Can’t Read, Can’t Think

Ever since the Gutenberg press, the widespread effect of “deep reading” on the brains of educated classes has unleashed a rapid expansion of intellectual productivity in more modern parts of the world. Those gains are now under threat from technology, from a dumbed down culture, and from the educational system itself. Younger generations are losing the ability to read deeply and well. As a result, the quality of their writing — and of their thinking — is suffering.

The critical relationship between the quality of reading and the quality of thought is influenced heavily by changes of attention and what I have called, more intuitively than scientifically, cognitive patience. Some of the most disconcerting and surprising letters I have received over the last years have come from professors of literature and the social sciences, who are flummoxed over their college students’ impatience with older, denser American literature and writing. One chair of a well-known English department wrote that he could no longer teach his once sought-after seminar on Henry James because too few students today want or were able to read James. Among those professors, the most frequent observations are two. The first is that students have become increasingly less patient with the time it takes to understand the syntactically demanding sentence structures in denser texts and increasingly averse to the effort needed to go deeper into their analysis.

The second is that student writing is deteriorating. I have, to be sure, heard this criticism of undergraduates as long as I have been teaching. The question is nevertheless important for every age to confront. In our current epoch, we must ask whether current students’ diminishing familiarity with conceptually demanding prose and the daily truncating of their writing on social media is affecting their writing in more negative ways than in the past.

__ Quoted from “Reader Come Home” by Maryanne Wolf

“Cognitive patience” is a term coined by the author and neuroscientist Maryanne Wolf, quoted above. It refers to the ability to calmly hold ideas in one’s mind while taking in other ideas — all the while comparing, correlating, evaluating, and judging these new ideas against each other, and against previous world-tested and battle-tested knowledge.

Immersion in the high-distraction environment of the internet contributes to the loss of cognitive patience. But even more crippling to a young mind’s power to develop thoughts of his own, is the utter lack of solid scaffolding for developing one’s own thoughts in the face of the barrage of garish cognitive spit-balls being shot at them on a split-second basis. This fault one should lay squarely on the shoulders of the educational establishment.

If the young mind is never given the scaffolding upon which to build his ideas and thoughts, how will he ever be able to engage with the larger world of deep and meaningful ideas? Such an engagement requires acquired cognitive patience on top of acquired “common knowledge” critical to the thinking community in which the young person is expected to interact.

Many of our young people, white and otherwise, appear to have little or no hope of attaining the usual milestones of entry into the middle class—gaining a useful and marketable skill, starting a small business, or buying a home or other property. __ Joel Kotkin on The Emerging Serf Class

If a person is incapable of forming his own ideas, separate from the echo choirs of the internet, schools, and the street — what will set him apart in the eyes of a would-be employer or benefactor? Perhaps he has a special skill of some kind, but if he cannot express himself intelligibly how will he reveal the advantages he brings to a group or a cause?

More likely, the poor sod will be swept to and fro by the erratic switches of daily talking points, as the highly placed chattering classes dictate the particular mind frequencies of the day. Today we protest, tomorrow we riot, the next day we return to our parents’ basement to play video games again . . . Stay tuned for further orders.

Such persons will look at the COVID body counts, for example, and never question the veracity of the politically charged numbers. For such as these, disease lockdowns are simply one more excuse to toke up and feel the vibe.

This is one part of the future that corruption in the educational system and in the news & entertainment media have wrought. Piece-meal destruction of the US constitutional system by woke snowflake social justice warriors of the nazi left, is another part. Both trends are part of the same thing — the dissolution of societal purpose and cohesion that happens when the ability to read and think deeply is destroyed.

All of this should be seen against the background of dysgenic trends in global average IQ:

Across nations, societies, and ethnic groups, intelligent and educated women tend to have very few offspring — while less intelligent women happily make up for the deficit on a global basis. This is leading toward the much anticipated “Idiocracy.”

The answer is to tailor your own education — and that of your children — with all of this in mind. Help to develop “islands of competence” in the rising sea of idiocy. By one means or another, the stupidity will roll back enough to allow bridges to be built between the resilient and anti-fragile islands of competency.

I do not recommend signing on to Elon Musk’s Mars Colony adventure at this time. Life on Antarctica is far more congenial than life on Mars, and it is highly likely that early Mars colonies will be administered by millenial snowflakes indistinguishable from the most hysterical and conformist advocates of Mao’s Cultural Revolution.

If the topic of intelligent human survival in the face of dysgenic collapse interests you, consider browsing these articles from the original Al Fin blog.

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