Ferdowsi, the great Persian history teller, opens his epic Shah-Nameh with a dedication to the God of Life and Intelligence (khodavand-e jaan va kherad). If we look carefully through the evolution of life and of knowledge on Earth, it is not hard to agree with Ferdows in that praise. But what would the hypothetical God of Life and Intelligence (GoLI) think of Iran and Trump?
Life on Earth is a giant competition and it has evolved through relentless natural-selection of more and more intelligent species. None have been more intelligent than the mammals, who have survived asteroid impacts, massive climate changes and several ice ages. Mammals have thrived to inhabit not only all the lands (where they originated) but also all the seas and oceans, where they have evolved and survived among the fish and reptile. Incredibly, wolves and whales come from the family line of a common mammal ancestor!
Chief among the intelligent mammals have been the Humans, who since 20 million years ago, have evolved from a chimpanzee-like ancestor to a string of clever species including the Homo erectus, the Neanderthal and the Cro-Magnon.
History also teaches us that a similar natural-selection trend has continued among the human species, leading to us (the Sapiens). Evolution of Sapiens has advanced through 200 thousand years, from the early phases of hunting-gathering and agricultural societies, to the current advanced civilizations.
God of Life and Intelligence (GoLI) appears to have been relentlessly “selecting” for more and more clever living entities and constructs. Therefore, it is safe to say that if we (the Sapiens) are to survive and continue evolving, it will have to be through creating more natural intelligence (e.g. through education) and artificial intelligence (e.g. computing machines).
Going against this prevailing trend of evolution and history, and picking a fight with the GoLI is such a risky proposition. The defeat of ancient Persia at the hands of Greeks, Carthage by the Romans, Germany by the Allies and Soviets by the West, clearly demonstrate a dominant trend in-line with the “selection” for the more intelligent Sapiens.
Of course, no natural progress is linear, and there are numerous examples of fluctuations and even reversals in the course of history. For example, the explosive victories of the destructive Mongols, unravelled hundred years of civilization-building in China and Persia. But the reversal was corrected and the prevailing trend continued through the metamorphosis of the barbarian victors into civilized dynasties.
Intelligence is a precious cognitive ability. At the very least, it is the ability to sense. At full bloom, it encompasses the capability to learn, plan, adjust and reason. But there are some key social obstacles to human intelligence including poverty, prejudice and pride.
Pride is a most insidious obstacle to the growth of knowledge and intelligence. Most intellectual revolutions (e.g. the Renaissance) have not been about “what we know”, but rather an admission of our never ending ignorance and a discovery mission into the realm of “what we don’t know”. The undying pride in the all-knowing Persian Shahs, Ottoman Caliphs and Vatican Popes did not stop their eventual demise at the hands of more intelligence-seeking people.
Prejudice, the twin brother of pride, can exclude a large part of the afflicted society from the intellectual discourse and contributions, as for example it had done in the ancient Caste-System nations like Persia and India. Taken to extreme, prejudice produced some of the worst racial hatred and group genocide in Fascist Germany. Ironically, many of the prosecuted Jewish scientists who migrated to Britain and the US, significantly contributed to the demise of Nazi Empire and its Axis allies.
Throughout history, societies that have been able to nurture intelligence have been naturally selected over others. Their policies achieve the attraction and growth of the most intelligent (at every strata of society) through freedoms and empowerments (of work, of privacy, of faith, of vote and of voice). Their tolerance attracts and imports clever and wise immigrants from all over the world.
Unfortunately, the trend has been very negative for our own homeland nations (like Iran, Iraq and Syria) who have fallen victim and become hostages to some of the worst intolerant Islamist movements and regimes. Millions have left those nations to swell the ranks of technicians, workers and professionals, who are contributing to the Western civilization.
Meanwhile, as decline of intelligence is leading the Middle East towards a bleak destiny, the side effects of terrorism in Europe and US, are empowering the lowest of the lows (racists, demagogues and fascists). Trump successes in US and equally alarming successes by the far-right in Europe are backward anti-intelligence trends that can endanger both the Western civilization (cradle of knowledge for the past 500 years) and other nations who have been trying to follow in a progressive path.
Reference: W. & A. Durant – The Lessons of History.