About Me

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Deep South, United States
Consultant, inventor, mentor, chess coach,. Current projects involve No Till Farming and staving off blindness due to cataracts among other projects. I also do confidential ghost writing (without taking any published credit. My current blindness makes me put this on hold for a while. I should have one eye working again in about four months. Fact, fiction, all subjects considered. I have heard My daughter Jennifer is alive. I would love it if she were to contact me here. I understand she would like to know me. I have sent a message by circuitous route. I can only hope. My posted Email works as well. We have four decades to catch up on.

This blog has been up for more than a year. The intent was to generate dialogues about serious problems and ideas. It has been almost exclusively a monologue. I have not been looking for large numbers of participants.

I would be quite happy with a few dozen imaginative, creative, thoughtful and inventive people who wish to address serious problems and issues. If anyone has any ideas about how to attract such a talented group I will certainly pay attention. I am not as computer conversant as I would wish. Anyone who could help in this regard would find me receptive to sharing my skills in other areas.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Intelligence and Happiness

The premise of the discussion on a different forum is that unusual intelligence tends to be fertile ground for almost inevitable unhappiness.

Chronic unhappiness is not held in high esteem anywhere that I know of. It is held to be highly destructive, and in the extreme, it is. I don't understand why it is of so little interest for those who find eugenic manipulations acceptable and appropriate. No one is trying to genetically engineer for happiness. It seems much more of a central issue to me.

I differ with the author of the two page essay in support of the position, a fellow named Bill Allin. And the other commenters seemed to find his essay comforting, the notion that a surplus of intelligence carried some inevitable baggage of misery.

So even though I did not agree, I chose not to join the little group to disagree. But being, or having once been, a little to the right of the right margin on the Gaussian Curve, I am loathe to internalize the inevitability of chronic unhappiness.

The point was supported with a single isolated example, Hemingway. In one sense that's okay, since one good opposing example is enough to draw Mr. Allin's conclusion into question.

His position is a widespread belief, and it is a notion that damages the prospects of increasing the development of unusual intelligence.

Hemingway had a singular talent. He certainly broke new ground in writing. When we hold him to be a genius, it is because his writing caught our attention, it pleased us, resonated with something within us, something very important. But the vibrations are more and more muted as time goes on. Hemingway was a product of his times. By mid-century he was already becoming an anachronism. And he was too sure of himself to change.

But times were changing explosively, and people were drawn to anyone who could supply a sense of coherence. A palpable certainty about the way things were. The style of thinking, the volatile social structure within which he lived, and with which he coped, was the crucible that made him what he was. The present time would be very alien to him. If anything, change and complexity have increased sharply since those turbulent times. And crisp, simple answers are harder to sustain.

Hemingway was not designed to be happy. He was not designed at all in that sense. He just became what he was in empirical fashion. Most of us do. But in that generation, there were some pretty serious challenges and people were pretty overwhelmed by it all.

Nothing like the Spanish Revolution and the first World War had ever been seen before. Oh, the carnage of war was not new. But the scope of it was far greater than anything in history, and even for those distant from the battles, it was shatteringly real. No longer was World War One naively justified as the "war to end all wars." And the reality of it was brought home vividly as never before. Just as the war was ending, and the victors were plundering and humiliating the vanquished, setting the stage for the next conflict, an influenza pandemic swept the globe.

The war had made it clear that politics by these other means had no real winners, and left us globally in such terrible shape as to set us up for the pandemic.

Hemingway exemplified an intense need for simple answers and a hope for an impossible return to simpler times. In essence he said, it is not about solving the problems besetting us. All we need is guts.

So at one and the same time, Hemingway was sensitive and empathic enough to brilliantly portray the dramatic turbulence of that world and those people, while exhibiting a toughness which was beyond normal human capacity. This was not a blueprint for happiness and contentment. It was a blueprint for intense turmoil, with peaks of triumph and elation, and chasms of despair.

I would not characterize Ernest Hemingway as a failure, as in, … "four wives and an unknown number of failed romantic relationships." Only one measure of a relationship is its’ length.

Even his suicide, which I personally have a certain tendency to disfavor, does not so much represent failure to me as much as, in this isolated case, … prudently leaving the field of battle before his thinking, style, and relevance were not just faded, distant memories, but forgotten.

Perish the thought that this was cowardice. It was not. Everyone presumes he was "clinically depressed" and therefore he committed suicide. I think it is more likely that he could not allow the ultimate anticlimax to his own story, of an eventual lingering, aging, decadent death, in a life known throughout for its’ adventure; a veritable dervish dance with death.

The Hemingway quote, "Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know," was not a lament. Not a rueful admission of suffering from depression, today's epidemic disease. It was not seeking ministrations from some "expert" medical consciousness-manipulator or a change in brain chemistry with the taking of some daily pills.

No, it was just a statement reflecting his perspective, that of a man who could hunt wild game or the most dangerous drama with equal courage.

Drama is unresolved conflict. If it is happy and serene, it is not drama. Even the ending need not be joyful. When we vicariously experience the tragedy of others, if there is some sort of perceived moral or lesson for us at the end, that is enough. Even if the story has a tragic ending, we can still bask in our good fortune in being better off than the character in the story, particularly if that character came to realize something as a result of what happened.

And look at all the brilliant writers of the period whose muse and constant companion was distilled yeast pee. Considered by many at the time, to be an indispensable tool of the trade.

But Hemingway had an existential dilemma. Slow descent into further deterioration, and more loss of the sharp edge of his prime. Few of us can avoid a certain sadness about that. But most of us are not "larger than life" in the sense that Hemingway was. And it wasn't only physical infirmity that troubled him. He could see it in his writing as well. It was becoming — longer and slower paced.

No. What Hemingway did was more consistent with his life. I doubt he was jolly at the time. But he wasn’t depressed. The ending worked, except for the mystery of it. There had never been anything mysterious about Hemingway.

But his end was fitting. It worked. And it had the energy and vigor of his prime prose. Stark, spare, Spartan.

Another compelling writer of the period was Somerset Maugham, who poses quite a contrast. Also deeply involved in the wars and espionage, the Depression and the European devastation, the pandemic. But his focus was different. Hemingway's key characters knew what they were doing, even in chaotic circumstances. They were decisive and direct. They knew what they needed to do, and they did it.

With Maugham's central characters, there was at least some introspection, and maybe even an epic quest for meaning and wisdom. Hemingway's heroes thought they had all the answers already, if they thought about such things at all. He and his characters were confident and assured. They did what they had to do because that was the way they were built. We all tried to internalize that image, at least for a while, to whatever extent we could.

No meditative odyssey, no quest for the ultimate answer. Hemingway men knew what reality was all about and knew what they had to do.

Maugham was drawn to the idea that there were universal answers, accessible to those earnest, wise, and diligent few who could make sense of life's lessons. Hemingway never thought to look for contentment. I doubt that such a hope ever lurked in his mind.

But it certainly did with Maugham. My point is this. Comparing the two writers, I would be hard put to tell which was the more intelligent. Certainly Maugham was more sophisticated, more intellectual. So why do I have the distinct impression that Maugham was essentially serene and in good spirits most of the time, and was perhaps the smarter of the two writers. I certainly never got the sense that he was driven by a struggle to fit into his own idealized notion of manhood.

Someone may notice that I am essentially mixing apples and oranges here. Mailer would have been a better example. Tumultuous, aggressive, mercurial, always taking the challenge of life head-on. And adapting. And continuing to struggle. Even old, crippled enough to need a cane, he lived in a fourth floor walk-up apartment. He was a man who would ultimately let time catch him, as we all must. But he never let the future pass him up. And I think he too was happy a good part of the time.

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