Friday, May 06, 2005

Degeneration Part III

In part one of this series I attempted to build the case that mankind may in fact be deteriorating in mental capabilities. My arguments are not conclusive and maybe not even convincing but I believe that they are at least worthy of consideration.

I concentrated in part two on the potential that we have experienced a physical and genetic decline as well. I am the first to admit that my points relating to this statement are indeed open to dispute. This is especially true if one looks only to scientific data, or if you attribute modern ailments to our environment, lifestyle and circumstances. I admit that these obviously play a part.

The full articulation and possible proof of my second supposition is obviously in need of a scientific proof is it is to be debated on scientific terms. I have yet to find such a proof and I have not even found anyone in science exploring the possibility, at least not in the terms I described. It is possible that if our science relating to the human genome project is correct that we may, after collecting sufficient samples of current, future and past humans we may be able to ask and answer this question scientifically.

My third justification relating to the degeneration of mankind would relate to society and government. I suspect that at the outset this justification will receive carte blanche rejection. We are taught in school of social evolution, that is societies learn from the past and get better over time.

I do not discount this as being a real and valid occurrence. We do, often but not always, learn from the past. Like I have stated previously knowledge is simply accumulated learning. I merely suggest that social evolution as we define it really occurs in tow forms. That is evolution, or betters when societies use good wisdom and degeneration when societies use poor wisdom.

Let me digress for a moment. I believe that just how smart a person of society really is can be accounted for in three categories; intelligence, knowledge and wisdom.

Intelligence is the ability to process data, create new thoughts, adapt knowledge and rationalize. It is really the raw computing power, in and of itself it is rather useless.

Knowledge is the sum of all a person or society has learned. Knowledge builds over a lifetime and it is passed from generation to generation. Generally, older people and later generations have advantages. Knowledge can, however, be lost or forgotten.

Wisdom is the most crucial of all the factors that make up how smart a person or society really is. Wisdom is the most misunderstood of all the attributes I am here describing.

Many confuse wisdom with accumulated knowledge. We may believe that the older among us are wise just because they have experienced more. This is a fallacy; their wisdom may be impure or lacking entirely.

Wisdom is really the mechanism that enables us to us the intelligence and knowledge we have and make the right decisions. Conversely, if wisdom is impure then we make wrong decisions. (I will elaborate on the concept that impure wisdom exists later in this series)

These three components are not equal. In computer terms intelligence is the processor, knowledge is the database and wisdom is the software. Lower intelligence may force a person to make decisions slower and preclude the creation of some new ideas but it is not a limiting factor for most people. Knowledge is also not a limiting factor. The lack of data is not a stumbling block if a person has the ability to realize they do not know something and thus encourage them to go and learn it.

Wisdom however is of primary importance. Wisdom, helps us form the questions. It helps us analyze the data. It directs the efforts of the processor. It is the foundation of all we do. Where we derive our wisdom from, it would seem is of key importance.

So back to my point that societies and society in general is in decline. If we accept that wisdom above all else is key in right decision making and if we further accept that there is such a thing as right and wrong wisdom for individuals we can proceed to dissect the argument concerning societies. After all societies are merely a reflection of the individuals that make them up.

A mistake made by many novice history students is the assumption that history repeats itself. This is not true. Patterns do exists, human nature when put into similar circumstances produces similar results in particular equations. But history does not repeat.

We may look and find analogies, similarities and points of intersection. We look at these events, data really, and process the data with our intelligence but the lessons we take away from each event is really based upon the wisdom that we have.

This is the real quandary with the study of history and my proposition that society is in decline. If one looks at the past and applies the wrong software in the analysis of the data it is obvious that the wrong conclusions will be reached. (this is the crux of the problem with our public schools. It is not that they teach things wrong in terms of revisionist history. The real problem is that they reinforce impure wisdom)

Another point that must be made is the assumption, often taught to students of history, that we cannot apply our morals and values to societies and cultures of a different time and place. This may be true for values but certainly not for morals.

By morals I mean universal truths. To be certain we often confuse modern concepts as universal morals. Christians do this as well and non-Christians. In this sense it is true to state that we cannot apply our sense of right and wrong to past and distant civilizations.

However, we can and must apply a universal concept of morality to all societies if we are to ever determine if societies in general are in decline. I am slowly slipping into my points for later discussion at this point and I must redirect my thoughts to the matter at hand. Let us just assume for now that there is some sort of universal moral law (yes just bear with me on this point, I will attempt to articulate my view of this in philosophical terms directly, but not just now.)

If the reader can allow me the leeway to avoid a lengthy discussion of morality at this juncture I am rather certain that the first counter argument presented would go thusly. Hey, take a look at the Aztecs, they performed human sacrifice. What of the Spartans, they essentially oppressed an entire population into a regimented lifestyle. Or maybe, how could you say that we have declined socially, we have moved from absolute rule to the social contract.

Good points, recall however that I admitted above that two forces are at play. People and societies have the option of using their intellectual and mental abilities as they wise. Some societies have stood out at points of light, anomalies really, for brief periods of time. Others have degenerated at rates faster than other societies that are their contemporaries. We as individuals are not bound to a linear path of advancement or retreat in this regard. We can individually and/or collectively decide to move in directions contrary to the world around us and even contrary to the march of time and history.

Social evolution does indeed take place. It is controlled by the three factors of intelligence, knowledge and wisdom described above and is really a collective of the individuals in the society. Social evolution is influenced at various times by the two types of wisdom described above, pure and impure. Without significant events societal evolution general takes on certain inertia. (as stated above, societies are not slaves to this inertia, it is possible and historically proven that societies can and do reverse the tide of inertia and often strike of in different directions)

In western civilization a few major events have impacted the inertia of societal evolution. These of course are; the rise of the Roman Empire, the rise of Christianity, the rise of the Catholic Church, the fall of Rome, the Enlightenment, and the Reformation. All of these events changed the tide of social inertia and evolution. Some of these events were political, others intellectual, others religious. All, for good or bad, were influenced by the prevailing wisdom of the day.

We simply assume that our current system is a happier system because we look at history with biased eyes and apply our values to the analysis. Is it possible that a society in existence at 500 BC was much happier and even better than ours? It all depends upon your criteria for defining happiness and criteria. If you remove our modern bias and seek to answer the question using wisdom of a pure sort an honest assessment is that it is very possible that such a society existed.

We are taught to assume that the societal development since the end of the Dark Ages is the sum and total of all that is good and just. This is flawed. Our current development has been at times influenced by pure and impure wisdom. I believe society has slowly but surely deteriorated for the simple fact that over time we have come to rely on a greater percentage of impure wisdom.

My argument rest now squarely on the points I hope to make in future posts. That is that there is such a thing as universal morality, things everyone ought to know as right and wrong and that there are such things as pure and impure wisdom.

I shall attempt to make these points in my next post.

Recedite, plebes! Gero rem imperialem
El Cid

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