutes of thought), locate the page (from memory of how the book felt when I was reading the section in question - and memory of how the page looked, the paragraph layout etc), and there it will be. I can usually do this without much trouble, and yet I never give any thought - or rarely do - to deliberately remembering.

But ask me to post a letter, ask me to remember a list of things, and the entire issue will slip from my mind within seconds; though a swift prompt will probably enable me to recall a list. I'm always forgetting things, leaving things behind when I go here or return to there. Only when I make a deliberate effort to remember something - such as a library book - do I stand a chance of taking it with me (and even then I have to keep reminding myself).

Same too for anything I'm not really interested in, which (I'm reluctant to admit) includes people's names. My memory lets me down constantly - even sometimes on how to solve some mathematical problem (which is why I put store in understanding, and being able to work from first principles).

Compared with many people, and if memory comes into it, my intelligence is pretty low. In conversation I often can't recall the most trifling detail, which I'll know well enough but just can't dredge-up - this is common enough. Yet some people have no trouble in this area, and are usually employed in jobs like: politician! Then they go and vote in favour of bombing to death 100,000 innocent people at the cost to you and me of £7bn, and in the process place all our lives at risk due to the possibility of reprisals. Then they create draconian laws that make our society perilous - any of us could be dragged off to jail for no apparent reason (just because some 'intelligence' nut receives flawed or malicious data). And finally we stew in the nick for several years while some altruistic and resourceful human-rights lawyer fights for our freedom. So now, what's intelligent?

Of course, I think I'm intelligent to get the hell out of the stinking system that I'm always criticising, but which sustains me so well - through other people's enslavement. This last remark makes me a hypocrite. And that in turn should - not sure if it does - bother my conscience. I really don't know where I stand when it comes to intelligence, because in some ways I reckon I'm a genius compared with other people, while in other ways I'm a hopeless dolt. There's much more I could do to make my life more interesting - if I wasn't so lazy.

As for capability, a few lucky sods are just good at anything they try. Most people, though, can only be good at something if they choose to be, if they practice at it.  I don't think intelligence comes into it except that the more intelligent one is, the less effort that's needed to achieve a certain level of competence. More important is motivation. If I was a magic genie and said, 'Learn to do so-and-so, and in a year if you pass my test I'll grant you ten wishes.' You'd probably learn to do so-and-so brilliantly within months.

After I left polytech, I went for some high-level jobs - four of them. Not surprisingly, with my usual half-hearted approach, I failed to clinch any. Then some nerd whose opinion I respected at the time persuaded me to take a stab at teaching. My first (and as it turned out CORRECT) reaction was to cringe at the idea. But then I stupidly reflected that being a student was a fine life (and so it was), so I applied to what struck me as one of the most desirable locations in the UK: Bath University.

When someone once described me as having 'flourished' because I did OK at college and so on, I felt both amused and ashamed - and maybe misunderstood too. I confess my past naïveté has made me seem a passive conformer - which to an extent I have been in an inert sort of way. Whereas in truth, I'm deeply embarrassed when I look back at how I was so thick, how there was a time when I actually thought - despite my own implacable experience - that the Education System was concerned with children's welfare and erudition… and too a time when I felt I should be grateful to an employer for recruiting me (considering a company's obligation to shareholders, such a perception is clearly absurd). What disgusting twaddle must have been circulating in my brain in those days! And there's no excuse, not ignorance, preoccupation or anything - because it's all there for anyone to see. Whatever level of intelligence I have now, I'm quite astonished at how low it was then.

But I've learned one or two things since those times. And although, like most people, I've moved through several strange protracted transitions over the course of my life (after all, isn't that partly what life's about?), things have turned out quite well for me and I'm reasonably contented these days - even if I am somewhat hard-up for dough.

But I'd better stop here. It's late: time to hit the sack!