In a 1933 essay lamenting the rise of Nazism in Germany, Bertrand Russell wrote: “The fundamental cause of the trouble is that in the modern world the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt.”
Which is of course a dynamic that’s still at play in the modern world; the Dunning-Kruger effect is a thing, and one need only to look at American presidents to see that there’s little relationship between one’s intelligence and how far they can rise if they get it in their heads that they ought to be in charge of things.
But I think a much bigger factor in the problems our world faces is not so much about intelligence as empathy.
I was very nervous to share my multimedia piece “The Wizard” for Julian Assange’s 50th birthday, because I didn’t know how it would be received. I’d worked so hard on it and I had to access some deep tender bits of myself to bring it into existence, and I wasn’t sure how I’d handle it if people online decided to shit all over it because I simply did not have any armor over the inner parts that had created it. I knew if it attracted a lot of scorn and derision after I put it out in the world it was going to hurt a lot, because I’m a sensitive person and this was a sensitive piece for me.
I thankfully didn’t have to deal with any of that because it got an overwhelmingly positive reception, but it got me thinking a lot about how messed up our world is because people who let themselves be vulnerable so often choose to be silent, while people with no empathy or connection to others can speak freely.
Have you ever noticed how the major influencers on social media are able to simply ignore all the mountains of negative feedback they receive online and just go on with their days unbothered, but for you it’s hard to ignore even one niggling comment? Have you ever wondered how they do that?
I know I have. My biggest challenge in the few years I’ve been at this writing gig has not been the writing itself or coming up with new ideas or keeping it fresh and interesting,