Wednesday, September 3, 2014

"But it’s Got Electrolytes!"

I know I’m not the first and probably won’t be the last to post about this latest article, but I can’t resist the temptation to pile on. Now I’m not taking everything in this article at face value, but I also can’t deny the overall trend of brainlessness on the rise in this country.

"Technology may be getting smarter, but humans are getting dumber, scientists have warned.

Evidence suggests that the IQs of people in the UK, Denmark and Australia have declined in the last decade.

Opinion is divided as to whether the trend is long-term, but some researchers believe that humans have already reached intellectual peak.

An IQ test used to determine whether Danish men are fit to serve in the military has revealed scores have fallen by 1.5 points since 1998.

And standard tests issued in the UK and Australia echo the results, according to journalist Bob Holmes, writing in New Scientist.

The most pessimistic explanation as to why humans seem to be becoming less intelligent is that we have effectively reached our intellectual peak.

Between the 1930s and 1980s, the average IQ score in the US rose by three points and in post-war Japan and Denmark, test scores also increased significantly - a trend known as the ‘Flynn effect’.

This increase in intelligence was due to improved nutrition and living conditions - as well as better education - says James Flynn of the University of Otago, after whom the effect is named.

Now some experts believe we are starting to see the end of the Flynn effect in developed countries – and that IQ scores are not just levelling out, but declining.

Scientists including Dr Flynn think better education can reverse the trend and point out  the perceived decline could just be a blip. However, other scientists are not so optimistic.

Some believe the Flynn effect has masked a decline in the genetic basis for intelligence, so that while more people have been reaching their full potential, that potential itself has been declining. 

Some have even contentiously said this could be because educated people are deciding to have fewer children, so that subsequent generations are largely made up of less intelligent people."

(link here for the full article)

Now a good number of people have seen the movie Idiocracy by now, and those that have would see the similarity between the movie’s premise and the statement in bold above. Now the article (and to some extent the movie) imply that the lower intelligence passed on is largely due to genetics. I would argue however that the subsequent generations are not getting the short end of the intelligence stick as a result of their parents’ genes, but rather through substandard upbringing on the part of their parents and society.

So how smart (or dumb) is America?
Countries With The Highest Average IQ
Rank Country Average IQ
1 Hong Kong 107
2 South Korea 106
3 Japan 105
4 Taiwan 104
5 Singapore 103
6 Austria 102
6 Germany 102
6 Italy 102
6 Netherlands 102
10 Sweden 101
10 Switzerland 101
12 Belgium 100
12 China 100
12 New Zealand 100
12 United Kingdom 100
16 Hungary 99
16 Poland 99
16 Spain 99
19 Australia 98
19 Denmark 98
19 France 98
19 Mongolia 98
19 Norway 98
19 United States 98
25 Canada 97
25 Czech Republic 97
25 Finland 97

According to this reference, we’re tied for #19 in IQ. With Poland ahead of us at #16, perhaps we shouldn’t be so quick in telling Polish jokes (but hey, at least we kicked Canada’s butt! Yeah! USA! USA!)

Now on one hand, whether it’s genetics or environment it doesn’t really change the overall situation; i.e. the lack of intelligence has been and is still being passed on regardless of the means of transmission. But on the other hand if I am right about environment being the dominant factor, it means that the trend can be reversed relatively quickly and easily with the proper amount of effort applied in the right direction. Apathy in this case is the key obstacle here that needs to be overcome. If more parents simply took some active interest in their children’s development and education we’d see a lot of improvement. Even if the parents in question are lacking in book learning and rusty in their critical thinking skills, just the encouragement and personal engagement with the child is enough to make a difference. And by active interest I mean doing more than simply looking for a good school or occasionally helping with homework… parents who do that but little else are still passing the buck to the schools. And the schools are a big part of the problem in the first place.

Now some people at this point would start shouting “more money for education!”, “better schools!”, or “reform the educational system!”. But I remember these being common refrains back in the 80’s and 90’s when I was in school, and despite doing all those things the educational system as a whole continues to get worse. So I say no, the system of public education is at least in part contributing to the decline, and needs to be swept away and replaced with an entirely new system. Trying to reform and tweak and modify the current system simply amounts to polishing a turd…. you might be able to put a good shine on it, but at the end of the day it is still a turd.

The next step in reversing this trend is for more people to watch less TV. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not one of those “Oh, I don’t watch TV” types (some people come by it honestly, but I think more say it for the snob appeal). And there is actually a decent handful of shows and programs out there. They aren’t the majority by a longshot, but they ARE out there. Unfortunately, you have to acknowledge there is far more mindless drivel than quality shows. But while the Kardashians, Honey Boo-Boo, the Bachelor, and the other various assorted drek is not doing any wonders for American intelligence, I think equally damaging is television's nature as an exceptionally passive form of entertainment along with its tendency to stimulate people heavily on an emotional level. These two factors combined make for a situation that not only doesn't require deep thought, it tends to steer us away from it. Even the news on TV tends towards content and delivery that triggers emotional responses more than logical responses. And then we have the political advertising, which has elevated emotional manipulation almost to an art form. Emotion is a part of who we are and is not bad in and of itself, but too much emotion does tend to diminish a person’s ability for critical thinking.

Ultimately that’s what the leaders on both sides of the aisle (as well as many other world leaders) want… less critical thinking. They want people asleep enough so we continue to swallow all the false promises, shallow hyperbole, and lame excuses they send our way. They want us to leave the critical thinking to the political class and those running big business, or the new aristocracy as I like to call them. They want drones that will mindlessly do as they’re told and keep working to support them, either directly through taxes or indirectly through debt and mindless consumerism. I don’t really believe they will get what they want, but I have little doubt this is what they desire. George Carlin summed up the situation beautifully:

“They don’t want people who are smart enough to sit around a kitchen table and think about how badly they’re getting f***ed by a system that threw them overboard thirty f***ing years ago. They don’t want that. You know what they want? They want obedient workers. Obedient workers, people who are just smart enough to run the machines and do the paperwork. And just dumb enough to passively accept all these increasingly sh***ier jobs with the lower pay, the longer hours, the reduced benefits, the end of overtime and vanishing pension that disappears the minute you go to collect it.”

But is our decline into brainlessness inevitable? No.... I really don't see that happening. The new aristocracy may fancy themselves as vastly more intelligent than the unwashed masses, but I think they've proven their lack of true intelligence from their recent history of making ever greater messes in areas economic, environmental, political, and geopolitical. So their  can't keep the current game going for much longer. Additionally, I think some of our collective mental laziness has been nurtured by virtue of having it too easy and being coddled by an environment of relative plenty and abundance. When that environment changes and we find ourselves having to struggle and figure out how to get by with less, all but the toughest who insist on remaining idiots will find themselves at an extreme disadvantage. far more than they could have imagined. It will be a painful process, but ultimately hardship and struggle are the things that push us towards self-improvement.

As for that small number that still refuse to learn? Well, I imagine that problem will eventually sort itself out....

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