Tuesday, October 10, 2006

The Dumbest Generation Yet

by Charmaine Frost

For more than 2000 years, successive generations have been progressively more stupid and morally obtuse; this tendency was bemoaned by Socrates who, as one of the last sages of a dying Golden Age, would never have uttered anything which wasn't factual and carefully considered.

Man's outer physique hides the true nature of his brain. The average brain, in the time of Socrates, possessed 200 times more convolutions than a modern brain; the surface area of a typical cerebrum was as large as a golf course. Ordinary peasants didn't need to study languages; after hearing only a paragraph of a foreign tongue, they instantly under stood its rules of syntax. That most people were illiterate is a modern myth; children weren't taught reading, as they instantly understood how words and sentences were written after hearing only 3 passages read aloud.

Pericles, Overseer of a Golden Age

In the medieval era, the surface area of a typical cerebrum was as large as a football field. Toddlers mastered the rules of logic in only 2 days; between mudfights, they debated how many obese angels could lounge on the head of a pin. Many youths, preferring ivy covered towers to the jousting field, studied laws defined by Merlin, a physicist who lived and wrote during the glittering pinnacle of the Golden Age; thus they knew how to travel backwards and forwards in time and how to reverse ageing, so that many lived for 300 years but died as newborns.

In the Age of Enlightenment, symbolized by a sputtering candle flame rather than by a glowing light bulb, the average brain possessed 20 times more convolutions than a modern one, and cerebral surface area was as large as a tennis court. Children now needed tutors, if they were to learn reading; however, even peasant babes, destined to illiteracy, extolled the virtues of reason in polysyllabic monologues while crawling on all fours. Students of the Great Mysteries, after years spent deciphering ancient scholarly texts, learned how to surround their heads with crown-like coronas of radiant light -leading to the association of "bright" with studious or intelligent and leading students of the arcane to understand how halos were really created. Our own brains fill the same cranial capacity as those of our forebears. However, while their brains were densely packed with sparking neurons, our brains are largely water, which fills interstices once populated by thought-generating cells; remove the water, and our brains would be as small as lemons, with the minimally convoluted surface area only as large as the floorspace in an average dusty closet. If we lived in the Golden Age, we'd seem no smarter than chipmunks.

With each generation, the number of cerebral convolutions decreases and their depth lessens; despite our claims of progress, this is devolution in its purest form. In 200 years, the surface area of the average cerebrum will equal that of a lemon; in 400 years, it will equal that of a midget pea. Those with stethoscopes (if they know how to use them!) or especially acute ears, will hear the water sloshing back and forth in skulls as people walk. Lovers, with faces close together, will hear the ocean surf in the beloved's head. Most likely, however, the word "love" will have been forgotten and sound like just another random cough of Nature. With noses together, our couple will sniff the pheromones, then grunt and hump.

This youngest generation may be the dumbest yet, but dumber are to come; such was lamented by Socrates, and predicted by grandparents of wiser eras. But rest assured, members of the dumbest generation: Someday, you will be paragons of humans on earth, able to proudly sneer at your moron progeny.

Primary among Building Projects of the Golden Age was the Parthenon, a marvelous and enduring symbol of the "greatest generation." The Parthenon was ostensibly dedicated to Athena Parthenos, the Virgin Goddess of war, wisdom and weaving, and patron goddess of the city of Athens. Inside the temple stood a 40-foot tall gold and ivory statue of her made by Pheidias, the friend of Pericles.

But there are many clues that this magnificent building was intended to glorify the extraordinary mortal inhabitants of the city. The great frieze, traditionally seen as celebrating the gods, and in which the statue of the goddess Athena is honored, evokes images of mortal victories in which there are 192 Athenian soldiers featured on the frieze -- the exact number of Athenians who fell fighting the Persians at Marathon.

-- The Editor


1 comment:

Fred Vaughan said...

As Charmaine Frost has pointed out so poignantly in her satirical comments, no other era in human civilization has ever fostered a period so fertile with genius and brilliance in so many different disciplines as did the “Golden Age” of Athens nearly twenty five hundred years ago. In philosophy Athens produced Socrates, Anaxagoras, and Plato. And although Plato vindictively attributes to democracy the death of Socrates, it is clear that only in Athens at that period would philosophers have been so free to criticize their government. In history there were Herodotus and Thucydides, who recounted for us the sad demise of democracy by Lacedaemonian enemies, Greeks themselves. (Thucydides, The History of the Peloponnesian War, Britannica Great Books, Vol. 6, 1952.) Plato shamefully became a principle among such enemies. (Karl Popper, Enemies of a Free Society -- 1 Plato, Princeton Press, (Princeton) 1971.) In literature Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides excelled to our continuing pleasure and enrichment. The Athenian Empire as a democracy prized intelligence and well-spent leisure. It could boast of the brilliance of citizens, who excelled in science, sculpture, literature, architecture, medicine, mathematics, and philosophy – indeed any truly enlightened activity known to man at the time, which ennobles the lives of those so occupied either with its development or appreciation. In leadership Athens could boast perhaps the greatest leader of all time – Pericles – in comparison with whom only a fool rabid with rapture would nominate George W. Bush. In such a comparison how could we conclude other than as Charmaine has that we have to be “The Dumbest Generation Yet”! But as she finishes her fine article, “This youngest generation may be the dumbest yet, but dumber are to come; such was lamented by Socrates, and predicted by grandparents of wiser eras. But rest assured, members of the dumbest generation: Someday, you will be paragons of humans on earth, able to proudly sneer at your moron progeny.” But I suspect that subsequent generations will sneer right back at us from debased conditions caused by our monumental failures as all but football coaches now sneer at Sparta, because for greed and power we will stupidly (once again) have let democracy slip away.
I recognize it was a hopeless dream that those of us in the US would act while there was time before Election 2004 to avoid another debacle like the rape of Election 2000 in which, no matter what party you wanted to win, democracy lost! And are we still so stupid in 2006? And if the tampering with democratic processes happens again may our voices rise up in unison with unquenchable anger until democracy is restored. I append a major excerpt from Pericles’s Funeral Speech for Athenian War Dead given 431 BC. I don’t pretend that that of which Pericles boasts is what we have in America now, but rather that to which any democracy should aspire by incremental improvement – one improvement at a time, one election at a time, one vote at a time – the only way democracy works at all. Here now is Pericles:
"…Our form of government is called a democracy because its administration is in the hands, not of a few, but of the whole people. In the settling of private disputes, everyone is equal before the law. Election to public office is made on the basis of ability, not on the basis of membership to a particular class. No man is kept out of public office by the obscurity of his social standing because of his poverty, as long as he wishes to be of service to the state. And not only in our public life are we free and open, but a sense of freedom regulates our day-to-day life with each other. We do not flare up in anger at our neighbor if he does what he likes. And we do not show the kind of silent disapproval that causes pain in others, even though it is not a direct accusation. In our private affairs, then, we are tolerant and avoid giving offense. But in public affairs, we take great care not to break the laws because of the deep respect we have for them. We give obedience to the men who hold public office from year to year. And we pay special regard to those laws that are for the protection of the oppressed and to all the unwritten laws that we know bring disgrace upon the transgressor when they are broken.
"Let me add another point. We have had the good sense to provide for our spirits more opportunities for relaxation from hard work than other people. Throughout the year, there are dramatic and athletic contests and religious festivals. In our homes we find beauty and good taste, and the delight we find every day and this drives away our cares. And because of the greatness of our city, all kinds of imports flow in to us from all over the world. It is just as natural for us to enjoy the good products of other nations as it is to enjoy the things that we produce ourselves.
"The way we live differs in another respect from that of our enemies. Our city is open to all the world. We have never had any aliens' laws to exclude anyone from finding or seeking anything here, nor any secrets of the city that an enemy might find out about and use to his advantage. For our security, we rely not on defensive arrangements or secrecy but on the courage that springs from our souls, when we are called into action. As for education, the enemy subjects their children from their earliest boyhood to the most laborious training in manly courage. We, with our unrestricted way of life, are just as ready to face the dangers as they are. And here is the proof. The Spartans never invade Attica using only their own troops, but they bring along all their allies. But when we attack a nearby city, we usually win by ourselves even though we fight on enemy soil against men who defend their own homes. No enemy, in fact, has even engaged our total military power because our practice is constantly to attend to the needs of our navy, as well as to send our troops on many land excursions. Yet, if our enemies engage one division of our forces and defeat it, they boast that they have beaten our entire army, and if they are defeated they say that they lost to our whole army. So it is not painful discipline that makes us go out to meet danger, but our easy confidence. Our natural bravery springs from our way of life, not from the compulsion of laws. Also we do not spend our time anticipating the sufferings that are still in the future, and when the test is upon us, we show ourselves no less brave than those who are continually preparing themselves for battle. Athens deserves to be admired for these qualities and for others as well.
"Our love for beauty does not make us extravagant, and our love of things of the mind does not make us soft. We regard wealth as something to be properly used and not as something to boast about. Nobody need be ashamed to admit poverty, but it is shameful not to do one's best to escape from poverty. Our concern for our private affairs is balanced by our involvement with the affairs of the city. Even people who are mostly occupied with their own business are extremely well informed on political matters. We do not simply regard a man who does not participate in the city's life as one who just minds his own business, but as one who is good for nothing. We all join in debate about the affairs of the city, as they deserve, or at least we participate in the decisions. We do not think that these discussions impede action. We do believe that what is damaging is to go into action in a crucial situation before the people have been fully instructed in debate.
"The strongest are those who understand with perfect clarity what is terrible in life and what is sweet and then go out undeterred to confront danger.
"But he who owes us something is likely to be listless in his friendship, knowing that when he repays the kindness, it will count not as a favor bestowed but as a debt repaid.
"Again, in nobility of spirit, we differ from most others in the way we conduct ourselves toward other peoples. We make friendships not by receiving kindness from others but by conferring it on others. Helping others makes us a more trustworthy friend, because we then act so as not to lose the good will that our help created. A city that makes its friendships by accepting help is not so trustworthy. Its conduct toward other peoples is going to be governed not by good will, but merely by its grudging sense of obligation. We alone do kindness to others, not because we stop to calculate whether this will be to our advantage, but in the spirit of liberality, which motivates us.
"In short, I assert that the city of Athens, taken all together, is a model for all Greece, and that each Athenian, as far as I can see, is more self-reliant as an individual and behaves with exceptional versatility and grace in the more varied forms of activity."