Our brains are clever beasts. They take the messages provided by our senses, our instincts, our emotions, and they build a map of the world. They learn and they remember and, as we grow older, the map becomes deeper and more complex.
The map-making continues into our old age. It’s a mistake to imagine that, intellectually, you can travel only so far and then the journey ends… We can always become cleverer – even when we’re older – if we have an objective we want to be cleverer about. We can always learn something new… or discover how to see something old in a different light.
It’s not that we’re limitless in our capacity, but that our brains – and the personality and consciousness they support – are dynamic, flexible, agile.
We’re always changing.
Nothing about us is set in stone.
Different areas of our brains adapt and grow to meet different needs. When we learn something new, when we practise something old, we exercise our brains. We reroute and rewire. New networks develop in our brains. We continue to grow.
Don’t be a loser
It’s a loser’s game to believe there are things we can never understand. Possibly there are… but why start out with that assumption? Just consider what humanity knows today compared to a thousand, a hundred, or even just fifty years ago. Because we’ve learned – haven’t we? – that almost everything is knowable, that almost everything has an explanation – if you have the time, the diligence, the right tools…
That’s science for you.
The methodical disassembling of the unknown.
Your proximity to genius
“But what about geniuses?” you ask. “Aren’t they geniuses precisely because they see things other people aren’t clever enough to see?”
Well, no one needs to be a genius to answer that one. You see, geniuses are only a hop and a jump away from the rest of us.
We’re ALL astoundingly capable and clever.
That’s what being human means.
Geniuses are, of course, supremely clever at times – but their main achievement is to see things first.
Their eureka moment is rarely just a leap of hyper-powered IQ coming out of nowhere. More usually it’s a cluster of other stuff that gets them to their moment of discovery: intuition, imagination, hard work, self-belief, doggedness, discipline, more hard work, the preliminary work of others…
Some folk may appear cleverer than us, they may even be a little cleverer, but there are no mysteries held in privileged reservation for them alone.
Where others can think easily, we can think HARD.
Where others find things first, we’re always there, aren’t we, in the end? – eagerly and interestedly clamouring at their heels… realising, in our own good time, that the Earth was never really flat…
Application matters too: where and how we apply our intelligence. What’s the point of this wonderful intelligence if we don’t use it for something good?
In all the ways that matter, a feckless and cruel intelligent person has an intelligence that’s barely worth their having. A greedy, power-hungry, narcissistic intelligent person owns an intelligence it would probably be better they were without…
Intelligence is only as good as the ends it serves.
“That’s as well as might be,” you counter. “But who uses their intelligence these days? Our world is based on disinformation and propaganda and lies, so why not join in the game? Why not believe whatever we want to believe? Assert whatever we want to assert? It’s what everyone else does…”
Work your intelligence
Don’t be a useful fool or a willing tool. Abandoning our intelligence and our critical thinking, and encouraging others to do the same, is exactly what those who wish to manipulate us want us to do.
Intelligence = power.
Knowledge = power.
Relinquish these things and we weaken ourselves.
Why do you think nation states have ‘intelligence services’? Why do you think such a thing exists as ‘industrial espionage’?
It’s because nations and businesses know that applied intelligence generates success, that knowledge generates capability.
Don’t disempower yourself – and don’t let yourself be disempowered by an ambivalence towards the truth. Work that amazing intelligence of yours. Learn facts. Grab knowledge. Use what you learn for something good. Use your IQ. Exercise your eIQ.
eIQ – Ethical Intelligence – is achievable by any of us. You don’t need a degree to penetrate the bias put out each day by politicians and the media. You don’t need a guru or a teacher. You just need to exercise your eIQ.
“Count me in!” you exclaim. “Where do I start?”
I’ll tell you. It’s as easy as can be.
Tactic 1 – Think first
The first tactic of eIQ, of ethical intelligence, is this:
Don’t let someone or something else do your thinking for you. Question everything.
Don’t let the owners of the media (or their algorithms) do your thinking for you.
Ask, “Where does this information come from? Who benefits from my accepting it? Is it complete or selective? Are these sources manipulative or sincere?”
Tactic 2 – Assert the moral context
The second tactic of ethical intelligence is this:
Embed your thinking in the moral context
EVERYTHING is moral. EVERYTHING sits in the context of what we ought or ought not do: the personal, the political, even the practical. This of course includes the things we make – our social constructs: nations, traditions, constitutions, religions, rules, laws. Every human artefact or arrangement is open to moral assessment. Some things may be morally trivial. Nothing has a morality-free pass.
Assert the moral context. Don’t let the cruel, the unfeeling or the unethical pass by unchallenged.
Tactic 3 – Understanding
The third tactic of ethical intelligence is this:
Use the language of understanding
“Help me understand…” Or “My understanding is this…” Or “With the information I have so far it looks as if…”
Understanding is collaborative, empathic, undogmatic. It suggests a shared universe which is accessible to us all.
Understanding is non-threatening, non-conflictual.
Unlike belief, understanding empowers rather than restricts.
Unlike belief, understanding engages rather than excludes.
Tactic 4 – Think big
The fourth tactic of ethical intelligence?
Humanity has accomplished wonders and we’ve only just begun. Why not create the beautiful, the astounding, the original? Why shouldn’t we turn our world around and make it work in brand new ways?
Be ambitious in your thinking. Why let past traditions or archaic thinking dictate what our future should be?
Why shouldn’t this world be sustainable and fair?
Why shouldn’t there be a utopia for realists?
Why shouldn’t things get better, instead of this relentless drift to the bad?
Tactic 5 – Be honest
The fifth tactic of ethical intelligence is honesty.
Have you ever heard of a decent person who repeatedly lies? Would you want to be a liar? Would you want a friend or someone in your family to be a liar or to live with a liar?
Lies are theft. Liars are truth thieves.
Tactic 6 – Root your thinking in reality
Objectivity is the sixth tactic of ethical intelligence.
Evidence matters. Reality isn’t relative: it’s the place where we all live.
The closer your understanding matches to reality, the more empowered you will be in determining its effect on you and the people you love – and the better able you will be to assist in forging an ethical, sustainable world.
Tactic 7 – Get smarter
Understanding is always improvable. There’s always more to know, more to learn – and any increase in our intelligence and knowledge is something worth striving for.
The brain grows when you use it.
As individuals and as a species we need to get smarter.
And we can.
Luke Andreski is a founding member of the @EthicalRenewal and Ethical Intelligence collectives. His books include Intelligent Ethics (2019), Ethical Intelligence (2019), Short Conversations: During The Plague (2020) and Short Conversations: During the Storm (2021).
His free eBook Our society is sick, but here’s the cure is out now.
Luke is a founding member of the @EthicalRenewal collective and author of Short Conversations: During the Plague (2020), Intelligent Ethics (2019) and Ethical Intelligence (2019).