emotional and intellectual satisfaction


“Democracy is a pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance. No one in this world, so far as I know—and I have researched the records for years, and employed agents to help me—has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people. Nor has anyone ever lost public office thereby.”
H.L. Mencken


 “Voters are basically lazy. Reason requires a high degree of discipline, of concentration; impression is easier. Reason pushes the viewer back, it assaults him, it demands that he agree or disagree; impression can envelop him, invite him in, without making an intellectual demand…. When we argue with him, we…seek to engage his intellect…. The emotions are more easily roused, closer to the surface, more malleable.”

1968, media advisor Republican presidential candidate Richard Nixon


“As democracy is perfected, the office of president represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.”
H.L. Mencken


This is about social intellect and, I imagine, the question of whether the majority of the general public is, well, stupid. This is written with United States in mind, but I imagine many countries have a version of this issue. The issue is one of an ideological split; that isn’t really an ideological split. What I mean by that is that it is ideological in name only: democrats/republicans, liberal/conservative. And I say in name only because the labels confuse the issue which is actually about social intellect or differently said ‘the mental ability to engage in civic issues intelligently.’ That said. Beyond the labels, one ideology embraces policies, thoughts, and some ideas while the other simply embraces the belief that they are against everything I just said simply because the other ‘side’ is evil, the enemy, or all those things will destroy some mythical vague outline of what the country is (or isn’t). Consequently, the first group sees the second group as incapable, of, well, thinking. Consequently, in thinking they are incapable of thinking through the seemingly obvious foibles in their mythical vague narratives, they call them stupid. So. We end up with a country where a large segment of the population sees one side as having evil ideas and the other side as incapable of thinking, or stupid. To put it mildly, that simplistic concept is not very helpful.

Which leads me to the idea of social intellect inequality.

To be clear, social intellect is not about intelligence. Social intellect is the ability to assess the dimensions and nuance of civic responsibilities, and concepts, in order to contribute in an intelligent way with societal discussions if not actually participating in the decision-making. Just to begin making people feel uncomfortable today, I could argue that the primary contributors to societal system failures are the people who did not have the desire to develop their social intellect. This made them less-than-capable of effectively navigating through most complex issues throughout life. Once again, to be clear, this same person could be incredibly skilled in a profession and be grounded socially in a community, but, is less-than-capable of grasping the intricacies of how an entire society, country and system works. I remind everyone of that because then the real issue within a society is ‘what the intellectual level of the society is compared to the complexity of the economic and political environment in which it needs to survive’ and ‘is it effectively matched up.’ To be clear, today’s situation is a bit different than if we asked these questions in the past. Typically, a societal intellectual level will rise as the education systems get better and wealth is distributed among a larger group of people. In the past, wealth and education have tended to align with increased social intellect. I would argue the wealth and education aspects have diverged, i.e., in today’s world you can become pretty wealthy even while being ‘less-than-educated.’ From a social narrative aspect this becomes really really important because, as John Kenneth Galbraith said, ‘the relationship between wealth and intelligence is specious at best.’ Said differently, you can be stupid and still have money. Yet. Society has a nasty tendency to connect intelligence to wealth. Regardless. Setting aside wealth and education, if the complexity in the economic and political environment is rising faster than the increase in the intellectual level of society then the social intellect of the society is actually falling in relative terms. This is where inequality comes in. Because while education has improved and wealth is a bit more ubiquitous** (certainly to the extent that the majority of the American middle class is fairly comfortable in their homes and their lives):

  • one portion of the population has intellectually risen to the complexity of the economic and political world or at least as close enough to be able to discern some of the proper actions that are needed
  • one portion of the population, while possibly intellectually rising, has not risen to the same level.

** note: the reality is that in the United States most middle-class households have a comfortable lifestyle, albeit they may not feel like they have enough as they look at the higher income hhlds, and hhld wealth appears to have ‘de-linked’ from social intellect. Many, many, comfortable households simply skate on the superficial surface of social intellect most typically under the (a) common sense banner or (b) the patriotism banner or (c) a combination thereof.

That latter group is certainly not stupid and in fact it’s silly to suggest that anyone in the population can fully understand all the complexities of society in the world today. All I’m suggesting is that a segment of the population has fallen to an intellectual level where they are overwhelmed by the complexities in the world. For this group, in particular, if the speed and the strength of both technological advancements and global integration remains far above the speed of their intellectual development then both the total size of the incoming overlapping mental stimuli and the time required to assimilate and assess will increase. Uhm. And, yet, people seem to be actually embracing ‘speedy thinking’ more and more as they also embrace a ‘time starved’ narrative. To be clear, both are nuts. And bad. This social intellect challenge not only creates a continuously unstable societal, economic and political environment, but increases the risk of destroying the whole system as the asymmetry between the intellectually capable and the intellectually less-than-capable get farther and farther apart. As a defense mechanism to this cognitive onslaught, this intellectually-less-than-capable group may believe they can insulate their life paths/fates/communities from other areas of society, other communities, and even other countries. Unfortunately, for them, an interconnected world it is not only about the intellect of a country or a population within a country, but within a global scope.

Regardless. Democracy implies some version of intellect equality. Democracy suggests because everyone can be involved, they are all equal intellectually.  I would argue this is why democracy feels shaky as the intellect inequality tugs at the foundation of the democratic system. Look. Having the right to decide one’s own future in a democracy is a great feeling, however, if done without having the necessary social intellect it ends up in selecting the wrong future or, let’s say, selecting the paths which offer lower probabilities of a better future.

Which leads me to highlight the simple solution trap.

The objective should be to increase the overall intellectual level of not just the entire society, but of specific groups and populations who may be slightly less intellectually capable. A society, or half of society, cannot simply discard a significant portion of society as ‘stupid.’ In fact, I would suggest the intellectually less-than-capable provide a larger risk to society in totality and cannot be ignored. Why? Well. When overwhelmed by the complexity this group can most effectively be reached through someone promoting irrational patriotism as the simplest ‘objective’ and consequently intentionally imagining patriotism as sacrificing one’s own interests to a country for the potential welfare of society in total. Intellectually, the argument comes down to some simplistic “what is best for the country is best for everyone.’” It’s kind of a warped hollowed out intellectual rationale. I say ‘hollowed out’ because there are many things that are best for the country AND best for everyone; just not as a blanket carte blanche on all things to be done. That said. This asymmetrical relationship between intellect levels, which is not a difference between smart and stupid, is actually more about socially aware versus socially unaware. This becomes a dangerous issue to navigate because every society and their social system needs to balance the personal interests of the individuals versus the interests of the society and the short-term interests of both versus the long-term interests of both. A successful society navigates the contradictory objectives. I say that because the truth is that a society typically resides somewhere in the shade of gray versus the extremes. But with intellect inequality the less-than-intellectually-capable inevitably reside in some simplistic extreme while the intellectually-capable typically reside in the more nuanced complex space. Ponder what I just said because this is a nuanced view of ideologies. One that may seem foreign in today’s world where simplistic labels are misused to identify ideological leanings.


“The capacity of the human mind for swallowing nonsense and spewing it forth in violent and repressive action has never yet been plumbed.”

Robert Heinlein

Which leads me to ideologies.

The less-thoughtful, the ones who for good reasons or bad reasons, do not pursue some observational critical thinking, end up crafting a simplistic ideology which is crafted in a way that it is more an attitude with loose behaviors attached to it rather than ideas with actions. The easiest one to point to is patriotism or some version of elevating country over anything else. Regardless. It becomes a loose ideology which, intellectually, a lot of shit can be placed within. Once again, this is not stupidity, it is more just intellect laziness. While it may seem like ideology is the intellectual basis of societies, ideological expressions tend to represent distorted perceptions of realities which, in turn can produce some real distorting efforts. In today’s world the distorted realities have taken on some concreteness through measurement and productivity and actual production. Through these somewhat dubious concrete ‘numbered’ things, social reality and identity definitions get molded into, well, a ‘reality’ shaped in the form of the ideological attitude. Yeah. Once ideology, the abstract, becomes concrete it is legitimized as an effective illusion for a society even though that illusion is of some alternative society to real reality. At that point ideology takes on sort of a flat preciseness in that they no longer represent choices but instead declarations of undeniable facts.

“One, they cherry-pick evidence. Two, they take the information out of context and misrepresent what happened. They disregard the truth that’s in front of them. They downplay and dismiss it. And finally, they flat out lie.”

Herbert Marcuse suggested it all creates ‘the one dimensional man.’ As I’ve written about before increased complexity encourages many people to increase simplicity. So as the world becomes more multidimensional, if not even to a quantum level, interconnected complexity there will always be a group of people, sometimes a significant amount of people, who become more and more one dimensional in many of their thoughts and ideas. To be clear this complexity is perception and reality. What I mean by that is while the world is getting a bit more complex, if you listen to enough ordinary people describing life, it quickly moves from chess to The Matrix and you are being asked to take a red pill or blue pill or some shit like that. Let’s just say that we should be wary of ordinary people because oftentimes the ordinary people aren’t as wise as we would like. And by ‘not as wise’ I mean that they reject many of the thoughts that would actually be helpful to improving their mindsets and their mental models. Suffice it to say rejection is bad. Denial and contempt are typically for little people with nasty minds who typically think they have made themselves all on their own and they owe nothing to anyone about what came before. Well, from there this version of a faux ideology takes on some real psychological trappings.

Which leads me to becoming bigger people.

As Jerome Scott and R. P. Lynton put it: “Every man requires emotional and intellectual satisfactions which alone secure for him his belonging to a community.” The path from little people to bigger people seems to be narrowing day by day. Maybe it’s because once an abstract ideology becomes concrete it becomes a club, not a community. I say that because if belonging is important, belong to ‘the club’ is exponentially important in terms of social identity. And THAT is important because when this need is suppressed, anything from psychological maladjustment to mental derangement can occur. Yeah. I just said that. Some experts suggest the most obsessive psychosis arise from a failure of social adaptation and from the suppression of community relations. When that happens, a person tends to seek substitutions – through social media and ‘clubs.’ And, yeah, this is where technology – social media – can begin to play a massive role. Technology is an alternative reality in and of itself as it portrays a wide variety of illusory realities. These faux realities outline criteria for a version of life that some people will find social identity within and be able to clearly point to who Is ‘without.’ This sociological structure is forged by technological forces and economic perceptions beyond what lies immediately outside the front door. The illusion exists as an attractive alternative to anything seen on the street outside. They are not the result of thought, doctrine, discourse, well, they partially are, but all within, ‘the club.’ Uhm.  A club of (sometimes nasty) little people. Anyway. From that point on the illusions become a condition of fact. From there all social beliefs, all social reforms (or reductionism), all social changes, are located wholly within this condition of fact. From this condition of dubious facthood the shaping of society and social boundaries will vindicate it as well as exploit it. It is a little world where “us” reside and “them” do not. The problem is the “us” gets littler and littler as they become more unchanged, paranoid, and actually inefficient in the larger world, i.e., reality. This little world insidiously mutates the larger, bigger, thinking world as it pushes and shoves and punches and stabs that which wants to expand. But let’s get back to becoming bigger people. Head, heart and wallet. The pathway is always found in calming fears, keeping scepticism and cynicism in check, reshape the brain and offering the vision of a more prosperous future (either for the individual or future generations). It is as Claude Munson suggested: “It is a question of strengthening the environment in such a way that, in practice, all subjects come more or less quickly under its influence.” People need to be placed in a positive social environment where they can thrive, emotional and intellectual satisfaction, or be encouraged to adapt in positive ways.

Which leads me to end with cultural despair.

While both ends of the social intellect despair for greater society they do so in different ways. There is intellectual passivity and intellectual activity. And in our upside down world today often the passive believe they are the active and believe that the intellectual active are the well passive sheep. They see passivity in following science, data, logic, reason, real knowledge-based experience, and associate their own intellectual activity to be found in the nebulous common sense. What this means is in an upside down world of logic and realities where ultimately cultural despair is created through every corner of society.

Rejecting the discipline of the mind as well as the overall corruption of the entire concept of education, a concept which had actually elevated the ‘ordinary person’ to some intellectual rigor of thought, a passive intellectual group then goes forth and corrupts the social mind and social fabric. It all creates an almost willful disregard for common knowledge replacing it with the oft mis-placed and oft-misused common sense. If we are truly honest, a significant swath of society lacks the observational critical intellect needed to pierce some of the complex issues we face. So those in despair then run after every person in power offering a simple solution hoping for well something other than despair. Everything is questioned – what is success, what is equality, faith in scientific method, what is progress. All the ideas and concepts which grounded us as we grew up get questioned. There is a grand clash of idealism, realism, and some form of materialism, from which cultural despair arises.

Maybe this version of cultural despair is best captured by Philip Tetlock.

Regardless of what side of the social intellect scale you reside on what you think isn’t really based on the level of Education or even actual experience instead it comes down to the way someone thinks. The ones who typically do amazingly badly with regard to how they think about things were those who believed that there was a big idea which explained everything world was simple and could be understood simply and that they could just stamp their big idea unto every situation. The ones who do well thinking through things were those who had no such big idea, who regarded the world as complex took their information from many different sources and were willing to be self-critical and learn from mistakes. The key inevitably comes down to checking whether you were right or wrong. And even that is tricky because the majority of people seek out proof for what they predicted or thought rather than broad based information to check against it.

I believe it was Jonathan Haidt who said when we are presented with evidence for or against a hypothesis, we ask ourselves one of two questions.

  • When we want to believe something, we ask ourselves can I believe it? Then we search for supporting evidence and if we find even a single piece of pseudo evidence we can stop thinking. We now have permission to believe.
  • When we don’t want to believe something, we ask ourselves must I believe it? Then we search for contrary evidence and if we find a single reason to doubt the claim, we can dismiss it.

I believe this is called motivated credulity and motivated skepticism. And maybe that’s where I will end this piece with credulity and skepticism. Social intellect balances itself on what is credible enough to overcome the skepticism. A good healthy skepticism should force better observational critical thinking until we can arrive at a point where there is a credible conclusion. We seem to have lost that balance. Somehow some way we must arrive back here as a society in order to engage in civic issues intelligently. I would argue continuing to engage in civic issues unintelligently is the path to ruin. Well. About this? Not solving this means we will fail to secure the emotional and intellectual satisfaction required to maintain a healthy community and society. Ponder.

Written by Bruce