Befuddlement

“The dull brain perplexes and retards” says Keats, in a quote that I once used in a video piece and return to often because it is unforgettable and true. Most of the time, even the most intelligent are simply muddled. The mind can accomplish little, and it takes a long time for that. The normal resting state is simply inertia and physical well being, mistaken for certainty; genuine mental effort only happens intermittently, and is in fact somewhat unnatural, a forcing of capacities. Homo sapiens might be intelligent, but the chance is slim. What he (she) can do is make. Making and doing always evidence more intelligence than thinking ever can. When we read a piece of philosophy or criticism that convinces us, it is a rhetorical achievement, nothing more. Don’t believe that insights are “true,” or that real wisdom can exist outside of making, and that includes making a text. All of which is why productive thought doesn’t happen entirely in the mind, and the process by which insights and knowledge appear is utterly mysterious, though no more so than art.

It’s all a big muddle—politics, economics, science, technology, philosophy—and so we muddle through quite effectively, with moments of relative clarity, and accomplish a lot, in fact accomplish some amazing things. But, this being the case, the longstanding campaign of the right wing in the US to confuse, deceive and render people stupid is truly evil. As I write this Fox News is playing in the background; the sheer mendacity is astonishing. The art of the lie has never been so perfected. Obviously these are election year thoughts. Recently there have been a number of books that purport to prove that people get impressions of others very rapidly, and make decisions by instinct. It’s called “emotional intelligence.” By this view, presidents are elected by feel, not on account of policy. Learning how to manipulate has long been an academic specialty—now we are supposed to accept the irrational as the normal state of affairs. I guess if the population has been made stupid, and you want to get them to do something, then it’s only pragmatic to work with what you’ve got.

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