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January 22, 2010
Is It Sad To Have A Brain? (don't read this)

So, I'm chatting online with a recently retired friend about how it took her a year or more after retirement to really get her brain around accomplishing anything--to get herself organized so she could start doing all the things she wanted to do.

It was the lack of forced scheduling that tripped her up. I pointed out that most our lives are run by imposed schedules--we have school and then work (not to mention parental schedules), so for our entire lives we're accustomed to thinking of "time" as something that's cut into small slices, only a few of which are ours to do with as we please.*

Those with iron self-discipline might carve out an hour or so a day to spend writing or drawing or knitting or on decorative carpentry or playing in an imaginary sports league (the term for which I've temporarily misplaced) or playing a real sport or experimenting with new recipes, or even donating some time to a worth charity. (Those with iron self-discipline and no small children in the house, I mean.)

But it's an hour. Not exactly a wealth of leisure. Basically, in our society, people have to wait until they retire to figure out what matters to them--to figure out how they actually want to spend their time, because before you're retired, you really don't have enough time to worry about spending it.

In today's world, you have to be 65 (or older) before you have the time to figure out what you want to do with your life!

Put that way, she thought it was bizarre. Me, I think it's an interesting development. Like any species, we evolved with just a few basic needs--food, shelter from extreme weather or predators, and reproduction. Like any species, most of our biology and our instinctive urges are geared toward reproduction--survival of the species.

Because intelligence--self-awareness--turned out to be useful for survival, it's a biological trait that has continued to evolve. In my opinion, the continuing development of "civilization" has as much or more to do with the human brain's need to use that biological trait as with anything else.

Our societies are full of artificial complexities.

As I ponder that idea, from the perspective of my pre-lunch blood-sugar depression, I decide that our societies are also increasingly full of people (young and old) incapable of dealing with these complexities.

It's not so difficult (moving now into the realm of science fiction) to imagine an intellectual fork in the road or that eventually we could develop an intellectual elite--a subset of the population whose brains were supple enough to deal with change and growth.

And the rest, of course, would form a sort of proletariat (no day is entirely wasted if you're given the opportunity to introduce the proletariat into a conversation) that, rightwingnut paranoia aside, would never be allowed enough power to form any kind of Marxist dictatorship. (Marx lived too soon--if he'd lived long enough to see the stultifying effect a new season of American Idol or Survivor has on the bulk of the population, he would have been hard-pressed to think of a way to transition society from capitalism to his ideal communism.)

I can't remember where I was going.

Just think. If Republicans only married Republicans and Democrats only married Democrats, well, then, maybe eventually we'd have a Democratic party too smart to be manipulated by Republican scare tactics and stupidity-mongoring. (I love making up words.)

That isn't where I was originally going, but I've lost the thread. When in doubt, just blame Republicans and move onů.

Anyhow. I went to surf some news sites and found that others are pondering the gap between our institutions and our intelligence. Or simply publishing articles illustrating that there's a gap between what we know and what we think we know.






broadcasting (Seriously. There's a reason this only word with a rightwingnut audience. Liberals don't need talk radio to tell them how to think.)

For instance, I didn't need this to convince me that there's a difference between looting and survival. I've long suspected that dramatic television visuals of a guy staggering under the weight of a stolen big-screen television were masking the hundreds of potential photos of a man or a woman scavenging for food or water in the aftermath of a monumental disaster (hello Hurricane Katrina) and in the face of governmental incompetence and indifference (hello Bonehead Bush).


* It's disingenuous to say that these impositions are only a fraction of our days.

I would guesstimate that the "average" commute for a full-time worker is 45 minutes, each way, for an average of 1 hour and thirty minutes spent commuting five days a week.

Many of us have lunch "hours" in offices too-far afield from our home communities to allow us to do any more than work through lunch at our desks (this includes practically everyone I know), or sit in drably beige lunch rooms with other dispirited co-workers. (Okay--maybe it's not that bad. I'm in sort of a mood.) With the work day, that's another nine hours a day gone.

Most of us probably do sleep close to eight hours a night. We waste morning time in such frivolous pursuits as eating breakfast and showering, grooming, and dressing. We'll call that another hour a day and now we're up to nineteen and a half hours. Four and a half hours left.

Well, there's dinner, followed by clean-up. Magnanimously assuming you don't eat take-out every night, I'm going to clock that process in at an average 45 minutes a day. Three hours and forty-five minutes left.

Those of us (arguably) lucky enough not to have offspring or even pets to be fed and walked are now free. All we have to do is change into comfy clothes, empty today's lunch bag into the dishwasher, pick and pack tomorrow's lunch, check the snailmail for bills, check our email for more interesting communications, and collapse gratefully into a chair for the remaining hour or two of the day.

Those of you who have kids, two-legged or four-legged can write the time off--the four-legged ones don't need help with their homework but the two-legged ones don't have to be taken outside and introduced to a suitable piece of grassland to do their business on. Both kinds need a bit of TLC at the end of a long day.

Weekends? Don't make me laugh. Grocery shopping, laundry, house cleaning, taking the car in for service, hair appointments, dental appointments, doctor's appointments, and you-name-it. Some weeks it's a relief to go back to work on Monday, so we can rest.

How do I get side-tracked onto these ridiculous and inane pathways?

Right now I'm tempted to explain to y'all how leaving the television off for an entire evening frees both your time and your brain for other, more interesting and productive pursuits, but I'm uncomfortably aware that this footnote is almost longer than the blog entry, the theme of which I've entirely forgotten by now.

Posted by AnneZook at 02:19 PM


"That isn't where I was originally going, but I've lost the thread. When in doubt, just blame Republicans and move onů."
You had a wonderful post and then you had to go there. It's not funny. Air America Radio is no more, MSNBC gets lousy ratings. As The Progressive Review pointed out this week, these little jabs aren't helping us.
That 'joke' had nothing to do with the essay you were writing.
And it really just turned the whole thing into a petty and tired piece of nonsense. Petty because we control both house and the White House and you're offering 'jokes' about Republicans. Tired because that might have passed for semi-amusing last decade.

Posted by: Ed at January 29, 2010 08:54 AM

*headscratch* Well, I'm sorry I offended you. When I get to aimlessly ranting, as I often do, there's often no real point involved. I'm just wound up about something.

These posts are not "essays" in any sense of the word, you know. An "essay" implies thoughts, deeper thoughts, re-reading, editing, and (one assumes) some degree of coherence. I'm just typing. Admittedly, "stupid Republican" jokes are no longer trendy, but as I started making them long before they were trendy (after I got my first taste of 'Reaganomics'), I don't feel I need to be a slave to fashion in these things.

In response to your remarks, Obama did not run as a progressive and he did not promise to lead as a progressive. Basically, he came right out and said he'd do whatever we kept pressure on him to do. I give him credit for being more honest than most candidates in that.

The pressure to, for instance, pass real health care access reform, was clearly insufficient. I am irritated and cynical about this but have not yet worked up a head of steam sufficient to inspire me to blog about it. Instead, I blogged about random stupidity and alarm clocks.

Side rant - (Here I go again.) Can I just stop for a moment and say how very, very intensely it irritates me that the Democrats consistently allow the Republican Party to define the issues?

The question of access to affordable health care for everyone became entangled with health insurance company "reform and that's how we lost that one. If Republicans can't beat us on the actual issues, they change the terms of the debate. And the Democrats let them do it. Every. Single. Time.

It's stupid. Pisses me off.

/end rant

begin new rant Just--don't get me started, okay? It starts with education. If schools taught children to think then maybe we'd have more adults today who are capable of looking past sound bites on the evening news and headlines in the morning paper to find the truth about the issues and to be able to stop and consider the potential impact on their lives and their communities.

Half a generation of people wouldn't have let empty rhetoric and impossible scenarios misguide them into re-electing Reagan or voting for Bush Sr. And, certainly, the demonstrable idiocy of Bonehead would not, then, have passed unremarked. (I say nothing of Clinton--I didn't care for him as a candidate but in hindsight, I've decided he could have been worse.) (Clearly Republicans feared he could have been worse from their perspective--why else spend tens of millions of dollars and waste years trying to impeach the guy for getting a blow job? If nothing else, they successfully distracted his Administration enough to prevent much real change.)

The single most successful thing the Republican party has accomplished in the last thirty years is the brainwashing of the American public. We now have millions upon millions of voters who honestly believe that smart candidates are dangerous, that thinking about the issues is unnecessary, and that "being informed" means making sure you tune into FOX News regularly.

I have met, I have honestly met people who say they do want a President who is "just like me" or "a regular guy."

The fact that these people aren't smart enough to read or understand the fine print on their loan papers, need the assistance of three people and three months to get their taxes filed, and probably couldn't pass a written driving test if they had to take one, notwithstanding. They don't believe they're members of the intelligentsia, which is fine. But they also don't see any need for the President to be intelligent, which is not fine.

In this country, citizenship is required before you can vote. There are days, many of them, when I wish it was an IQ test instead. An Informed Quotient test. People would have to demonstrate that they understood more of the issues and the challenges facing us than they could have "learned" from a five-second story on the evening news (especially the distorted coverage often offered by FOX) or from the latest rightwingnut email blast.

There are smart and informed people in this country. Many of them are Republicans. I have long blogged that they should stand up and demand that their party pull back from the brink of insanity it's been teetering on for the last twenty years.

/end rant

You see? This is a tiny comment box and I no longer remember what I was going to say when I started to respond to your comment.

In the end, I blamed the Republicans and now I'm moving on with my life.

Posted by: Anne at February 4, 2010 11:03 AM