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Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College, Wellington, N.Z. Vol. 1, No. 18 August 3, 1938

The Danger of Intelligence

The Danger of Intelligence

Increasing emphasis is being placed on education in the modern civilized world. Lending educational authorities advocate the adoption of a wider knowledge course, the development of free discussion, and the discarding of the old stereotyped vehicle that runs in the ruts of yesterday. Children are becoming more cosmopolitan in their views; they are seeing life from new angles through new windows of knowledge. There is an appeal to reason rather than force. The old schoolmaster bogey of the cane slave driver is becoming a thing of the past. The true wealth of the world's knowledge is being placed within their grasp by improvements in accessibility to books, to leading current opinions. The universal medium of the radio has provided youth with a new era in music, in drama, and the spoken word. The cinema has shown them the luxuries of civilization, provided an amazing welter of emotional fodder, has introduced fresh ideas of using life. There are few children to-day that will not go to any lengths to obtain a few pennies to attend the Saturday afternoon matinee. Variety and excitement are essential features in the mental makeup of the modern youth.

But where is this development of intelligence leading? Is it creating dangerous desires in the young mind? Is it detrimental or beneficial? The fate of these questions lies in a consideration of possible effects of new education.

Political conditions change rapidly. So rapidly, in fact, that before one party can consolidate its constructive works, another appears and grasps the reins of government and either destroys or has a retarding influence on these works. The searching and enquiring spirit of knowledge has always outstripped concrete social reform. Increased social amenities are slow to materialise because although the average man may voice opinions ad lib he thinks twice before dipping his hand into his pocket. Hence there is always a gap between the want and the actual realisation of that want. This time lag between education and social reform appears to me to be highly dangerous. Educational methods are aimed, or rather should be aimed, at elevating taste and desire, together with the provision of some means whereby the individual can earn his living. Now, if you feed a dog on milk and water he will remain passive and docile, but give him raw meat and he will change and become active and will bite you if you don't give him exercise. Although this analogy may not be strictly accurate, a similar case is found in modern youth. New education creates a desire for better social amenities and if the desire of the mass is not sated, in the short run, community life attains a dangerous point. Desire exceeds reason and a social upheaval may result.

Sir Herbert Samuel, speaking of "Wars of Ideas," expresses a similar view. "A mixture of misery and education is highly explosive. If the people are ignorant as well as wretched, they are likely to be apathetic, or if they become turbulent they will certainly be ineffective. But the proletariat that suffers and has some measure of education, which believes it knows of some possible way of escape, may be formidable. The hardships suffered by tens of millions of people in the campaigns of the Great War, and during the depression that followed it, in an age when vast numbers of men and women have learned something at least of what the social system is, and their own place in it, these factors have brought Europe into a dangerously explosive condition. Add to this that, for more than 100 years the discoveries of science have been steadily undermining the old religious orthodoxies, that the ecclesiastical supports of the old way of thought have been gradually weakening, that in some countries clericalism has tried to invoke supernatural authority to defend political and economic systems which the masses of people regard as hostile to their progress, so arousing anger and resentment, add all this and flash point is near."

Unemployed youth, especially the unemployed student, has an infinite capacity for responding to idealistic appeals. The utilisation of a dissatisfied youth mass, which is ready to sacrifice itself to any cause that envisages a change in current conditions, can become a formidable enemy of free institutions and a powerful ally of dictatorships.

Education can become a potent intoxicant if communal conditions do not measure up to the standards it demands. The importance of this fact can be found by observation of the methods used in some European countries, namely those of strict regulation of universities and party education. The conclusion to be drawn therefore is that in a "free" country the prudent statesman will endeavour to maintain an equilibrium between educational progress and social reform, and make every effort to lessen the true lag between the two. Neglect to do so is fatal, and the constructive work of a decade may be lost in a morass of reaction.