G.L.Piggy [at] gmail.com
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James Fallows mentions Noam Chomsky’s interesting thoughts on the channeling of intelligence (emphasis, Fallows’):
You sometimes find in non-literate cultures [the] development of the most extraordinary linguistic systems: often there’s tremendous sophistication about language, and people play all sorts of games with language.
What all these things look like is that people just want to use their intelligence somehow, and if you don’t have a lot of technology and so on, you do other things.
Well, in our society, we have things that you might use your intelligence on, like politics, but people really can’t get involved in them in a very serious way — so what they do is they put their minds into other things, such as sports.
You’re trained to be obedient; you don’t have an interesting job; there’s no work around for you that’s creative; in the cultural environment you’re a passive observer of usually pretty tawdry stuff; political and social life are out of your range, they’re in the hands of the rich folks. So what’s left? Well, one thing that’s left is sports — so you put a lot of the intelligence and the thought and the self-confidence into that. And I suppose that’s also one of the basic functions it serves in the society in general: it occupies the population, and keeps them from trying to get involved with things that really matter.
It’s an interesting thought. We could say the same for video games. I’ve never thought that video game players were lazy or stupid – they’re just unproductive in economic terms. Sports and video games are the outposts redundant masculine energy. Fantasy football is one channel. If you’ve ever dealt with a dictatorial FF administrator you know how important politics can be in this realm.
Men’s general fascination with numbers is often corralled when they are boys – baseball cards and the memorization of statistical performance is/was a big hobby for many. Also, when you listen to a sports discussion between friends or on the radio/television, it’s easy to juxtapose the argument there with a political one. It’s about strategy more than it is about the actual game being discussed. It’s no wonder that tribalism pervades sports and politics alike.
I actually had similar thoughts a couple of years ago while driving through Oklahoma, listening to grown men on the radio talk excitedly about high school football. I realized that their discussion was less about boys playing a game than it was about strategizing, forecasting, planning, hypothesizing, and staking out a position that will be proven right or wrong giving them something further, again, to ruminate on.
To make a quick leap – rising income inequality is one outcome of the increase in the number of “interfaces” humans have. If intelligence is malleable or transferable in these ways – if we have more channels through which to express it – as we progress technologically intelligence becomes that more potent, especially for those who have the most of it. This argument is pretty common but I don’t think that Chomsky or progressives and redistributionists fully accept this argument. When the only way to get ahead was to manipulate the spoken language, the ability to get ahead was limited. But when you can get ahead by manipulating the written language, coded language, and the proliferation of language, you can really make some money.