But then who would want to be a scientist if they realised that the myth of the great inventor was just that, a myth? The recent film about Darwin wouldn’t have been half as interesting if it had shown him cutting up worms for twenty years with all the methodical precision of true experiment. No, the film makes him into some renegade scientist with 24 hours to save the world and, most importantly, use his super-evolutionary-theorising-powers to combat racism. It’s a lovely twist, especially for anyone that’s read The Descent of Man.
Problem is - people need reasons for things. Newton was recognised as a genius and so was his good friend Locke, but the real hero of eighteenth century development was the Royal Institute and the growing ideology of liberalism that permitted it. Yet even that reading plays along with the humanistic idea of “progress” that meets almost universal approval these days. Indeed, the idea that “more science = more good therefore history = progression” enjoys an unquestioned status nowadays similar to the existence of God in the middle ages. Ironic really, since ‘humanism’ has somehow become synonymous with atheism…
Although, as I’ve written about before (maybe last week even) people need to believe in something – especially if we take “belief” in Hume’s sense as meaning the concept of “meaning”. Humanistic progression is a handy narrative for injecting meaning into all things material. Reading this blog right now you’re probably thinking that the very blog form itself is a totally new medium (public diary) dependent upon new technologies (internet) and is thus a result of progression. But it’s not a product of progression; it’s a product of development. ‘Progression’ suggests a forward movement towards meaning and, dialectically, a phenomenology of increasing “goodness”, in the most theologically loaded way possible. ‘Development’ is self-contained and therefore references each separate ‘development’ as an individual completion of a self-imposed task. You develop a new type of sandal, you succeed and sandal design has become ‘more developed’ through diversification, sandals have not become more progressed for this would insinuate a perfect sandal.
The narratives that are drawn from materiality (the sort that call themselves ‘science’ and by doing so give it a bad name) extend even to the most subjective of enigmas – the mind. Of course, it’s easy to dismiss the weekly Telegraph article that tells all the middle-class parents how their children are superior to the poor kids ‘genetically’ and how greed is good according to ‘evolution’, but it goes even further than that. The IQ test, for example, is the equivalent of judging someone’s overall athletic ability by measuring every aspect of how they play table tennis, and then inferring that if they aren’t very good at table tennis then they should go work at McDonalds like the rest of the wrist-thickies. I’ve never taken an IQ test and never will… the project defeats itself. The greatest irony being that Einstein, someone who all high-IQ kids have to worship as a product of the individual worship I mentioned previously, was yes, indeed, rather poor at academia early in life.
Basically, at heart, the entire premise is designed to return privilege into the social hierarchy in an age where the traditional aristocratic bollocks has gone from tragedy to farce. Browsing the television the other night I found a programme about a “boy genius” with a billion-point IQ who had read War and Peace at the age of ten. The genius deigned to read us some of a novel he himself was working on… obviously I was on tenterhooks to find out what this superior being had to offer to a mere mortal like me. So he read it, and guess what, yes, it was shit. The kid couldn’t write for toffee and the way he spoke showed he was obviously thick too. But then he was ten and that’s how ten-year-olds are supposed to be. He had clearly only read War and Peace because it sounded like something that a ‘smart’ person would do and his parents had been told he was ‘smart’. Interestingly though, it did almost prove a theory that William Godwin advanced in his revolutionary Eighteenth-Century tract An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice when he was talking of aristocratic privilege – he said, if I see in a child the ability to become an epic poet, do I teach him how to write or do I award him all the prizes he may one day attain and then await the masterpiece? Indeed, if a child is told that they are a genius will they be likely to continue as they did before they knew or, more likely, will they become a mix of pompous arrogance and overwhelmed terror at their new found responsibility.
In conclusion then, life is meaningless and if you are ever under any impression at all that you are special then not only are you certainly not, but you’re also a dick. Of course, if it turned out I actually had a high IQ then I’d be trapped inside my own theorising and this would have been a hopeless attempt at educating the brainless cattle that make up mankind. Within weeks I’d no doubt be part of a Plato-esque meritocracy in which the high IQers write endless awful poetry whilst the low-IQers slave away in the acid mines until they grow plump enough to be processed into soylent green…
Good thing I’m thick then.