The power of intellect

Dec 15 2008 by Janet Howd Print This Article

To stay alive all mammals must take in air, protect themselves from the elements, and gather food and liquid to chew, swallow, digest and eject.

At each swallow and defecation, a valve seated over the airways in the front of the throat clamps down to prevent choking. Any air already inside the mouth and around the tongue when the valve closes interacts with those cavities to create grunts, clicks and pops as teeth are sucked and lips smacked.

Over aeons of time, one species found a way of turning these sound effects into meaningful statements and the human tongue - designed to slurp up nourishment - evolved the unique ability to blurt out ideas and open a way for the advance of technology.

For millennia, oratory thus formed was used in tandem with technological advances to keep the majority of people subservient to elites. But as the 20th Century dawned, the advent of the new technology of recorded sound created a way for ordinary people to get in the groove and make their voices heard.

At first, just like the famous HMV icon Nipper the dog, people recognised and mimicked the accents and tones of their erstwhile masters' voices. But, by the close of the second millennium world Englishes and accents from all parts of the UK controlled most of the airwaves and languages other than English mopped up the rest.

All well and good, but a downside to this levelling of hierarchy came as many joined in a mad dash to gain Warhol's predicted fifteen minutes of personal fame. Overly interested in the sound of their own voices, those people elected not to listen to anyone other than their closest circle.

And so ideas got stuck in a cycle of predictability. B the time YouTube and MySpace were adding a visual impetus, amassing 'bling' had become the be all and end all of life, while so much twitter was being created that even people who listened intently to other voices could make little sense of anything they heard.

Now, you don't find other mammals bucking the trend and setting themselves up as autonomous beings outside the herd because they know that if they do they're just going to get picked off by wily predators. Yet here we are, reputedly the world's cleverest creatures, enduring difficult times created in large part by the self-inflicted deafness that too much shouting causes - and set on self destruction by deliberately ignoring the fact that security lies in communality.

Fortunately as noted by BBC correspondent, Justin Webb, some outriders have long been alert to that danger.

" As he introduced the latest members of his cabinet, Mr Obama said that they were individuals who had shown "great intellect" as well as courage and commitment.


…under George W Bush… intellect and articulacy (were ridiculed) as subversive values that rub up against the wholesome grain of middle America. …But it turned out that a country in peril yearned for leaders with brains. Because - and here is the funny thing - stupidity and incompetence tend to go hand in hand."

Succinctly put! But though we may want the latest world leader to talk softly and carry a big stick, we must all take responsibility for the tone and tenor of our own voices.

It is imperative that we return to the herd and get a buzz going about what ideals should best be invested in, and how future capital created should first be shared and then be spent.

But if the current trend that denigrates "the power of understanding" - as Milton so aptly defined intellect - is allowed to continue, we place ourselves in serious danger of losing the evolutionary advantage that has marked humankind out from beasts since time immemorial.

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About The Author

Janet Howd
Janet Howd

Janet Howd is a voice coach who works with corporate, academic, legal, theatrical and private clients in the UK, North America, Australia and Europe.