There are things I just find funny. Minding my own business, stumbling around out there, maneuvering the minefield, finally a small spark of joy finds my path. Here’s a prime example, from National Geographic:
“While magnetic north has always wandered, its routine plod has shifted into high gear, sending it galloping across the Northern Hemisphere—and no one can entirely explain why.” Here's the article.
The article’s summation seemed to kill the need for an article, unless joining a clump of people and looking bewildered is your thing. Typically, articles answer questions, but this one proposes to state an alarming condition and then spend the article saying, “Huh? Could it be this? Or maybe this? Weird. That’s so weird. What do you think, Expert?”
“Shit, I don’t know. I mean, this is happening, but I have no idea why. I just – I just don’t know. Maybe another expert knows.”
“Wow. That’s fucked up.”
This falls into that catch-all of articles we see proliferating these days – the clickbait article, the attention getter totally lacking substance. In the early 1990s, I remember radio show host Art Bell claiming polar shifts would cause catastrophic winds, lightning and thunder, dogs and cats living together in sin, and perhaps the writer of this article – and the editor who approved this – knew the condition sounded alarming enough to attract attention, feed into our secret Doomsday fetish, and get clicks.
This leads to another great article, the timing of its arrival seeming most fortuitous:
Are our terrible diets, bad schools, tech obsession, or even increasingly trashy media to blame?
Think about that. We are all getting dumber … science proves … and no one is sure why. We’re too dumb to figure out why we’re all getting dumber – even those bright minds who can scientifically prove the collective intelligence is augering into the deck. It doesn’t so much fit the bill of classic irony, but it provides a sense of paradox at the very least.
I would imagine there are multiple factors at play. First, some level of stupidity is an evolutionary adaptation: people in the lower echelons of society can always claim ignorance to employers when breaking rules set forth by a job and therefore do whatever the fuck they want – stupidity in defense of self-determination – while the seeming elevated echelons of society have played the game of giving the fruit of their parents’ labors or buried themselves in debt to play the game. They have paid Captive Audience Pricing for books and tuition in order to show that they have met another person’ deadline within an area of knowledge, but, more importantly, that they can cast aside logic and reason for that which is shiny. These people can’t remember their keys, they literally leave their cars running, but they’re studied in their respective fields. They have sacrificed common sense at the altar of well-heeled mediocrity; this leaves their bosses comfortable that their stable of experts will never be able to outshine them until they are damn-well good and ready to be rolled out the front door in their office chairs, arms bent, fingers curved perfectly for the computer keyboard like Van Cliburn.
Stupidity, in its moderated and graduated levels, serves the structure of the larger echelons. People stare at climate change while their pockets get picked. Digital device hypnosis in the black mirror proves our collective mollification: helpful descriptors like Opinion or Hot Take get smaller and smaller at the heads of articles to blend into legitimate news, opinion pieces granting a more visceral response. The one no one seems to care about but has always bothered me: The Ending of [Blank] – Explained. Click on the video, and it always includes the warning, “If you haven’t seen [Blank], turn off the video now, but if you have seen it, stay tuned – we’ll explain the ending.” If you’ve seen it, you already get the ending. If you haven’t seen it, you’re clicking on the video so you don’t have to watch [Blank] and can just cut to a spoiler.
A descending collective intelligence serves the purposes of those with the sounding boards to shape human behavior. To break the cycle, all you have to do is think.