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Can Intelligence Take Charge?

Society has been something like a great unthinking creature, even though its individual members have been human beings who sometimes think.

Is it possible at the present time that human intelligence can at long last deal successfully with social irrationality? The record of the past would seem to be one thousand percent against this possibility; but there are some new factors present and growing that in my judgment indicate precisely this is now on the agenda for humankind.

One of these factors is that society has already evolved through many stages and has, stage by stage, changed to permit increasingly larger numbers of its individual members to become informed and responsible. Hardly any enslaved people had access to much knowledge, few serfs could read or write, but almost all American wage workers are literate, and modern industry pays wages to thousands of engineers and PhDs.

Second, the technical progress that is almost the sole positive result of any society has now brought excellent communication facilities that carry with them the possibility of communication between large numbers of the individual humans who comprise society. 

Third, for the very first time the survival of society itself is threatened by irrationality rather than, as up to now, the survival of individual members only. If very many hydrogen bombs go off in the old irrational way before rational procedures supersede, then it will be not just part of the human race but most or all of it that will be destroyed, and society itself will be destroyed in the process.

Finally, a special reason. Most clearly from the viewpoint of Re-evaluation Counseling, but to a considerable degree from many other viewpoints arising today in the world, the fundamental distinction between rational and irrational individual human behavior is finally being faced and procedures are being worked out for converting one to the other.

Can flexible human intelligence attain control and ride herd on* this great irrational creature called Human Society? . . . I have indicated that I think we can and, in fact, are on the historical verge of doing so.

Harvey Jackins

From “The Flexible Human in the Rigid Society,” in The Human Situation

(Present Time 182, January 2016)

* “Ride herd on” means take charge of.

Last modified: 2022-12-25 10:17:04+00