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Intelligence precludes Happiness?

The following text appeared on the Metafilter site, whereupon other members offered their opinions and support. I'll let you read it first and then I will tell you how it struck me and what it says about modern day society. Please comment!


"It's hard to think about the meaning of your life when you can barely make rent. Just graduated from college. Unbelievably bitter and having an existential crisis. So, now what? This will be hyperbolic. I don’t always feel this way, I have friends, I have a job, I have time, my life isn’t over. But right now I feel as though it is, so that’s how I’m going to write this.

I have spent my entire life being told by teachers how clever I am, and expending essentially zero effort to make As and Bs. And now I’ve graduated from college and suddenly realized that the past 16 years’ worth of effort were absolutely pointless, because no one cares if you’re smart.

So now I make $8 an hour working food service and every day of my life I think of the statistic that people who graduate in a recession never make as much money as their luckier counterparts, and applying for job after job in my major and not even getting called back. I live in a s***ty apartment in a s***ty part of the town I went to school in. My friends are here, I like the area, but apparently I can’t get a job here that isn’t s**t.

The same smug assholes who say “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results,” they’re telling me “just keep applying, SOMEONE will call you back!” They all have jobs, of course, because they didn’t graduate in 2010.

So here I am, with skills like ‘writing’ and ‘organizing’ and ‘generating ideas,’ which are also known as ‘utterly pointless’ in today’s job market. I’m bitter about what dozens of teachers told me, I’m bitter I wasn’t better prepared, I hate the fact that I have no goals besides “get a better f***ing job.” I don’t know what I thought would happen when I graduated, because everyone made it sound like I, with my marvelous skills, would walk into some cushy job and then just ~go from there~. It was all very nebulous. I can’t believe I didn’t see through the bullshit years ago and start cultivating some ACTUAL skills but now it’s too late.

If someone puts a syllabus in front of me and says ‘go,’ I’ll blow them away. But there’s no syllabus for f***ing LIFE. Every day I work food service I become less and less employable, like an actress with fading looks, and if the economy ever turns around they’ll just hire a bunch of fresh little grads and I will still be making $8 an hour, won’t I? So what the f*** do I do now? Feel free to tell me I'm just a spoiled little white girl who needs to shut up and chill out."


Firstly, the writer's intelligence certainly shines through. She claims to be smart and she is. And most of you reading this, including myself, may have experienced similar frustrations to hers at some point.

Basically my comments relate to intelligence and the implications it has for those who have it. Her intelligence seems to have lead her to a place that she would rather not go. One question, for all of us who claim to be intelligent, is "would I prefer to be less intelligent?". If this lady were less intelligent, would she be 'happier' in some sense? For example:

Would she be less likely to belabour herself with painful images such as "like an actress with fading looks".

Would she have come across powerful and frightening admonitions such as "“the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results”.

What I am saying is that perhaps the 'uneducated' do not have what she describes as "existential crises" - because they do not know what the phrase means. An intelligent person is able to appreciate the pathos of such a situation and is just as capable of torturing themselves by dwelling on unpleasant thoughts, as enriching themselves by dwelling on instructive/enjoyable ones.

Clearly intelligence can be a mixed blessing. It certainly allows us to experience richer, more productive, lives (the power for change and so on). But does it come at a price? I would say that the price may be high if we do not control and refine our intelligence in a productive way. An intelligent person needs to train themselves to dwell on the positive aspects of their situation.

They need to think up strategies for staying happy/content and ways that they may contribute positively to the society in which we find ourselves. To discover the eternal truths for ourselves. Furthermore, if we only think about our own needs we are not likely to live rich and fruitful lives are we? It could be argued that it takes an intelligent outlook on life to realise the benefits of putting the needs of others above our own needs.

The lady who wrote the above text would seem to be in the process of confronting the joys and tribulations of her intelligence. She is uncomfortable with being thought of as "a spoiled little white girl". She is more than is suggested by this perjorative phrase - as the Desiderata reminds us (yes, that link takes you to my chess blog!). She is perhaps too concerned with what others think of us - a fault we do not experience as children and which we hopefully learn to eradicate in our mature years!

She is of course correct in saying that they forgot to provide us with a user manual when we were born. I don't think she needs to feel guilty for not seeing "through the bullshit years ago". She probably saw through them sooner than many others, I guess!

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