By Milan Vodicka, Ph.D

Another year, 2018, is gone. We are at liberty to reflect on its lessons. Last year, I devoted my writing to the emerging authoritarian state. This year provided some good signs of the prevailing goodness in people. This was manifested by the election results.

Yet, we face a number of challenges. Just look at the recent California fires. The dogmatic voices of climate change deniers continue. This and other similar aspects of this year’s events brought into my mind a foundational question.

This question is: “Do we, as individuals, communities, and a nation, have enough intelligence to face and overcome those challenges in front of us?”

In order to use intelligence, we need to understand what it is. Ralph Metzner, in his work Ecology of Consciousness, states: “Intelligence is the ability to relate thoughts to perceptions, to discern meaning in phenomena, and to apply knowledge gained from experience to the concrete facts of any situation.” Also, there is “a social intelligence, crucial to the general well-being and effective functioning of families, organizations, and communities.” Certainly, of nations, indeed of the whole global community, as well.

The whole concept is worthwhile to reflect upon. How does such intelligence come about? Is it a function of education, culture, or what? How does it manifest itself?

The question is “foundational,” because – especially in the case of climate change – the true reality of what is happening will not ask what we wish, irrespective whether we believe it or not. It is like gravity indivisible of the space itself. Well, the science! I wrote about this (see the column in Grass Valley’s The Union, December 8, 2018).

Why “intelligence?” You would assume that reasonable intelligent people would follow the evidence and modify their “beliefs” accordingly. Once I asked my grandchild, “how did you get all these Christmas presents?” Her totally honest and innocent belief based answer was, “Santa Claus brought them.” So it is with beliefs. If they are strong enough, they become reality for their holders.

I suggest that an essential part of developing intelligence is communications. Here we are – right now, by reading what I wrote, you are communicating with me. It is a one way street, a shortcoming for sure, but better than nothing.

Note that communication is a vehicle for creating a culture (how the things are done). Note the role of presidential pronouncements, the role of media reporting, and the role of informal exchanges we might have within our own self (some might say souls) or with our neighbors, co-workers, family, or friends. And then, how these communications affect our social intelligence.

Ultimately, intelligence and communicating manifests itself in the chain of causality – from thought to intention, to action. Intelligence is actionable. There is where it counts. By the dictionary, “intelligence is the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills.” Clearly, the process of acquiring knowledge is entombed in education. Applying knowledge and skills is action.

On the heels of this year 2018 a friend confided to me, “I do not know what to believe any more.” Do you know? Do we, collectively, know?

There is a fine boundary between belief and knowledge. Within classical philosophy, it is impossible to define knowledge precisely. And belief? “Acceptance that something exists or is true, especially without proof…” And then, there is demagoguery. By the dictionary, “demagoguery is the appeal to people that plays on their emotions and prejudices rather than the rational argument.” From Wikipedia, “demagogues overturn established customs of political conduct, or promise or threaten to do so.”

I do not think there is a need to elaborate on examples from 2018 demonstrating each one of those notions. They are all around us, ready for our intelligence to sort them out.

What to believe or not? I support the concept of preponderance of evidence. The black and white, yes or no arguments are very difficult to produce. However, statistically and mainly from personal experience, the truth emerges.

I shall close by quoting words of the former first lady Michelle Obama, from a recent interview with Stephen Colbert: “The country has to ask itself, what do we want, what is the bar we are setting for ourselves?”

Indeed, what do we want? Hopefully, continuing the results of this year 2018 elections, the intelligent actions of most people in the coming years will make it clear. My personal wish is for the old politicians of yesteryears, those with their almost medieval thinking and resulting actions, to retire.

Intelligence facilitates problem solving. We need it now more than ever.

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