Re: [Fwd: QOTD: Moderately Gifted.]

From: Jim Fehlinger (
Date: Tue Apr 10 2001 - 19:30:17 MDT quoted:
> "... simply moderate giftedness has been made worthless by the printing
> press and radio and television and satellites and all that. A moderately
> gifted person who would have been a community treasure a thousand years
> ago has to give up, has to go into some other line of work, since modern
> communications put him or her into daily competition with nothing but
> world's champions.
> The entire planet can get along nicely now with maybe a dozen champion
> performers in each area of human giftedness. A moderately gifted person
> has to keep his or her gifts all bottled up until, in a manner of
> speaking, he or she gets drunk at a wedding and tapdances on the coffee
> table like Fred Astaire or Ginger Rogers. We have a name for him or her.
> We call him or her an 'exhibitionist.'
> How do we reward such an exhibitionist? We say to him or her the next
> morning, 'Wow! were you ever drunk last night!'"
> -- Kurt Vonnegut, "Bluebeard"

Wow, does this touch a nerve!

I remember dancing around this theme a few weeks ago
( )
when I wrote [but didn't Vonnegut express it immeasurably
more vividly and succinctly, nicely illustrating the point!]:

> The brightest person I know, who is now in the first half of his
> seventh decade, has, since long before I got to know him 25 years ago,
> held the opinion that industrialized entertainment (in particular
> movies, TV, and the recorded music business) is nothing less than
> a legalized form of drug pushing, like the cigarette industry. It
> gets people hooked on its product at an early age, robs them of the
> capacity to produce their own entertainments (because its high-gloss
> professionalism, like the taste of refined sugar compared to that
> of a piece of fruit, cannot compete with the cruder product), siphons
> money from its users all their lives, and ultimately rots their
> brains.

The Vonnegut quote illustrates that there's more to this phenomenon than
the machinations of the entertainment industry; there's a sharpening
of hierarchy in all human endeavors inherent in the technological
advancement of human communication itself (including, now, the

A friend of mine who read my post mentioned to me afterward that he has
recently been struggling with the realization that the fact that he has
become an expert consumer of media is probably responsible for
his own creativity having been mostly blocked throughout his life despite
a stab at filmmaking early on and a continuing interest in photography.

Almost the same day I heard this from my friend, I saw a movie from
last year: _High Fidelity_, about a (vinyl) record shop run by a trio
of popular music enthusiasts with considerable intelligence and
encyclopedic knowledge of their field, but who nevertheless yearn in
their hearts to be producers instead of merely consumers. They respond
to every situation and event in their lives by concocting a "top five"
song list or compilation tape as the perfect metaphor (just as I lace most
of my posts to this list with quotes from _Star Trek_ or Bertrand
Russell). It's an extremely funny movie, but again, it cuts
awfully close to the bone!

I myself am nothing if not "moderately gifted" (with emphasis on the
"moderately"), and decades ago I accepted my role in life as a
middle-class consumer. As I wrote in a recent e-mail:

> The people who write the books I read or who compose and perform the
> music on the CD's I buy aren't real, you know -- it all just comes out of a
> factory somewhere, and human beings are only consumers, like me! ;->
> Aldous Huxley had it perfectly right, I think -- we're all Alphas,
> Betas, and Gammas [Deltas and Epsilons are even lower in the hierarchy
> than me, so naturally I don't see them!]. I'm a Gamma who watches Alphas
> and Betas on TV for entertainment (they're not real, either), and there
> are always doormen and security guards in the real world... to make sure
> we Gammas don't bother the grownups, but we can hang out in the bookstores
> and record stores to our hearts' content.

I wrote the above in conjunction with an expression of doubt that
I have any business being on the Extropians' mailing list (which you
might have trouble believing from the volume of my posts over the
past couple of months, but it's true -- I usually wonder every time
I hit the "Send" button what the **hell** I think I'm doing here!).
My insecurity is abetted by the whiff of elitism -- the Ayn Randian
strain of the Extropians (I have cordially hated Ayn Rand for a long time,
though I haven't read any of her books [I've seen the movie of _The
Fountainhead_ with Gary Cooper and Patricia Neal, of course(*)], mostly
as the result of a personal relationship many years ago with an
Ayn Rand enthusiast which doesn't bear examination in a public forum ;-> ).

Nevertheless, despite _Atlas Shrugged_ (which I gather alludes to the
theme that the world is run by a few really competent people, and the
rest of us are just along for the ride), it has been my own observation
that there's a **vast** pool of untapped talent in the world, far more
than can squeeze into the top of any social pyramid, and that the
feedback that that the top .0001% exert on the other 99.9999% suppresses
that potential **until** there's a need for one of the .0002 percenters
to step forward. And so on down the line.

I've even seen this in **myself**! I was in a meeting at work a few
years ago at which nobody seemed to be taking the lead and asking
the pertinent questions, and after listening to this for a few minutes,
I got up, went to the whiteboard, and took charge (without being
asked, a **most** uncharacteristic thing for me to do). Afterwards,
the manager who had nominally been running the meeting came up, **thanked**
me for taking over, and added something along the lines of "I didn't
think you had it in you", to which I replied (to myself, at least), well, I
don't usually **have** to, but **somebody** had to do it this time!
And it changes your head to be involved in a situation like that --
alters the wash of neurotransmitters, heightens the testosterone, ramps
up the neuromodulators, and burnishes up the synapses! Gives a Gamma
a taste of what it would be like to be a Beta or even an Alpha
[I'm reminded also of those intelligent birds -- the Gubru? -- in
one of Brin's latest Uplift books, who change color and sex depending
on the outcome of a dominance struggle].

I think talented people are a bit like shark's teeth -- there are always
more of them waiting in the wings to take over when the ones
at the front fall out.

But what does this communication feedback effect portend for life
after the Singularity, I wonder? Of course, we could all become
solitary creatures and scatter as quickly as possible as far away from
each other as possible (which would be a radical change from
life as we know it -- language-based human intelligence itself, after
all, evolved as primarily a **social** tool). Or, we could become
Borganized, mere processing nodes in some corporate intelligence (remember
Dan Simmmons' _Hyperion_ books, in which it turned out that the AIs
[the TechnoCore] were actually using human brains as processors without the
humans even knowing it, though to do so they had to keep them near
matter-transmitting portals, which they did by building multi-world-spanning
shopping malls? ;-> ;-> ;-> ). Or, we could end up even more
complexly insignificant, as I gather most of the inhabitants of
Iain Banks' Culture are supposed to be (or maybe even most of the
polis inhabitants in Egan's _Diaspora_).


Jim F.

(*) Who am I, the Raymond Massey character who idolizes and envies
greatness in others? Probably so. YUCK!

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