WHY THE REVOLUTION OF MODERN LIFE IS INTELLIGENT, MORAL AND BEAUTIFUL
by Thomas Dexter Kerr
It is an exciting and hopeful time to be alive. A revolution is sweeping the earth, increasing intelligence by allowing, enabling, inspiring ever more people to make more decisions in their lives. Modern systems that allow people to think more in daily life are well known. Democracies empower people to choose governments. Markets are people deciding what should be made and done. Systems of rules that apply to all help keep things open and honest. Support for ability to think comes from family and neighbors, schools, hospitals, books and internet. Enormous dividends result from getting it right. But decentralizing decision-making is never easy because it means ever greater complexity and the empowering of inconvenient people. The best path forward is illuminated by the idea that people thinking more is good, right and beautiful.
Modern peace and prosperity has resulted from the ever closer alignment of social organization with ways people by nature maximize intelligence. Humans became the most powerful beings ever to exist by developing a new way of using information, the content of thoughts and feelings. The information system created as people mingle thoughts and feelings with those of others evolved to be the most intelligent entity ever to exist.
Survival of the fittest individual was not the primary force that crafted human minds. Incompetence in a wide variety of forms is an essential part of what makes us human. Individual people today lack the full range of mental abilities necessary to survive alone in a wilderness. I couldn’t do it, nor could any of my neighbors. Instead natural selection resulted in something far more powerful, intelligent and beautiful.
Many creatures, from ants to dogs, evolved to gain power over their environment by cooperating and communicating. All lost the ability to live and thrive alone as individuals. Over eons, humans gradually took the use of information to higher levels. As individuals they gave up the full range of faculties needed for survival because together they developed something far more potent. The unprecedented power this gave them at each step is what drove the evolutionary innovations that resulted in today’s world.
Human intelligence is collective in nature, talents not concentrated but dispersed in individuals who are all different. A revolutionary kind of mind developed in groups of a few hundred in which everyone knew each other, every voice added to what was being thought about. In everyday life people have always shared ideas, songs, stories, styles and a myriad nuances of feeling, passing them down through generations, improving and innovating. The information that is the content of thoughts and feelings mixes together in their minds and among them. Because each person’s mind is different, enormous creative flexibility arises out of many sorts of thinking striving, sometimes clashing, always mingling. We spin thoughts out of the unknown and unexpected, finding depth and diversity with inauspicious people and rising generations breaking old patterns. So many things can be thought about. Human survival and success has always depended on the system of thoughts that all share and take part in. Our kind of intelligence is a category leap, rising far beyond what could ever evolve to be the smartest, most wily, most dominant individual beast. Every successful creature is over-endowed with the means it uses to survive, necessary to overcome extreme circumstances. Our primary means of survival blossomed into the wonder of the universe.
The details of how individuals think were shaped by the enormous force of their effect on our primary tool and weapon, the human information system. Its intelligence could increase only as its component parts became more finely tuned to add to the thinking going on. Many of the talents that make people together so intelligent are useless in isolation, essential when combined with others. Kinds of thinking are scattered, each getting a little of this, a little of that. Impractical musicians, nonathletic priests, groveling politicians help bring disparate folks together. Mechanics fix things, clumsy scientists invent, cooks devise food, athletes run and hunt, shoppers gather, some who can memorize, memorialize the past. Fearless and timid, quick and slow, passive and aggressive, skillful and clumsy, female and male, serious and frivolous, analytical and intuitive, speculative and methodical, mathematical or musical or not, all are found in every group across the globe. This deep reservoir of possibilities is made more potent by the creativity inherent in the fresh perspectives of each individual and new generation. The mix found everywhere today exists because it is the combination that proved to be most intelligent.
If individuality were not naturally configured to mesh with other minds, the results would be useless. An association of thinking animals with a purely random assortment of differences would produce the intelligence of a zoo. Mental individuality in humans has a purpose. All elements are finely tuned to create with others, each general type essential, every new addition a welcome extension of the ability of everyone to think. It is an inescapable truth of every person’s life that their most intimate impulses, those feelings that are most certainly theirs and theirs alone, are shaped and channeled in subtle, mysterious ways to augment the functioning of the human information system as a whole.
The magic of the human information system lies in everyday life, the great generator and heartland of intelligence. When a good idea pops into existence there is no way to ever figure out exactly where it came from. Inside everyone the information that is the content of their thoughts and feelings connects and mingles. Music and sports mix with math, politics and sex. Interconnections multiply as thoughts and fragments spread out through friends and neighbors, reaching around the world. All ideas are composed of strands reaching far back in the past and over many lands, influenced by threads of rhythm, color and rhyme, outrageous mistakes and hallucinations. Even the loftiest, most abstract sophisticated concepts grow out of pieces rattling around coffee shops, nurseries and football fields, mixing with music, cooking and gardening. Every mind takes part, each one living in the thinking of the world. Together we create the mental output on which all depend.
Morality evolved as an inseparable part of intelligence. In order to think together, people have to get along. This is not automatic. Our existence through the past has always been dependent on a balance of genetic and cultural supports for moral behavior that maximizes the creative intelligence of the human information system. We are genetically predisposed to empathize with others, fall in love and like things like music and sports that join people together. But we also need ongoing streams of new ideas in all areas of life, good and bad, to be dreamed up and tried out. Our collective creativity is generated by a diversity of individuals in all walks of life making different choices, going their own way. So a measure of wildness, especially by teenagers, is built in. The resulting instability requires a lot of work. We inherit culture as much as we do fingers. Moral concepts in multiple forms have been passed down and improved on from primordial times in the same way as technical ideas like the use of fire. Without morality, just as without fire, everyone dies. Embedded in every culture is a way of understanding the information realities of life, some picture of lives connected by invisible ties in a common endeavor and fate, the furtherance of which is everyone’s responsibility. This is contained in direct explanations as well as music and art, sports, humor and a thousand tales about others and the past. The enormous success of the human endeavor owes a lot to the efforts of so many through the ages searching for ever better ways to convince people to live together wholeheartedly.
Though it can be hard to include those who are different, closing eyes to them shuts off communion with thought itself. To regard anyone at all as unworthy of recognition is to turn away from intelligence, which exists in pieces scattered everywhere. Every face is a unique shining facet of the most complex thinking entity ever to exist. The greatest impediments to human potential are institutional, philosophical and viscerally emotional objections to getting little voices raised and heard. It seems so easy to disregard the shy, odd, peculiar and strange, both rebellious and those that sound the same, voices small and lonely, the less talented and nonpolitical. But they are us and we are all there is.
The revolution of modern life is vastly expanding intelligence by turning on its head traditional notions that the source of wealth and power is the best and brightest. What is emerging instead is a world in which every mind is acknowledged as an important contributor. Particular individuals are useful for any one task at hand, and when they manage to do something special it is a wonderful gift to themself and everyone else. But no matter how impressive, every success is the result of a limited, particular vision applied to resources drawn from the vast sea of human thought. Mental or character perfection is an attribute of people as a whole. Individuals are expressly designed not to be that way. Every individual can be described as ‘flawed’ or ‘not perfect’. This is a good, not bad thing. The largest are dependent, the smallest have something to add. The most striking thing an honest person sees in mirrors is the amazing ordinariness of uniqueness. So-called ordinary people exist only because we were over eons in the most severe circumstances in fact essential to the intelligence of the whole. The most important and potent attribute of human intelligence is not that some are all-encompassing geniuses but that none are.
In the practical world of everyday life, people thinking is people making decisions. On a large scale decentralizing decision-making so more are thinking is difficult. As individuals choose who to marry, where to live and what to do for others they create ever greater complexity because they are all different. But only when they go in their own directions is the intelligence of society enriched by their diversity. For them to be allowed do so, they need to be trusted to make reasonably good decisions. Most people have to believe in doing the right thing. Their activities will at times need to be nudged or constrained in more positive directions. Growing a beautiful garden takes a lot of work.
Individual initiative would look morally suspect if human minds evolved mainly to compete against each other. Then their inner being would be suffused with primordial impulses to do so at others expense. Even if not in fact stealing, their motivation would be tainted with it. From that perspective, morality would be an overlay designed to counteract human nature and attempts to achieve general fairness would struggle against the tide. Such concepts provide handy excuses to keep people from acting, to confine them in a static order that is supposedly more moral. But because human minds did not in fact evolve to oppose others, exactly the opposite is true. In the practical world, this distinction has a huge effect, changing the role of rules from constraining people’s base nature to facilitating greater activity with helpful guidelines and admonitions. Taking initiative is people thinking. Intelligence is the source of morality.
A functioning system of separate and independent organizations has an inherent beauty and morality that is lacking in the only alternative. The appeal of centralized systems is the supposed comfort of enforced fairness. Their slogans through the ages can sound idealistic: a place for everyone and everyone in their place, and we think and you do and we’ll take care of you. This has been most attractive to those already privileged or who suppose themselves superior. It is just so hard to imagine what good could come from having stupid people think. But imposed absolute fairness is a state of standing still, bereft of creativity and initiative, missing the point of life. Visions of everyone nicely quiet and in order are nightmares not dreams, horror not paradise. Their imposition has resulted in police states and mass murder for they directly contravene the most fundamental human reality, that our destiny is to think. The great counter-revolution of modern times was communism, which sought to infuse old ideas with more effective means of control. Substitute a unitary bureaucracy for kings, emperors or caliphs and the concept is the same. In recent times it has been shown that more open systems are far more accountable, productive, able to experiment and vastly improve life. The reason it works better is because it is more intelligent. More people are thinking.
Capitalism is the use of math for the purpose of decentralizing decision-making. Math is an impartial tool for opening activities to anyone who wants to take initiative. To measure whether they are doing something worthwhile it empowers the most dispersed, appropriate and severe critics, customers. Pricing includes the user in the decision-making process, enlisting their mind to help make systems more intelligent. When people pay the true costs of the things they use, it is then they, instead of someone else, who is deciding how much and when. They have most say when they can choose from the widest selection in the world. From single entrepreneurs to enormous organizations, the proper use of math makes possible the most active use of people’s minds. When capitalism strays too far from its decentralizing purpose it becomes dysfunctional and inefficient. When working well it is beautiful because it is intelligent.
Essential to success in business is finding the right balance between making money and serving others. Actually doing something worthwhile is hard, failure a constant shadow. All kinds of people need to be made happy enough to voluntarily cooperate. Customers, workers, neighbors, a variety of government folks, competitors, suppliers, contractors, all must get along. Every day brings hard choices between scarce resources and quality of output. Everything takes longer and costs more, no one is paid as much as they think they should, and temptations abound to take shortcuts. Episodes of winning the lottery and successful cheating make fun stories, but that’s not where the real money is. Real business success is never only about maximizing profits. As human beings, business people connect with their world in many ways, have multiple interests and goals. Their job is to make an enterprise work as a whole, otherwise all is lost. Success requires doing and caring about two things at the same time. Many people’s desires need to be filled and it all has to add up. Serve to make money, make money to serve, chew gum and walk.
An open democratic political system is a necessary component of an intelligent society. There will always be those tempted to recentralize decision-making in order to grab advantages for themselves or a select group. Democracy empowers the majority who are less interested in gaining power and dominance over others. However, their ability to make decisions in their own lives is very important to them. This can lead to wild cultural expressions because it is central to self worth and identity. Secondary objects like guns and cars can represent the rightness of individuals thinking for themselves. And in believing it is both moral and productive for them to live actively thinking, they are right. The greatest beneficiaries of a decentralized society are its less important members. Democracy puts the right hands on the tiller, those most directly and personally interested in greater intelligence.
It is easy for initiatives to get out of hand, go in destructive directions. For capitalism to function it must have rules and guidance provided by an active democracy. All entrepreneurs, small to large, require ongoing adjustments to rules protecting their projects from theft and interference. They need an environment with sufficient infrastructure and healthy, educated citizens. They need the peaceful ways of solving problems that can thrive only in a functioning democratic political system with the good will of most of the people most of the time. Democratic capitalism is millions of people voluntarily cooperating and taking initiative to make life better for each other.
Democracy is commonly slandered as the worst system of governing except for every other. It involves a great show of shouting and grandstanding, confusion, indecision, delay, some cheating and lots of inconsistency. But the mess and confusion of a functional democracy are exactly its great strength, more people thinking. All other political setups explicitly seek to stop thinking. That is why they sometimes appear clean and efficient. Intelligence is a state of motion, the opposite of keeping everything the same. Creativity always has an element of disorder, whether in one mind or that of many. Democracy is beautiful because it is active, alive and intelligent and deserves respect for it.
A widespread improvement in moral behavior is a necessary part of the success of capitalism and democracy. This is a long, slow process, as individuals gain new freedoms and learn from them. Increasing morality means people thinking more, not less. Progress results in an increase in general activity and the pace of change. Humans are not designed to sit still but to be intelligent. Together our destiny is to wonder and speculate, create and explore, seek truth and solve the riddles of the universe.
The image of humans as entities that exist separate, alone and inherently in conflict is an insidiously corrosive illusion. Its great attraction is support it lends for comparisons showing one worth more than another. As individual items, there is a scale handy to prove anyone better. Whether best mechanic, politician, musician, cook, mathematician or athlete, a soft cocoon of superiority beckons. Excellence then isolates instead of broadening life. Individual arrogance also decreases intelligence by working against the decentralizing tides of democracy and capitalism. People keep inventing ingenious ways of explaining why they should decide instead of others, why they are smarter and better and so more deserving of the perks and trinkets of life. But if theft is legitimate, then intelligence is not.
The most fundamental fact of human life is that we evolved to maximize the intelligence of the human information system as a whole. We have never existed separate and alone but as intricately connected parts of that system, within which we live our lives. Individual intelligence was worthwhile and increased only in ways which complemented our source of power. People do not exist on a linear scale from stupid to smart. They live in many dimensions, their value to the whole being that they are different. Supermen and philosopher kings do not exist. If they did our world would be much less intelligent.
Hatred is not about the victim, instead a category error in someone’s mind, a voluntary severing of connection, a denial of the fact that all humans are intrinsically interconnected. People invent all kinds of ways to cut themselves off. Walking around measuring, categorizing and belittling others may seem a purely private obsession. But the artificial separation it creates decreases intelligence, just like lying, cheating, hurting and stealing. Even when they feel justified by real injury, those who come to hate always lose. Severing connections isolates each of us when we make this mistake from the millions of ways we are naturally linked to others with intimacy, substance and meaning. It is a personal failure to grasp the largeness of life. All forms of hatred are self-banishments from the community of life, alienation from the essence of the greatest intelligence ever to arise.
True intelligence is found not in any one person. It is the unexpected found in pieces everywhere, in every pair of eyes. Fulfillment in life is not a destination but a journey always in motion, mixing in with the world around. Love, the closest of connections, is the highest expression of intelligence, of our state of nature.
For little round billiard balls, equality is being the same and freedom to roll around is increased by taking others off the table. Since humans are not little balls but information entities, the exact opposite is true. Equality is being different and freedom is radically reduced by taking others off the table. People are equal in that each one is an element of the larger thinking system and all are needed to maximize its intelligence. Acts hindering others from thinking detract from the intelligence of everyone. Condescension is always obvious, as the perpetrator very publically makes their own life smaller and cheaper. Their victims resent it, cooperate less, and close off in turn. Rising out of superiority to equality with all those lesser, acceptance to the core of humanity’s great gift, the smallness and particularity of self, is the critical door opening to the wider world of intelligence, dignity and beauty. Freedom is the ability to make choices and move around in the vast information landscape of minds and lives. This requires participation in making things work, more giving than receiving. It is because the equality and freedom of individuals as information entities are essential to intelligence that they are inherent in human existence.
Because people are not objects but information entities, they are happiest not when cut off and alone but when their minds are best connected with the world. A drug induced blank smile is not at all what happiness is about. Whether it’s baseball, another person, a job or a song they like, as they find fulfillment in their various peculiarities they are happier and their minds are more engaged. As long as they avoid harming others, this raises the intelligence of the human information system. More thinking is going on. Their happiness is the summit of life, peak experience and function, the highest expression of their unique contribution. Individual happiness is the source of collective intelligence. Can’t have one without the other.
Fairness within the human information system is much greater than any list of physical items. Because it consists of enabling everyone to think and contribute it is essential to intelligence. No one can do so if starving or sick, ignorant or in chains. Everyone needs help to grow and flourish. Efforts to increase fairness, to better people’s lives, are far more than feel good projects. They are for us, not simply for them.
In the clear cold light of morning the choice to live fully and behave in a moral fashion is obvious. People have invented lots of ways to explain why they should be nice to each other. But at root they all come down to individual awakening, opening to the information realities of life. Human beings perceive directly, without any explanation, theory or religion, that they are connected with others and the world. It is obvious in moments when an individual finds themself suddenly enraptured by another person. The illusion of separateness might unconsciously dissolve when encountering a song or a wayward glance, an ingenious machine or a football pass. It is the recognition of informational connection which inspires the look in a lover’s eye, the visceral reaction to a baby’s cry, the giddy feeling of a moving world when some work of art gets under the skin. Most people do not need complicated reasons to see grossly immoral acts as just plain wrong. Who has not been overwhelmed by the utter cuteness of a little child? Morality becomes self-evident with the experience of recognizing the warmth and light in another’s eye, becoming much more than the right thing, the only thing to do.
Within every person lies a field of life full of hidden places, fuzzy feelings, acres of happenings and kittens and food, every corner filled with vastness, fluid motion moment to moment. Each comes with a mix of warm childhood memories, present experience and dreams of the future, all dense with nuance and impressions. Their information field is an extension and enrichment of all others. For anyone, the experience of recognizing this in one person and then another, a friend, neighbor or passerby, expands the boundaries of life. Multiplied by all those in a town, a region, the world, and the human information landscape seems to go on forever. The furthest corners of every mind fuel the most powerful and intelligent entity ever to exist. Its beauty graces all our lives.
Today awareness is spreading throughout the world of the myriad ways that participating in an actively intelligent society elevates every personal life. Individuals have ever more reasons to believe that their own peculiarities are good not bad, that it is alright for them to be more themselves. The variety of things they can do is expanding, with greater freedom, prosperity and people inventing new pursuits. Large organizations are recognized to be more successful when they enlist the minds of their employees instead of having them do only what they are told. The use of math to make it possible for everyone to make decisions is gaining acceptance. Ever more varieties of people are being allowed, enabled and inspired to participate. Democracy is spreading and theft by those who govern is receding. Even those with guns are slowly awakening to the fact that real power comes from intelligence, the secret to which is to be found in the sweetly innocent smile of a child. The modern flowering of the human information system is wonderful, moral and inherently beautiful.