Intellectual DUH’isation

I spent time considering the year’s issues in categories that are close to my heart — say, literature, movies, technology. Another one is the list of those who departed our troubled shores since last January. The quality of Year End reflectives oscillates between brilliance and flatulence – and some terrible own-goals too, like the bozo (or bozess?) who compiled the dearly departed list in the Mail in Guardian:

While listing cultural luminaries such as Austrian Nazi weasel Kurt Waldheim, s/he left out the M&G’s own Robert Kirby, whose deliciously acerbic style kept M&G’s intellectual credentials afloat for many years. Anyone who is as outraged as I am about this cock-up is welcome to write the M&G letters editor, at, and let him/her have it.

One location for those who may want to find the real spirit of the past year (2016, if you happen to read this piece in the far future), is Google’s Zeitgeist — a feature that is based on the frequency (how often) and quantity (how much) of searches for specific keywords and related clickthroughs (clicking over to one of the links provided in the results for one’s search.) Google’s philosophy is that clusters of searches reflect the people, events, ideas, concepts and thoughts that form the current Zeitgeist, or “spirit of the time.” Google’s Zeitgeist is based on billions of searches — this is far from regulation street corner surveys.

Results would have kept Robert Kirby (and us!) amused for months. The lists seem devoid of any need for understanding of political issues (Iran takes number 9 in the global list of newsmakers – below American Idol (1), YouTube (2), Britney Spears (3), iPhone (6) Anna Nicole Smith (7) and Paris Hilton (8) but above Disney teen hit “Highschool Musical” star Vanessa Hudgens. US Presidential candidate Ron Paul is in top place and Rudy Giuliani last (10) – the race is far from over for Obama and Clinton (3 and 4 respectively.)

The ‘who is… what is… how to..’ sections reflects people’s needs for knowledge, enlightenment or simply advice on ways to do various things. Who is God (1), Who is Lookup and Who is Jesus (3, 4, respectively.) Who is Keppler (8) and, last, Who is Satan (10) show searchers’ interest in spiritual realm. The ‘what is..’ list is not less intriguing, with what is love (1), what is autism (2) ahead of what is lupus (4) and what is Emo (7) in a list of questions on, mostly, technical issues. The ‘how to’ list is worth quoting in full: 1. How to kiss 2. How to draw 3. How to knit 4 How to hack 5. How to dance 6. How to crochet 7. How to meditate 8. How to flirt 9. How to levitate and ,finally, 10. How to skateboard.

Are we witnessing a devaluation of intellectual capabilities worldwide, a DUH’isation of thought?

Historically, intellectual thought was seen as a threat to political non-democratic systems.  In a 1972 interview, Helen Vlachos, anti-fascist Greek activist who lived in exile after a military regime took over her country, noted: “Since the night of the coup… Greece has gone downhill. A sort of moral and intellectual devaluation has occurred in which the cream of the professions have been purged, blacklisted, exiled, or forced to leave the country.”

For generations, we note intellectual devaluing and ridiculing of feminist ideas . Google Zeitgeist, too, observes intellectual devaluation – one that is not introduce by anti-democratic agents but that is, instead, affected (while searching) by a mass of peer-to-peer connections. The premise is simple and scary: judging by Google Zeitgeist, the majority of searchers (made out of a not-insignificant percentage of the world’s so-called literate population) have undergone a successful process of intellectual devaluation.

Italian writer and academic Antonio Tabucchi said that it’s the job of intellectuals and writers to cast doubt on perfection. The Google Zeitgeist (in itself a tool that can be used for intellectual insight) appears to indicate that imperfection rules, all right.