Citizen Action Monitor

American culture is far too focused on intelligence and cleverness and not wisdom – Nate Hagens (29)

We reward expertise in brainy problem-solving, but neglect the benefit of intelligence and wisdom working synergistically.

No 2312 Posted by fw, June 23, 2018

To access links to all other posts in this series, click on the Tab titled “Where Are We Going? by Dr. Nate Hagens” in the top left margin. 

“Human history is replete with quite intelligent and otherwise successful cultures which simply got something about the big picture crucially wrong. Easter Islanders believed that resources flowed from the good will of their ancestors, so it was only logical to cut down all the trees to aid in the construction of ever-bigger stone heads.  Their behavior was clever but not wise. Our culture similarly rewards reductionist viewpoints and expertise in solving problems. But as we increasingly reward vertical expertise within a discipline, we lose the wisdom that comes from crossing disciplines. Simply put, intelligence and wisdom work best in synergy.” Resilience.org 

In the previous post, Pt. 28, continuum 27, Dr. Hagens suggested that decreasing the developing world’s cultural addiction to consumption is a more daunting challenge than expecting large population die-offs caused by resource constraints. The good news is that there’s lots of room for consumption cuts in developed countries without affecting our wellbeing.

In today’s post, Pt.29, continuum 28, Hagens expresses concern over American culture’s tendency to reward cleverness and intelligence while concurrently failing to cultivate wisdom. “But as we increasingly reward vertical expertise within a discipline, we lose the wisdom that comes from crossing disciplines.” 

Below is the embedded video of Hagens’ 60-minute address, followed by an 18-minute Q&A session. My transcript of Pt. 29, continuum 28, runs from 40:23 to 41:27.

Alternatively, a video of Hagens’ talk, along with a “loosely related” essay on the talk, are available by clicking on the following linked title. This version, published by Resilience.org, also includes excellent readers’ comments, including responses by Hagens.

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Where are we going? by Nate Hagens, Resilience.org, May 8, 2018

TRANSCRIPT (from 40:23 to 41:27)

[OUR CULTURE] –

40:23[Continuum 28: Intelligence vs Wisdom] Intelligence versus Wisdom. Various cultures, prior cultures, have gotten one crucial thing wrong and they collapsed. The Easter Islanders on Rapa Nui thought that chopping down trees and making stone monuments to appease their ancestors was the way to get good luck and to continue their future. They were wrong about that. But they were incredibly brilliant on how they did it [built stone monuments] with the rollers and how they had these massive stones and they were able to carve them.

40:57 – The point here is that we are rewarding reductionist expertise. We are rewarding intelligence and in doing so we are becoming idiot savants that are like pressing a lever to get a reward, when we need to balance that with wisdom. Humans balancing intelligence and wisdom can create amazing special things.

41:27This culture is far, far, far too focused on intelligence and cleverness and not wisdom.

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[Resilience.org Supplement] — Intelligence vs Wisdom – Human history is replete with quite intelligent and otherwise successful cultures which simply got something about the big picture crucially wrong.  Easter Islanders believed that resources flowed from the good will of their ancestors, so it was only logical to cut down all the trees to aid in the construction of ever-bigger stone heads.  Their behavior was clever but not wise.  Our culture similarly rewards reductionist viewpoints and expertise in solving problems.  But as we increasingly reward vertical expertise within a discipline, we lose the wisdom that comes from crossing disciplines.  Simply put, intelligence and wisdom work best in synergy.  Modern humans, with ample intelligence but a dearth of wisdom, risk becoming idiot-savants, metaphorically pushing levers in increasingly clever ways, for building modern versions of the stone heads on Rapa Nui.

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About Dr. Nathan John Hagens – Hagens, 51, worked on Wall Street at Lehman Brothers and Salomon Brothers for 10 years before closing his own hedge fund in 2003 to develop a systems synthesis approach to the human predicament. At present, Dr. Hagens is a professor at the University of Minnesota where he teaches a systems synthesis Honors seminar called Reality 101, A Survey of Human Predicament. The readings and lectures cover literature in systems ecology, energy and natural resources, thermodynamics, history, anthropology, human behavior, neuroscience, environmental science, sociology, economics, globalization/trade, and finance/debt with an overarching goal to give students a general understanding of how our human ecosystem functions as a whole.

Visit Nate Hagens’ personal website at The Monkey Trap.

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