There's a new and very low bar for American intelligence. Before I talk about that, a bit of background to rank types of intelligence and modes of thinking:
Top tier: cosmology, those who consider the entire universe, its origins and ultimate ends. These people pretty much define the cutting edge of human knowledge. Which involves a very high level of systems thinking. Example: understanding why it is that the oldest galaxies we can see are also the farthest away from us, and why they appear extremely red. The basic premise is that spacetime is expanding and something that is moving away from you very rapidly is going to experience a Doppler shift, very much like a train horn that sounds higher when it's approaching and lower as it's moving away. With light, that frequency shift makes wavelengths longer and longer wavelengths appear red. Now I'm not a cosmologist, so I probably botched the details of that explanation--but that's the basic principle. Even if I don't fully understand every detail, I do understand the process of how scientists put that all together, and it makes sense. Without considering the universe as a system, none of that would make any sense.
The next tier is Earthbound physics, which of course underlies biology and chemistry. Every science involves the interaction of particles at the lowest level. Fields like social science and economics and psychology still ultimately involve getting the right particles of matter and energy to the right places in space and time for the right reasons. You might ask what that has to do with psychology? And the answer is that even your thoughts are made up of interactions of particles and charges moving between neurons. Human trauma response represents a particular pattern of neural firings, as does good mental health. When you do talk therapy or take psych drugs, the goal is to establish better neural patterns. If you don't understand mental health in relation to all the rest of our social systems, then you will never understand it. Human behavior will always remain a mystery to you.
The next tier of intelligence involves personal life management. Once again, this is all a study in allocating the right resources to the right places. People understand in the abstract that shortages and bottlenecks cause problems. Most people's lives involve trying to get enough numbers in their bank account so that they can throw those numbers at the various wolves at the door, to keep from being thrown out of their homes or getting their car repossessed or electricity shut off. Debits and credits, assets and liabilities, profits and losses. We all understand that we're a part of a system, rigged as it is, the piper must be paid to avoid even worse consequences.
So people get up in the morning and go to jobs they hate, chasing those credits in their bank account that they know won't be there by the end of the month and they have to go get more. Rinse and repeat forever. People who don't understand the system, or are incapable of performance, end up under a bridge. It's fucking sad and it's not right. This is a system that is designed from the ground up to produce trauma. It's a system designed to break human brains. It's a system that has also produced a lucrative business selling antidepressants, to make people ignore how fucked up it is. We know they don't really help in the long term. But maybe they give people some breathing room? I don't know. The correct and normal human response to capitalist imposed trauma is depression. How can we expect people to get better if we refuse to change the system? Short answer, we can't. But we all know how the system works. Without understanding this as a system, we get nowhere. We can't even start to change the system until we acknowledge how it currently works.
But there's a real problem here. And to understand any problem, you don't look at the people hurt by the problem, you look at the people who are profiting from the problem. Healthcare. Banking. Fossil fuels. The pharmaceutical industry. The arms industry. Private prisons. Religion. These are all industries that profit from widespread social trauma. Trauma is effectively their product. And in order to keep selling that product, they have to keep people from seeing the causes of the trauma. And in order to do that, they have to keep people from thinking in systems.
And this brings me to the lowest tier of American intelligence. Those who react to trauma by throwing up their own smokescreens to cover up the source of that trauma. There's a lot of names for these people. Bootlickers. Collaborators. Just plain "fools" works too. But they all have one thing in common: they refuse to think in systems. They only ever look at proximate causes. They often misidentify causes. Either deliberately or through lack of capacity, they can't even imagine a block diagram of the system that keeps them in chains. If they could, they might have a fleeting chance of maybe breaking some of those chains, someday.
These are the people who laugh react at any stories about progress, or systems analysis. They have a knee-jerk reaction to making things better, even as they suffer the consequences of things being worse. People making low wages laugh react at stories about raising the minimum wage. People who are absolutely livid about high gas prices laugh react at stories about cheaper electric vehicles. People who are sweltering in climate change and being asked to raise their thermostats to keep the power grid from going down, laugh react at stories about building a better power grid.
What's going on here? Well, if you want to understand it you also have to think in systems. Who profits from dumb people cheering for those oppressing them, and laughing at those trying to liberate them? Well, the oppressors, obviously. As we've been told by so many authors and brilliant social commentators, dumb people are easy to control if you just lie to them, and the longer they've believed the lie, the less likely they are to ever see through it. It's just become a part of their reality. And this is where we find ourselves right now.
We're only an eyeblink away from potentially powering all of our homes and transportation and manufacturing with renewable electricity. We are *this close* to ditching fossil fuels forever. The problems of grid reliability that are tied to the past will literally melt away when we meet a couple of conditions: number one, we need to be able to store electricity so that it doesn't have to be consumed right when it's being generated. Meaning we have to build large scale batteries and other modes of storage. Number two, we need to distribute electricity generation and storage into smaller nodes. This means cities and even neighborhoods will both generate and consume most of their power locally, dramatically increasing reliability. Number three, we need to properly regulate our power grid so that it reflects the true cost of generating and consuming electricity. Meaning that the rates you pay will change dramatically based on both demand and the time of day. These are all rational, systemic responses. They must be done, and they eventually will be done, if we want to survive as a civilization.
Yet people who don't think in systems are freaking the fuck out about all of these changes. Their primary objection to switching everything over to electricity is that they're afraid of power failure. Which is ironic because the United States has one of the highest levels of electric reliability in the world. Many other countries have just settled for unreliable electric service and consider themselves lucky to have power for a few hours a day. We can't fathom it because we've had extremely reliable power for nearly 100 years in this country. We need to keep it that way. Climate change raises the stakes even higher as air conditioning becomes an essential service. To offer that essential service we absolutely need a robust power grid for the 21st century. With multiple levels of backup and energy storage everywhere.
Yet the bootlickers and the fools continue to resist progress. Mocking electric cars by asking "what happens when the power fails?" Do any of these people understand that you can't get gasoline, either during a power failure? When's the last time anyone saw a hand crank gas pump?
You can't fix stupid. But what you can do is recognize stupidity as a failure to think in systems. Take every single damn right wing argument or anti-progress argument and you will find at its core an anti-system argument. This is by design. And that design leads directly back to the dark ages.
Systems are everything.