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New Fantasy & Science Fiction

Intelligence is Wrong

editorial by Robert P. Switzer

Consider this possibility.

Humankind, as it exists at the present moment on this planet, isn't what it could or should be. It falls short of the ideal. At some point in our past, humankind as a whole took a wrong turn.

Perhaps humankind has always fallen short of the ideal. Perhaps, then, the wrong turn was taken at the very beginning.

The very beginning of humankind. Can you picture it? The moment when humans crossed that evolutionary line, and were no longer merely animals. What made us suddenly superior to the rest? Intelligence?

Perhaps we weren't suddenly superior after all. Perhaps, instead, intelligence made us abruptly inferior.

Watch the news and you'll notice that we humans have a lot of problems -- problems that none of the other animals seem to have. And it's our precious intelligence that leads, one way or another, to these terrible and ridiculous problems.

Two of my favourites are pollution and war. One might suppose that these problems come from ignorance more than anything else. But other animals don't have these problems; the ignorance, ironically, is a product of human intelligence.

All of this intelligence really does make us feel superior; it makes us think in terms of "us" and "them." And since we're better than everyone and everything else, we can only conclude that this planet is our planet, so of course we'll do what we damn well please with it.

Intelligence made us rulers of the world. Somehow, though, it didn't make us good rulers -- it just made us rulers.

Intelligence made us selfish and possessive. After all, I ought to be able to possess all that my neighbour possesses -- and maybe just a little more. And I don't care if what my neighbour owns is all worthless; I want and deserve to surround myself with the same worthlessness. Diamonds, for example. I need to possess diamonds. It doesn't matter than diamonds are nothing but shiny bits of garbage. My neighbour has some, so I want some too.

Maybe the shiny bits of garbage that you cling to aren't diamonds, but something else entirely. Some other animal, stumbling upon your shiny bits of garbage, might admire the shininess for a moment and then move on. Being the intelligent human that you are, however, you realize that you can keep the shininess all to yourself, lock it up and admire it whenever you please. Isn't it great to possess things?

Intelligence made us foolish.

Did intelligence make us happier? Well, let me think for a moment. Let me search through all of my most valuable possessions. Surely happiness is amongst them. But no, it doesn't seem to be. How odd. I could've sworn it was here somewhere.

There is, on the other hand, anxiety. Where did it come from? From thinking too much, that's where. This intelligence makes us capable of worrying about a hell of a lot more stuff than other animals worry about. Mostly we worry about silly things, but still we can't stop our minds from worrying. So there is anxiety. And sometimes there is anxiety upon anxiety upon anxiety.

And then there's death. We all understand that we will die some day. It isn't easy to live with such knowledge.

Intelligence sucks. Intelligence is stupid. The fact that there is intelligence on this planet makes it an uglier planet. Be realistic. We don't know what the hell we're doing. It looks as though intelligence isn't really intelligent at all.

Perhaps intelligence has helped humankind to survive up to this point, but looking at the bigger picture, intelligence seems like a big problem, not a solution. Could it be that intelligence is a mistake? Could it be that intelligence is just plain wrong?

It's admittedly difficult for someone who is standing within this supposed sphere of intelligence to judge the intelligence. It's also difficult to imagine oneself outside the sphere. For instance, how might other animals feel about intelligence?

We'd like to believe that they're envious of it; perhaps they get a sense of the power it gives up, and secretly hope to get their paws on a little of the power themselves. Or perhaps they don't like the looks of intelligence at all, realizing that they're better off without it. Or maybe they despise intelligence altogether, and hate what it has done to their world. Maybe it seems to them that intelligence is crowding out the beauty.

The paradox is that other animals don't possess the intelligence to speculate that intelligence might be a mistake. If they did possess intelligence, then they would also undoubtedly possess the insanity that clearly comes with it. Is there any way for intelligent beings to regain the sanity of the rest of the world?

Perhaps all we really need is our human intelligence to grow just a little more intelligent. Is that possible? I think so. I hope so.

Might science fiction guide the way? Some science fiction seems designed to do so. Two novels that come to mind are Ursula K. Le Guin's The Dispossessed and Joan Slonczewski's A Door Into Ocean.

Our human minds contain some exciting potential. At this point in time, however, intelligence on this planet still looks like a bad idea.

But maybe we can make it look brilliant.

Robert P. Switzer is the author of three Challenging Destiny editorials and many unpublished science fiction stories.

Cover artist Chris Whitlow is a self-taught artist who grew up on the Gulf Coast with a love for science fiction/fantasy and horror. After many years of travel throughout the world he now lives in Florida with his wife and daughter. Chris has studied extensively in Europe and America and loves many of the early masters such as Michelangelo and da Vinci because of their realistic styles. He also gets inspiration from modern masters such as Escher, Michael Whelan, Norman Rockwell, Frank Frazetta and Bernie Wrightson. He has done commercial work as well as fine art which has been mostly portraiture. He has designed safety posters for the Navy, tee-shirts for NASA and Harley Davidson, created company logos, and done illustrations for military manuals. He has published work throughout the small presses in Odyssey, Talebones, Pulp Eternity, Challenging Destiny and others.

Last modified: February 15, 2009

Copyright © 1999 Robert P. Switzer

Crystalline Sphere | Challenging Destiny | Issue #8 | Editorials