My Problem with Society – Fri 6th Apr 07

Imagine two people asked to say what they think their most impressive abilities are. Let’s imagine they are youngish people (under 30), as this will illustrate the point better.

“I can run faster than anyone I know!” says Person A.

“I can speak two languages” says Person B.

“I’m a good fighter”, says Person A.

“I can explain to you the Theory or Relativity”, says Person B.

“I’m good at jumping and throwing balls” says Person A.

“I’m good at maths”, says Person B.

Which of these people do you think would be more popular, or considered the most interesting? Which of these people is more likely to impress other people in general?

Well, if you’re a rebellious cynic like me, you’ll probably agree Person A. And this is one of the problems with people, and society. I think that human physical talents almost always tend to be admired more than mental ones. If you want to be popular and with the “in” crowd, you have a better chance (in England anyway) if you can play football or keep up drinking with “the lads” than if you are well-read, a good listener, or put more emphasis on your mental skills.

Contrary to the impression given by peer pressure, this is actually really really sad. Not only is it simply false that physical skills are better than mental skills, unless you’re going to be a successful athlete, in the real world mental skills are always more useful. Ok, given the choice, I’d love to be a world-class footballer and play for Liverpool FC. But I can’t. But at least I can spell. I know plenty of people who were popular in school and very sporty, but where are they now? Do they have good jobs, nice cars, families, good money, or are they working at MacDonalds, or smashing rocks together, or maybe they’re just selling drugs. All that pissing around in school doesn’t seem as much fun in retrospect does it?

It’s like those people who spend 20 hours a week in the gym but can’t tell the difference between “you’re” and “your”, “definitely” and “defiantly”, “to” and “too”, and how to work out a percentage.

The funniest thing about how much society drools over models, sports stars, people who can throw a long piece of metal really far, or shove their arse out for pictures whilst making embarrassing pouty faces is just how ironic this is. Of all the things humans have to be proud of, our physical abilities are nothing to shout about. Evolution has generalised mankind so that we can do a lot of tasks pretty well but we’re not particularly good at anything; not like animals are. Most animals are proportionately faster and stronger than us, have better eyesight and hearing, and have much better equilibrium with their environment.

It’s the human brain that sets us apart from animals. If you can dribble a football, have brilliant hand-eye co-ordination, can sing, can draw, can make people laugh, can talk and listen very well – these are all skills to be found inside the human head. And yet society draws a distinction between the physically expressive ones as “cooler” and more coveted.

The really rare skills that can last all your life and really benefit mankind are the mental ones. Most people consider Pele to be the greatest footballer who’s ever lived, but what has he done to further the species? Fuck all.

Can Naomi Campbell, David Beckham, Jenna Jameson, Michael Jordan, Bono, Michael Douglas, Tom Cruise, Ronaldinho amongst others, be compared to people like David Hume, Edward Jenner, William Harvey, Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein, Stephen Hawking amongst others?

Yet I don’t see many kids growing up wanting to be the person who cures AIDS, or cancer, or finalises a quantum theory of gravity, or be the first human to land on Mars, or invent a new form of clean cheap energy.

Society has brainwashed people into thinking that success is getting on Big Brother, being a celebrity, looking like a model, having the perfect figure, kicking a ball, acting, singing, shagging, or just being famous for famous’ sake.

There is nothing wrong with any of those things. There’s nothing wrong with bettering yourself in any way. You can be whatever you want, as meaningful or as capricious as that might be. I’m not saying what anyone should be. And I’m not saying that being a scientist is better than being a rock star.

My problem is that this Western Culture we live in (still better than the Eastern one though!) has a profound lack of respect for the really important long-term skills that actually mean something and will better the human race long after the top models have grown wrinkly and the sports stars can’t run anymore; when nobody is listening to U2 and the Killers, 50 Cent and Eminem (the sooner the better), Oasis and Coldplay, ABBA and the Spice Girls, or watching the last 20 years of Hollywood shitfests – yes when all these people and things are long dead in the cold cold ground, people will still be using electricity; still talking on their mobile phones; still be vaccinated from smallpox, polio and TB; still able to talk to anyone anywhere in the world; still be able to drink clean water at will; still have access to medicine and food at will; still have the right to vote; still curing diseases and coming up with new technologies; and hopefully making society and people more enlightened and mature.

Let’s just get things in perspective people. I wish this shitty arrogant condescending attitude to mentally-challenging skills and professions would end. The sort of veneration given to the superficial entertainment world of looks and physique is out of all proportion with what it actually does, the skill level involved, and what it really contributes to the world.

Yeah, being a top-class sportsman requires skill. Not many people have the looks and figures required to be a model. Not many people have the self-righteous egotistical demand for attention required to be an actor. But the talent required to be an expert in Maths or Physics pisses on anything the entertainment world has to offer. The skill, concentration, dedication, creativity, and talent necessary to be a world-class musician far outweighs the luck of being born pretty enough to have your picture taken for a living, or having the capacity to punch someone unconscious in the shortest possible time.

I’m not against the entertainment world as a whole, nor being as impressive a physical specimen as you can be ; I’m just calling for a modicum of perspective. Let’s have some respect for the rare and even more important talents out there.

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