Friday, October 03, 2008

Bertrand Russell's advocacy of a Life of Reason

In his book, "New Hopes For a Changing World", Bertrand Russel wrote about finance:

"One of the most vexing things for the modern he-man is the complexity of our civilization, which makes it impossible to know what will be advantageous unless you are prepared to exert some modicum of intelligence. Intelligence, as every he-man knows, is a contemptible quality. The boys who display much at school are seldom good at games, and can usually be kicked without fear of retaliation, and yet there are many things of obvious importance which only people possessing a certain intelligence can understand. One of these is finance. That is why Anderw Jackson - a typical he-man - could not stand banks. He knew how to kill men in a duel, but he did not know how to get the better of a bank manager. So, in 1920, the he-men took control of American finance, and by 1932 they had brought America and the rest of the world to the brink of ruin. Nevertheless, they continued to resent the policy by which further ruin was averted [The New Deal], because it could only be understood by more intelligence than they could exert. Hatred of intelligence is one of the great dangers of the modern world, because with each new advance in technique intelligence becomes more necessary..."

And he then segued into this political observation:

"...Our great democracies still tend to think that a stupid man is more likely to be honest than a clever man, and our politicians take advantage of this prejudice by pretending to be even more stupid than nature made them."

And offers this advice to correct the problem:

"If teachers and educational authorities had more understanding of the sort of person the modern world needs, they could within a generation produce an outlook that would transform the world. But their ideal of character is an old-fashioned one. They admire most the sort of character which would give a man leadership in a gang of pirates, and if you say that commerce is a different thing from piracy, they think you soft and hope you are mistaken. All this is due to the persistence of old martial ideas that have descended to us from earlier ages. These ideas, I repeat, were appropriate to an age of unavoidable scarcity, but are not applicable to our own times, when whatever scarcity still exists is due to human stupidity and to nothing else. Although this is the case, most of us still prefer passion to intelligence, we like to have our feelings roused, we like to cheer and boo, we like to admire and we like to hate, we like to see things in black and white. Our whole mental apparatus is that which is appropriate to sending us rushing into battle with hoarse war-cries."

From "New Hopes for a Changing World", by Bertrand Russell pp. 158-159, Simon and Schuster 1951.

No comments:

Foot Quotes

"Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge"

Charles Darwin