Intelligence is rare.
The other day (Well, it was a little longer than ‘the other day.’ One of the many consequences of age — and it’s nowhere near the worst one — is the ‘compression’ of past events so that something that happened a long time ago ‘feels’ like last week — or even yesterday. It kinda sucks but a lot of things suck worse. I’m not alone in this — even technology sometimes suffers from the same problem and it doesn’t have nearly the same repertoire of excuses that I do.)
I recently made the claim (before veering off on irrelevant tangents like this one) that intelligence was an important aspect of humanity. Intelligence by itself isn’t enough, though — there also has to be a will to use it. (This is less common than you might think — just last week an annoying (redundant, I know) celebrity was caught on national television saying “What’s the point of thinking?” (I knew there was a reason I didn’t like celebrities. He was at least partly thinking of twitter when he said it. I don’t like twitter either.) In addition to the existence of intelligence and the will to use it, judgment is also needed — intelligence has to be used intelligently. If that even makes sense.
I was sort of thinking of something like this when I was walking down the tunnel at the train station. (I was there to find a computer scientist.) The train station has two sets of tracks and two platforms with a tunnel connecting them. If your computer scientist is arriving on the far track you take the tunnel. Easy peasy. Even for decrepit old guys like me.
A tunnel sort of implies stairs and stairs (unsurprisingly, two sets) there are. Plus escalators that are somehow never running when I have to carry something heavy. Funny how that works. Over the escalators there’s a sign that tells you to hold onto the handrail.
All things considered, that’s maybe a little preachy but probably not bad advice overall. It’s certainly a sign of will and it might even be a sign of intelligence. (On reflection, it’s probably just corporate ass-covering so maybe not.) But how about the ‘judgment’ part? About ‘using intelligence intelligently?’
As mentioned, the words on the sign said to hold on to the handrails. But words aren’t necessarily enough in a train station which is presumably frequented by, you know, travelers. Who may not all be fluent in one or both of the Canadian Official Languages. So an explanatory picture is probably called for.
That seems, um, intelligent so far. But…
The picture is of a stick figure (with a line through it) carrying two suitcases. Now, I went to grad school so I’m moderately well educated and reasonably confident that I’m not a complete dolt. So what did that picture mean to me? Well, my first thought was that it meant that people with two pieces of luggage would be bisected.
(Or maybe dismembered. I get those two confused sometimes.)
Of course, it may not imply violence — it might mean ‘People with two bags can’t use the escalator.’ Or maybe even ‘Only one piece of luggage allowed.’ I stood there (the computer scientist’s train was late) and assembled quite a lengthy ‘barometer list‘ of possible meanings.
And not a single damn one of them had anything to do with holding handrails.
I knew intelligence was rare. I didn’t know exactly how rare.
Maybe I’ll go try to teach a two year old how to say ‘doom.’