The Ascent Of Tedium

Geoffrey Miller’s “Dionysian Effect” theory, namely that the evolution of the big human brain was driven by runaway sexual selection for interesting mates, implies that, however boring many moderns may be, our remote ancestors must have been even more boring people. Or even more boring apes, depending on how far back we go.

But this assumes both that boringness is genetically coded for, and that there is no fresh supply of boringness to be had after sexual selection has driven us to become bright, witty and entertaining conversationalists in order to catch mates. If there is one quality that can most definitely be imposed upon a person by culture and upbringing, however, overriding any contrary genetic predisposition and talents, it is boringness. Tedium is not necessarily what Aristotle would have called a privation, the absence of something; it can be, and often, is an expansive force of social nature.

Brightness and creativity may be beaten out of a child, and suppressed by what we are pleased to call our educational systems. On top of that, there are whole cultures and subcultures that reprobate being interesting. Some academic traditions, for example, are utterly convinced that the “serious”, as in serious scholarship, must necessarily be the tedious, and correspondingly that lively, or even competent, writing is an infallible sign of unscholarly frivolity. Another example is the English middle classes, whose notion of conversation is often the daily or even hourly repetition of precisely the same ritualised exchanges, with new, let alone witty, remarks being reprobated as social solecisms. Some subcultures are wildly anti-intellectual, considering stolid stupidity the proof of moral goodness, while religious and political fanatics of all kinds are wholly allergic to humour.

Miller’s theory about the evolution of the human brain on the African savannah may well be correct. Given the cultural imposition of numbing tedium, however, it is not so certain that any genes for being interesting created by this sexual selection have resulted in modern people being less boring than australopithecines. Human beings have used their big brains both to become interesting and to impose boringness on their fellows. Come to think of it, that is probably a sexual strategy in itself, to cripple the competition.

Posted on April 6, 2009 at 11:13 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink
In: MONKEY BUSINESS, Beings and Gentlebeings

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