Every Generation Thinks It’s the Last; Could We Also Be the Dumbest?
“Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge” – Issac Asimov
Every opinion matters, counts, and should be heard whether it is based on facts and reason, or self-satisfying aggrandizing of a misaligned, misinformed perspective. It has become politically and socially unacceptable to disassociate the ego (both your own and that of the person in front of you) from discourse of any kind, and “I am wrong” has consequently turned into “That’s my opinion.”
When, and more importantly, how, did this happen? It’s an understatement to say that we are living in the most dynamic era of human communication since the proliferation of the written word. Instantaneous global communication and collaboration have made it possible to discover, share, and consume intellectual stimuli from art and music, to the creative musings found in fiction and avant-garde thinking at the click of a mouse. So , then, why do we constantly find ourselves inundated with the white noise of stupidity, and a complete disregard for doing and saying things the RIGHT way? This noise of dumb, outdated, shallow, and vane banalities have seemingly metastasized throughout generation X and Y, muting most of the substantial signals we should be paying attention to and pacifying the masses from real political and economic participation, engraining apathy, and celebrating ignorance and anti-intellectualism as a cultural norm.
Overall societal attitudes towards what is important.
Meritocracy, it seems, has become an unreachable utopian ideal, and we find ourselves living in an “Attention Economy”, where the end-game is not to persuade creative discourse and innovation, but rampant self-promotion and consumption. There is an economic argument to be made here, that capitalist states require healthy consumer demographics to maintain growth and overall prosperity. That theory holds weight, but only to a certain degree. The consumerism society subscribes to only serve those who pander the unnecessary “stuff” that is consumed, and stifles real growth by marginalizing intellectual and political discourse that leads to real innovation, progress, and sustainability, both economically, and socio-politically.
Don’t blame the media.
Even though mass media continually forces this stuff down our throats ad infinitum, markets (outside the financial ones which are a bit more complex and sometimes gamed) dictate what is consumed in an organic manner (if your product/service doesn’t offer a utility worth its price, it will fail). The scary thing to consider is that the reasons mainstream media continuously promotes non-substantial, vain, and shallow material, is because that is what is profitable, and what the market (society) demands!
So why has society and our generation in particular, shifted away from talking about ideas, and gravitated towards talking about people (me, myself, and I)? We’ve all heard the cliché, “Great people talk about ideas, average people talk about things, small people talk about other people.” This focus on people wasn’t a spontaneous phenomenon, but rather a systematic shift facilitated by the technology tools we so often praise. As easily as social networks and media can be used to facilitate revolution and the toppling of dictators, they can also be used to share what someone ate for lunch, or the flavor of the week self-help philosophy they subscribe to, ad nauseam.
Self-serving, peer validated media and broadcasting (FB, Twitter, etc) feeds the Attention Economy.
Thanks to the proliferation of social networks, attention is continuously misallocated onto non-substantial and inconsequential communications regarding personal experience (look what I ate today, look at me, smoking a cigar, and holding this alcohol as I pose and show you how fun my life is). Everyone eats, most everyone enjoys a cocktail now and then, and lots of people attend parties. This phenomenon has occurred because the platform for individuals to communicate with the world has flattened, and now, not only is all the world a stage, but every stage is broadcast in 160 characters or less.
Most people, who would otherwise have nothing of value to add to a social, academic or professional discourse, turn towards focusing their efforts to convert the mundane and routine of their lives into something to be heralded and consumed. They scour quote repositories online to deliver messages they were neither creatively or intellectually capable of coming up with themselves. These daily deposits into the coffers of the Attention Economy then feed upon themselves, and proliferate throughout the socio-cultural infrastructure that makes up the direction, content, tone, and subject matter of popular culture and generational subculture alike.
What this illustrates more than anything, is how polarized the spectrum of intelligence and general self-actualization is in our society, and amongst our generational peers. It shows how sharp, creative, and forward-thinking some people are, and just how vain, shallow, and intellectually vacuous others can be.
Even this piece can be categorized as self-satisfying pseudo-intellectualism, but realizing that we are all paying attention to the wrong things is a critical part of moving forward in the right direction. There has to be a concerted effort made to change things for the better, before the idiocracy elects Kim Kardashian as “da furst female prezident”.