Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Collective Soul's 'Run', Comfort in the Modern Era and Mediocrity

The second verse of Collective Soul's 1999 hit Run goes like this:

Is there a cure among us
From this processed sanity 
I weaken with each voice that sings 
In this world of purchase 
I'm going to buy back memories 
To awaken some old qualities 

As I listened to this song the other day, I actually listened to the words for the first time. It got me thinking:

Processed sanity. Most things these days that are processed are either unnatural, modified or wholly manufactured. I liked what was being sung. It was a message that has often crossed my mind. As a whole, humanity of today is very different than it was for our ancestors a thousand years ago. Mankind is not living up to its potential. We have changed fairly dramatically over the last 2-3 generations, even.

A geneticist from Stanford University, Dr. Gerald Crabtree, has argued in the journal Trends in Genetics that we are dumber than previous generations. He even stated that an Athenian from a thousand years ago could come to our time and be smarter than all of us.

But we make cars and planes... computers and smartphones. What did the Athenians and their contemporaries make? Little carts pulled by animals? Catapults? Come on, now. But wait...

Think about that. 

Someone designed a car or a plane. Someone designed and produced the electronics that we use daily. Specific individuals today combine other people's creations to make better tools for us all to use. But can you manufacture a car? Can I? Unlikely. But what about the Athenians? Sure they had markets and engaged in commerce and trade, but most any able bodied Athenian knew how to make and use the tools of his trade.

Similarly, two generations ago, my grandfather would see a problem, then with his natural ingenuity, he would engineer a solution based on what he had around him. He had the ability to do so because it was his nature... but it was also a talent that he exercised and sharpened. Sadly, what was a fairly common trait 40 years ago has now become a skill that most lack.

These Athenians are smarter than us and more resourceful...
even without all their limbs.
Dr. Crabtree pointed out that the average Athenian (and I suggest we include generations up through my grandparents' generation) had to rely on his or her own memory, problem solving and critical thinking skills. The current generation is devolving in these aspects because of inactivity. Our natural brilliance is suffering from atrophy. There is no life-saving necessity to store useful information in one's brain, because at one's fingertips is something called 'Google'. For example, where a previous generation had to know the basic workings of their personal vehicles, we have Jiffy Lubes everywhere and WikiHow articles accessible on a whim 24 hours a day.

Back in the Collective Soul song, the writer states that he wants "to buy back memories, to awaken some old qualities". This is exactly what Dr. Crabtree is suggesting we are missing. Memory and old qualities.

Richard Dean Anderson as the '80s real-life superhero, MacGyver
We are too comfortable. We don't need to constantly be aware of our surroundings in case we find ourselves in a MacGyver situation, because they just don't happen for the average person anymore. We have roadside assistance, so we don't need to worry about changing a flat tire. We have 24 hour plumbing services, so we don't need to understand the pipal organization within the walls of our homes. It is almost as if our self-sufficiency skills are stuck in a self-destructive round of the Kevin Bacon game. Rather than actually knowing how to do anything, we rely on being just a step or two away from someone who can help us.

In my fraternity, we had a chapter motto (to be perfectly honest, we actually had several, but one was better than the rest): "Mediocrity is of the adversary." Regardless of what or who your present adversary may be, your apathy or your choice to settle in and get comfortable is your biggest weakness and your opponent's most potent tool. By being mediocre, or getting too comfortable, your adversary does not need to do anything. You are limiting your own growth and your own progress.

If we are not finding ways each day to gain some level of useful knowledge, if we aren't finding ways to be better today than we were yesterday, we will continue to lose our natural abilities. To that degree, we will be responsible for the dumbification of the human race. Collective Soul asks, Is there a cure among us? I say to you there is. But it can only be self-administered. Be better today than you were yesterday. Get even better tomorrow. Decide to be observant and to think critically. Next time you realize that Danny DeVito's wife's real name isn't Carla, but you can't remember it is Rhea Perlman, think through it internally before immediately turning to Google. It works.

No comments:

Post a Comment