In 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).
What 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.
No 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.
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.
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?
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.
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!
What 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.