The Thought Stops Here
(VANCOUVER ISLAND) The current state of North American society has pundits and critics reviving interest in a 2006 film by Mike Judge called Idiocracy. It postulates a dystopian future USA of some 500 years hence in which anti-intellectualism has become universal, as the result of the average IQ in American society having dropped by what appears to be double digits because of the disproportionate rate at which the less intellectually gifted reproduce. The movie wasn’t great although it has developed a solid cult following; its premise, however, was great, if a little scary.
A quick look around and simple observation will tell you that it seems true that there is an inverse relationship between intelligence and the number of children produced. Even if you happen to be among those who don’t believe that evolution is real, you would have to admit that, even just mathematically, that a society in which the intelligent produce few offspring and the less bright produce more, there will be a downward trend in the overall or average IQ as long as intelligence is genetically transmitted. With that in mind, simply look at who is bringing large numbers of children into the world.
Certainly those who think contraception is wrong are more likely to become pregnant than those who practice birth control. And those who absolutely reject abortion as an option are certainly more likely to bring a pregnancy to term and give birth to a child. And there is an inverse correlation between level of education and number of natural children in a family. So while rural, poorly educated (Trump loves them!) members of society are out there breeding as fast they ever did, the “intellectual elite” are more and more opting for few, if any, children, or like me, adopting. Now, of course these are generalities, trends; there are millions of exceptions to this general inclination. But that’s all that is needed for evolution to do its work. As the trend continues, natural or artificial selection will see to it that the trend selected for – in this case, stupidity – will come to dominate the gene pool. This, of course speeds up the process, and, in time (8/10 of an IQ point per generation), the stupid gene becomes the norm. Voila! Idiocracy.
When looking at the US presidential campaign, the makers of the movie are undoubtedly regretting that they placed the story so far in the future; a few hours of watching the coverage will convince normal people that the dystopian (or possibly utopian for some people) future has arrived. It has become apparent only now because until very recently, intelligence and knowledge were respected. Beginning with the advent of the Tea Party movement and reaching its nadir with the Donald Trump campaign, the rejection of intelligence, critical thinking, expert knowledge, science, and the finer arts has become virtually universal. What this suggests is that the evolutionary trend toward stupidity has been underway for some time; it has been underground, however. Until recently, the truly stupid had not been convinced that their gut feelings and instincts on questions of scientific fact were as or more valid than those of an expert in the field.
Now, their ignorance is being validated by one of their own. Now they have been given permission to come out of the closet, raise their voices, and form a political movement that threatens to take over the country. The political movement that is led by Trump is not flourishing because more people are more stupid than last year; those people have always been among us. It’s just that until recently, they didn’t see their own ignorance and stupidity as being a point of pride.
Trump has demonstrated to his followers that he can triumph in spite of, perhaps even because of his near total absence of understanding or knowledge of the very things that we expect our leaders to be world-class at. Trump explains to reporters that he doesn’t know much about foreign policy but give him a few hours and he could become fully proficient at wielding presidential power in its service. He says he is his own best advisor on most subjects because he has such a good brain. He disdains any real expert knowledge or even real thinking on any subject of importance. Gut feeling and common sense, he assures us is what he has in abundance and what will make him the greatest president ever.
All of this is like a breath of finely scented fresh spring air to his less-than-genius base. All of their lives they have refrained from learning anything that presented a challenge; they have never chosen to look deeply into any hard subject. But nevertheless, they are convinced that if they were to apply themselves for a little bit, they’d be every bit as smart and knowledgeable as those damn liberal intellectual elitists. It’s easy; they just choose not to do it. With this as a foundation for their belief system, it’s easy to see why they think that there is actually a controversy regarding some scientific facts with which they take issue.
Their self-regard tells them that their instinctive rejection of anthropogenic climate change has as much validity as that of every rational climate scientist in the world; they feel free to reject the science because the scientists are just a bunch of phonies whose intellectual accomplishments they could match if they were to bothered to put in a few hours of effort. Ditto with evolution, except that they have put the effort into reading the first chapter of Genesis, so in this case they are as knowledgeable as the experts; more so, in fact, because the “experts”, by and large, have less knowledge of Genesis.
Donald Trump and his progenitors in the Tea Party have given these people permission to be ignorant; to be vocally stupid; to reject those who actually are experts or knowledgeable. Tell any of them that someone is going to speak on a subject in which he or she is an expert and their response will be cynical chuckling. “Expert” means a spokesperson for the liberal intellectual elite, an amorphous group made up of everyone who knows anything beyond what their bible or their gut tells them. For the first time in modern history intelligence is suspect and knowledge is a handicap. Permission has been given to be and stay uninformed and ignorant.
In lockstep with this anti-intellectual migration is another frightening result of Tea Party/Trump populism…overt bigotry. Disdaining any expression of tolerance, inclusiveness, or recognition of the rights of others as “political correctness” has given their supporters licence to vocalise hatred, racism, and bigotry. By calling a decision not to say hateful things succumbing to political correctness, they are suggesting that those hateful things are on everybody’s mind but others are afraid to “tell it like it is”. They, the brave followers however, have the moral courage to speak the truth. Bigotry thus becomes an admirable quality and those who are not bigoted become liars and cowards for suppressing their real underlying hatreds. Their bête noir, political correctness, is not seen as a cultural inclination to suppress hatred and cruelty and to reject it when it is expressed. Political correctness has become a hypocritical pretense of not espousing the truth out of some weak-kneed, panty-waist fear of honest and truthful expression.
Permission has been given to be everything that Western culture has rejected as contemptible and beneath us, and to begin tearing down the edifice of civilisation that has been painstakingly built over the centuries. It wasn’t long ago that we had respect and admiration for those who actually worked at being better intellectually, technically, aesthetically, and morally. The expression “it ain’t rocket science” when indicating that a proposition or a task is simple indicates that people generally saw that expertise was both hard to acquire and worthwhile to achieve. Now, thanks to the movement toward Idiocracy, anyone who has an opinion is an expert, while the genuine expert is dismissed as a dupe or con artist. Now someone who supports equality of treatment, tolerance of opposing views, or a belief in human decency is considered to be a hypocrite spouting political correctness while racists and religious and secular bigots are to be applauded for their honesty and frankness.
This is the way the world, led by the United States of America, is heading. It is frightening and it is appalling. But the big question is whether it is inevitable. Has the balance tipped irreversibly toward idiocy? Or is this a particularly vicious and abrupt swing of the pendulum that, in time, will reverse itself? The shifting demographics due to birthrates suggests that the latter is mere wishful thinking.