The Death of Curiosity

When I was in school, my friends and I had a saying: “Intelligence is a social disease.” 

We didn’t say this because we thought we were superior to everybody else, or even because we were smarter. But you have to understand that I was in elementary and high school in the 90s, the slacker era, the era where it was cool to be dumb.

I know for a fact that everybody I went to school with wasn’t dumb. It was just that, in order to fit in socially, one had to act like they were a moron. Those of us who didn’t were the weird ones. And as I palled around with the A/V nerds and the musicians and the history buffs and the computer geeks, that was my crew. 

I fully embraced my “weird” status, mainly because all I wanted throughout high school was just for everybody to leave me the hell alone.

The tides have turned since those days, and turned hard. These days, everybody’s into STEM and SCIENCE! Nerdiness and geek stuff, the kind of things that actually were social diseases when I was in high school, are now fully embraced, the province of the cool kids.

The pendulum has swung: instead of it being hip to be dumb, it’s hip to be smart.

Or so a surface observation would have you believe. I see things a little more cynically: It’s not cool to be smart; it’s cool for everybody to think you are smart.

This sounds really arrogant of me, but hear me out.

First: Remember that “intelligence” isn’t necessarily just about the raw data and information you’ve squirreled away in your brain. 

Second, take this simple test:

Try engaging a self-professed “smart person” on one of the topics they love. Maybe even challenge an opinion, or provide a different one. Do they:

  1. Engage in the discussion where they acknowledge your point and civilly provide counter evidence of their own?
  2. Demonstrate curiosity by asking you questions to further their understanding of your perspective?or
  3. Insult you, or otherwise dismiss your opinion outright and immediately end the discussion?

Generally speaking, if the person defaults to option 3, they’re probably not as smart as they think they are. 

Now ask yourself: what do you do when faced with a difference of opinion or an intellectual challenge?

When you challenge people, even respectfully, be prepared for severe emotional reactions born from what I think are legitimate mental health issues. 

There’s such a desire to seem smart about things, without realizing that an admission of ignorance about something, combined with an earnest desire to ask questions and learn, makes a person seem smarter

Because, if they want to learn, they probably are smart.

It’s good to read and absorb opinions, wrestle with them, and come to your own conclusions while being able to explain how you got there. This should be done on a wide variety of topics.

One should always look for as many primary sources as possible instead of taking things second- third- and fourth-hand, since these are much more reliable. This is one of the few important lessons I learned in college.

In this era a faux intelligence, however, we see a very disturbing trend: the death of curiosity.

I’d actually call it open hostility towards curiosity.

There is a certain type person who believes that their opinions should be the only ones allowed, and all others silenced.

These people don’t even want to know the other side of the argument. They’ve just want to the other side not to exist, reality be damned, because they think–no, they know–that they have THE ANSWER.

This is not intelligence. 

A large part of intelligence includes being self-aware enough to know that there are things you don’t know. An intelligent person–independent of IQ score or the amount of degrees they’ve accumulated–tries to fill the gaps in their own knowledge and understanding, testing and retesting assumptions and beliefs to see if they still pass muster. 

You know, kind of like the scientific method a lot of the faux intelligent claim to worship. 

Thinking that you know everything there is to know is really, really stupid.

It all makes me pine for the era of being dumb. At least ignorance can be cured by knowledge. I don’t know how you cure someone of a lack of curiosity.

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3 thoughts on “The Death of Curiosity

  1. Curiosity – ah, I see it leaving my students with each new class. It’s simply not fostered in the traditional public school (K-12) classroom anymore. But curiosity isn’t an island – it opens the doors for all kinds of critical thinking and problem solving. I think the nature of high-stakes testing as well as social media inundation have presented significant barriers. And your commentary on being open to hearing new or different perspectives really struck me. It’s hurting the fabric of our relationships…and democracy.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The Daytime Renegade says:

      I’m sure you see a lot of this as a teacher. It is bad for relationships and democracy as you say; after all, people who can’t even talk to each other have a hard time living together.

      High-stakes testing…I never thought of that but it makes sense. You have to learn THIS specific information to pass the tests, and that’s that. Are these standardized tests you’re talking about?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, any of those prescribed, have-to-pass tests that young people either take or prepare for for, in many cases, over half of the academic year. My students struggle to complete any assignments that don’t have clear rules and rigid structure. They are afraid of the consequences of taking risks…

        Liked by 1 person

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