That Mortals May Be Wise

The dilemma of wisdom in a neoliberal world

NOTE: Within this text, wherever gender is not key to the explanation, I am using the Elverson ey/em construction of the Spivak Pronouns.

Photo by Leon Seibert on Unsplash

Let us consider our fate. We are born, we age, we die. During that process, we crave some sort of purpose. That purpose may be entirely personal: to build the most complicated model railway or to be the most raucous Cardinals fan. Your parents may be proud of you for that; but in all likelihood, you were taught that you should better yourself and contribute to improving the world. You should develop a valuable skill and practice it competently. More importantly, if your parents were scholars, you should never stop learning. You should study and improve yourself. You should read voraciously and conduct your own experiments and research into the realities of the world.

Such parental influence should yield an offspring with special wisdom, understanding the world as it truly is and not as marketing moguls would have us believe. Such wisdom would build as the individual reads and studies until at the pinnacle of wisdom with a mind ideally poised to take on the world’s most insidious problems, one finds oneself deceased. Meanwhile experts who were wrong about the latest and previous wars, wrong about the economy, wrong about the meanings of words like “communism” and “liberal”, repeatedly wrong about the role of the human in a healthy society are featured daily on serious news outlets and paid to write escapist articles in major publications. When they die, they will leave behind twenty years of lingering taint. When Gramma Ellis dies, she will take her special innovation regarding how to apply European concepts to an American economy with her.

There is nothing to stop Ms. Ellis from writing a book and self-publishing but without an editor and a proofreader and a graphic artist for the cover and a marketing company, no one will read it. No modern publisher would even review a manuscript submitted by Ms. Ellis because she isn’t famous and her book summary wasn’t designed by a marketing firm. No respectable magazine will publish her article because she is an autodidact with no college degree. No respected journalist would interview her and nothing she wrote on Facebook would get any more coverage than any other crazy idea on Facebook. She may give a talk at her local library, but without an already famous person in the audience, her revelation will stop there.

The neoliberal tells us that we are each individuals with a responsibility to better ourselves at the expense of others. The neoliberal relationship is a zero-sum game in which one will win and others will lose. Your idea is meaningless if you cannot persuade investors to back it. Only the brash sociopath may succeed because such an individual is driven by the psychotic zeal to win. This is the winner in our world and the one with the world-changing ideas, the one who makes the world to satisfy eir desire: a world in which ey wins because others lose. Competing ideas are quashed and derided. The young introvert with the good idea has no route to success. The good idea is of no value if it is not backed by vigorous marketing and relentless promotion.

The curse of the agile mind is curiosity. Curiosity simply for the purpose of discovering; and yet, when the discovery happens, there is always the desire to spread the word. The joy of discovery is most rewarding when shared. Imagine if humans were largely trained in critical thinking and took joy in public discussion of interesting ideas. Consider an organization dedicated to scheduled discussions of new local ideas in the smallest of communities with a mechanism for promoting well-reasoned and well-argued ideas to a larger stage. Such an organization would teach the skills needed to present and evaluate concepts in a safe and constructive manner so that even the timid may participate. It might record all of the proposed ideas for future reference since silly ideas often inspire serious ideas.

Imagine if Gramma Ellis could submit her idea for review by her neighbors in a forum of friendly but critical minds. Finding no fault, those neighbors could submit her idea for discussion at the county level where Ms. Ellis could present and discuss with a wider audience. Imagine if the slogan “Defund the Police” had been reviewed and vetted by critical thinkers eventually recognizing its deficiencies as a rallying cry. Imagine how much more effective this meme would have been as “Demilitarize the Police” expressing more clearly, through the review process, the actual intent. Through disciplined review, good ideas become better and faulty ideas may be gently corrected contributing to a world of clearer and more effective concepts. Our society should have a mechanism for refining and preserving the wisdom of the introvert amateur that is as effective as our ability to promote the ideas of the brash sociopath.

As it stands, timid brilliance is ignored and the joy of study and discovery is foreign to the average human. Among mortals, research that only enriches the individual scholar is a mere hobby of no greater value to the world than football fandom. A healthy society requires a way to spread and use the wisdom of the common thinker; to allow the community to review revise and amplify that wisdom; to allow communities to reap the benefits of mortal ingenuity before infirmity steals it away.

Upon reflection, perhaps this is a call for such an organization. As mortals, our wisdom will die with us. That fact makes the search for wisdom appear pointless. Most people find little value in such endeavor and, perhaps, for good reason. What if that endeavor were publicly valued and preserved for use by others? What if society provided a permanent home for the ideas of common citizens? What if individual wisdom were formalized as a social asset and stored in an online retrieval system for general use? In such a world no thinking person would be mortal, since the content of each active mind would be preserved. It would benefit and encourage future thinkers and enrich the world for everyone.

Julian S. Taylor is the author of Famine in the Bullpen a book about bringing innovation back to software engineering.
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Julian S. Taylor

Julian S. Taylor

Software engineer & author. Former Senior Staff Engineer w/ Sun Microsystems. Latest book: Famine in the Bullpen. See & hear at