Idiocracy

IdiocracyIn 2006 Mike Judge (Office Space, King of the Hill) wrote and directed a film called Idiocracy. It postulates a future 500 years hence when, due to “The Marching Morons” theory, the world is entirely populated by extremely stupid people. In this dystopian future, advertising and commercialism have run rampant in an anti-intellectual culture devoid of intellectual curiosity and thought.

As I watch what passes for communication or discussion on the interweb, as I watch in horrified fascination at the complete failure of nuanced — let alone deep — thought in people today, I begin to realize one thing:

The Idiocracy is here; I live in a world filled with morons.

Let me be clear: I’m not talking about understanding Einstein or Shakespeare (but you should know who they were and why they’re important).

I’m not talking about being a math genius. (But when people say, “I hate math!” what I hear is, “I’m an idiot, and I hate thinking.”)

I’m not talking about remembering historical dates or figures (but you should know how to look them up).

Idiocracy documentaryWhat I am talking about is the lack of intellectual curiosity and thought. In fact, it’s worse than a lack; there is a growing wave of anti-science and anti-intellectualism that sickens and scares me. More and more people think their “gut” (their emotions) should rule their minds.

This is insanity and it can lead to very bad things.

Recently, in California, we had an extreme example of unchecked emotions. It resulted in six deaths and 13 wounded. A great deal of the violence people deliberately do to other people comes from emotional “thinking.”

On a less extreme level, a growing number of people refuse to vaccinate their children because their emotions overrule intelligence. I’ve heard some of these idiots actually say, “I don’t care what the scientists and doctors say!”  Instead they would rather believe complete morons (such as Michele Bachmann or Jenny McCarthy).

So when I hear people go on about the importance of “following your heart” (without ever mentioning the importance of self-awareness and thought), it makes me angry and ill and depressed for our future.

WalgrensNo doubt some of you will be upset by this evaluation, and I can imagine two key responses: Some form of, “Oh, it’s not that bad,” and some form of, “It was always like this.”

Both are wrong, I’m pretty certain.

When the complete lack of rational engagement makes it impossible to even address — let alone solve — crucial and complex social issues (such as violence, poverty and disease), it is that bad.

When government has become utterly useless and corrupt and Big Money and corporations rule our lives (while the people fiddle with their techno-toys), it is that bad.

When people actively deny science and facts, it is definitely that bad.

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A key question I’ve had for a long time is: Have this many people always been this stupid, or have things gotten worse? Does the “global village” just make us more aware of the village idiots, or does it actually contribute to the problem?

I wrote recently about several factors that I think show we’ve changed. As I follow current events and listen to how people talk, I’m certain we have.

sign of the times

Just think about all the idiots who never noticed what the sign actually says!

This is not some fond nostalgia for better times (yet another excuse idiots use to deflect recognizing their own stupidity).

This is comparing what we valued 40 or so years ago with what we value now.

This is comparing how we talked then with how we “talk” (if you can call it that) now.

This is comparing how we handled disagreement then with how we handle it now (which is to say: not at all).

More and more people disdain science and education, and the great tragedy is that today we live in an era of unprecedented access to knowledge. We have before us a fine feast of free education, and we leave it to rot untasted. Many — far too many — actively disdain education and science.

In ages past people worked desperately to send their kids to college or to go to college themselves. In ages past, being smart and educated was a desired goal. In ages past, science was seen as the savior of humanity. (Medicine, refrigerators, cars, airplanes, cell phones, the interweb — all thanks to science.)

What happened to us? What turned the tide against intelligence and education?

When did we decide that being a moron was okay — somehow even preferable?

§

KornbluthJudge’s Idiocracy takes its central premise from Cyril M. Kornbluth‘s 1951 science fiction story, The Marching Morons.

The idea is that intelligent people have fewer children than the less intelligent and over time the general intelligence of the population falls.

Under this idea, people are literally less intelligent. IQ tests would reveal a lower average than some normal standard. (In the book, the average IQ is 45.

The kicker is that “average IQ” by definition is 100, so a lower average needs some reference point. In both the written story and the movie, the presumption is that present day IQ is that reference point.)

I don’t think people are literally more stupid these days than in the past. (Although, on some days, I’m hard-pressed to think otherwise.) I don’t doubt (usually) that we’re basically the same people who created mathematics and tamed the planet and edged our way out into space.

I do think people today are losing the ability to consider complex, nuanced topics.

I do think we’re becoming absorbed in an undemanding world of tweeting and texting and mindless jabber that is increasingly devoid of real content.

I do think we increasingly cling to simplistic, thoughtless, black-and-white views.

The ad-filled TV of Idiocrasy. Doesn't it look a lot like the ad-filled TV of today?

The ad-filled mindless TV of Idiocracy. Not too far from the mindless ad-filled TV of today!

In large part, I blame the media and the interweb. And an intellectually lazy population stoned to the gills on shiny toys, idiotic nonsense, mindless pursuits and rampant bullshit.

 Not that toys or nonsense — or even mindless pursuits — are a bad thing in and of themselves. All work and no play is indeed dull.

The problem is that it’s all far too many people do. Rather than, at least occasionally, sipping from the fount of knowledge, too many people are lapping it up from the gushing hose of stupidity.

I live in a world filled with deliberate morons and I fucking hate it!

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moronsWhat can I, or any of us, do about it?

Apparently… nothing. Kornbluth recognized it in 1951.

H.G. Wells recognized it in 1895. (In The Time Machine — remember the Morlocks and the Eloi?)

Science fiction, which is frequently keenly prescient about society, has recognized it over and over.

But to the extent that writing about it helps, I’m writing about it. And the wonder of those storytellers (and perhaps this post) is that maybe some of you won’t feel so alone in a sea of idiocy.

Those SF authors and Mike Judge helped me to realize that (A) I’m not alone in seeing what I see, and (B) I’m not wrong.

It’s the world that’s gone wrong.  Very, very wrong.

About Wyrd Smythe

The canonical fool on the hill watching the sunset and the rotation of the planet and thinking what he imagines are large thoughts. View all posts by Wyrd Smythe

16 responses to “Idiocracy

  • Michelle Railey

    Lots to think about in this, that’s for sure.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      And thinking is what it’s all about!

      • Michelle Railey

        I’m still kind of laughing about the “public” education sign. I’m a little OCD every time I type the word “public,” triple-checking it because I’m slightly terrified that one of these days I will inadvertently omit that all-important “L.”

        Maybe people actually are still “thinkers” but less adept at communicating what they’re thinking?

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Heh, I know exactly what you mean about writing the word, “public.” I’m extra careful about that word, too!

        You raise a very good point about communication. There does seem a growing disdain for the niceties and intricacies of language. A common refrain seems to be, “Well, you know what I meant, didn’t you?” While often we can figure out what someone meant, I think there are times when experience and some degree of facility are very helpful in getting a point across clearly.

        There is also the theory that thinking and language are interlinked. Ones ability to think about things depends — to some degree — on their facility with language.

        When you come down to it, isn’t it a bit odd that people would turn their backs on the idea of experience and ability in something so vital and every-day as communication?

      • Michelle Railey

        I read a study (a couple years ago now) where schools were having to emphasize and teach connecting phrases (because, since) because students were having difficulties expressing and understanding, for a painfully insufficient way of saying it, causation, conditionals, and complete thoughts.
        It was really interesting and pointed to what you’re saying and the linkage between thought and language: how if you can’t say it, your thought process hasn’t quite mastered it yet.
        By this messy comment, it’s clear I need some work myself.
        Cheers.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        That’s both interesting and very distressing. I’m seeing sign after sign that use of language is decaying. And to the extent that rational thought is based on language, it can only decay as well. Operating from emotions doesn’t require language, which may be part of why it seems to be taking over.

        The thing that concerns me — and the article you mention is right in the zone — is the loss of precision and detail in language. Even to the extent we can think of ideas, what good are they if we can’t communicate them to others? Or if others are unable to understand our ideas.

        I sometimes wonder if my love of language has me writing this blog in a way that excludes people, but I’ve always said a big part of what I do here is selfishly for me. I’m leaving my scrawl on the internet wall, and it might as well represent the real me as much as possible.

  • dianasschwenk

    I’m not sure how to respond to this post Smitty, except to say that it takes all kinds to make the world go around.

    I value educated people and strategic thinkers. I value detailed people and mathematical geniuses. I value artists and intuitive people. I value empathetic and emotional people. I value visionaries and dreamers. When you have all these folks sitting around a table focused on a common goal, great things happen. Too much of one way of thinking is no good.

    I can’t always wrap my brain around each and every category of people, but I don’t have to, because they understand and they bring their perspective to the table. I guess I’m always trying to figure out how to get people to recognize the gifts in others instead of standing their ground in their own camps trying to prove theirs is the only right way. Because seriously, we need each other. ❤
    Diana xo

    • Wyrd Smythe

      I think you responded marvelously! I agree with every word, except for the phrase, “it takes all kinds to make the world.” I understand what you mean (and you go on to explain it nicely), but taken literally, I can’t agree. Does it take mass killers, corrupt politicians and financial tricksters to make a world? How about bigots, child abusers and all the other despoilers? Couldn’t we do without them?

      I completely agree that bringing all sorts of thinkers — and there are indeed many different ways to think — to the table to learn from each other and to contribute, each according to their measure, is exactly how it should be. It’s exactly how it has to be if we’re to have any hope of solving the complex issues the world faces.

      But that’s not happening, and the way it’s not happening is getting worse. A small group of people, usually locally and always of like minds, can band together and accomplish good things. But when you get a lot of people from all over, things tend to fall apart, and that happens mostly because we don’t value those things you listed. It happens because people today all too often cannot think outside their own — very small, very rigid — box.

      It’s possible you don’t go into the parts of the interweb where this is common coin, so you may not be really aware of how bad it’s gotten. I generally avoid that battle ground myself, but recently had a very unpleasant taste of what passes for dialog (or if you prefer: dialogue 🙂 ) these days. It was revolting!

      In contrast, just 25 years ago, we used to have long-running (weeks, months) discussions examining all sides of an issue in great (sometimes way too excessive) detail. And disagreements, arguments and even long-running battles were frequent. But we (mostly) listened to each other, considered each others’ points of view and engaged on those points of view. Ad hominem attacks and strictly dogmatic points of view were not the common coin they are today, and — more importantly — were recognized and identified as such.

      BTW: For the record, if you feel you’re not included in what I call “thinkers,” you absolutely are. You take a quote and write a post about what it means to you. You take a walk, see a car with legs, and write a funny post about it (creating humor is a sign of high intelligence).

      And you are an active participant in trying to make the world a better place. I’ve always considered you as — not just a thinker — but as a highly intelligent person filled with the grace of compassion. If more people were like you, this world would be a much finer place! (You are, in fact, one of my teachers in my trying to learn greater compassion.)

      • dianasschwenk

        Wow Smitty thanks for your kind words – means a lot coming from you. Thank you also for clarifying what you meant in your post. You’re a good egg. 🙂
        Diana xo

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Can I be a good apple, or maybe a good cookie, instead? I’m not real big on eggs… o_O

        And this here, right now, is The Process. Two different people with different “modes,” here at the virtual table, listening to each other and finding common ground. You help me to clarify and zero-in on what I’m trying to say, and together we make the message stronger and better.

        So,… thanks! 😉

      • dianasschwenk

        Good apple it is! Nice to sit with you at this virtual table. 🙂

      • Wyrd Smythe

        There’s always a place set for you! 🙂

  • reocochran

    I am like Diana. I feel that we have a lot of variety in our culture. I sometimes feel intelligence has gone downhill. Until I talk to my grandchildren. Then I feel amazed and excited! They understand a lot of things that I didn’t at their age. I am thinking. so you don’t go “off the deep end,” you may wish to visit or watch children at a park. There is also a lot of good and hope in the world. Their is cooperation and caring going on. Soup kitchens, free summer school lunches, small town community gardens and Habitat for Humanity, just to name a few organizations that make me feel happier to know that we haven’t all give up yet!
    I have to tell you that guns, people that are hateful, other negatives out there were there, since time began. Everyone has always wanted to take from their neighbors, kill their neighbors’ cow or eat their chicken. I mean we have some cultures that are still not civilized but we have a lot of people who are worrying, thinking and trying hard, working on co-existing and making this a better world.
    I have Hope. That may not conquer all, but it keeps me going!
    Hugs, Robin

    • Wyrd Smythe

      To the extent that our tastes and public behavior reflect our intelligence, it’s difficult for me to believe it hasn’t gone downhill. The word and concept vocabulary these days is much more simplistic than it was 50 years ago. Compare the dialog of a movie from 1950 or 1960 with the dialog in nearly any current movie. You can perform a similar experiment with newspapers and magazines.

      The scary thing is that children do start off innocent and open-minded and very curious about the world around them. And then the adults in their life begin to systematically destroy that. Bigotry, for one example, is “genetic” — you catch it from the adults in your life.

      The tragedy is that society no longer reveres education, intelligence and science — things there once seen as shining goals. (How many parents slaved so their kids could go to college?) Our value system has become very strange and, I think, very, very wrong.

      It’s true that negative things have always been with us, but I disagree profoundly that it’s not (much, much) worse these days, and I don’t think that “it was ever thus” is a reason to accept the way things are. Surely we’ve learned some things over time? Shouldn’t we be putting those lessons to use at some point?

      Consider that, these days, “It’s not illegal” is seen as a valid excuse, but not that long ago the legality of something wasn’t the key issue — whether it was right or wrong was the key issue. We seem to have lost our moral compass… some seem to not even understand the concept of a moral compass.

  • drpearmain

    E E Cummings wrote an introduction to his New Poems which I first discovered more than thirty years ago. It is agonisingly beautiful and begins with the words “The poems to come are for you and for me and not for mostpeople.” He then goes on to explain what he means by ‘mostpeople” and believe me it’s not pretty. He is also confirming that not everyone is the same and that there will be those who cannot get past the Introduction. But it is also comforting that while we are not mostpeople, our being is so much richer, so much trueer to the souls of us than theirs is. And we are not alone. As long as we can step through, and not over, that threshold represented by the Introduction we can enter in to drink in the glory of who we are. The stupid of this world will always be in the majority because their own stupidity inclines them towards mass reproduction. Nothing can be done about that.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      I know exactly what you mean.

      You’re absolutely right about the greater richness, but it still sucks being a lone piece of colored quartz on a beach of gray pebbles. Rocks are rocks, but some are more interesting to play with.

      There’s a great quote about gifts and monsters that really struck me. You’ll find it about halfway into my post, I, Monster.

      I’ve never found an exact quote, but my buddy once mentioned that Hemingway wrote he never met a person who was both very intelligent and very happy. Seeing means you see it all, the wonder and beauty and intricacy and nuance, but also all the unnecessary pain and loss and waste and futility.

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